I Like to Watch | Midsommar

I Like to Watch | Midsommar

by Don Hall

The first (and only) movie I ever got up and left before it was over was Andy Warhol’s Dracula.

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It was an art house revival of the 1973 cult film starring Udo Kier and Roman Polanski and, in 1983, the damn thing was just too much weird and sex and gore for my seventeen-year old brain to process. I was also in the brainwashed throes of Born Again Christianity at the time so I’m pretty sure my newfound moral compass was sent askew by the images of erotic carnage and almost incomprehensible dialogue.

Then I discovered David Lynch and Eraserhead. For some reason, John Nance with his huge hair and the grotesque black and white ominousness of Lynch’s vision grabbed me by the cortex and shook me up. I couldn’t stop watching it. It was on a bootleg VHS copy that I watched over and over. Thus began my fascination with cinema made by the most fucked up white people about the most fucked up white people ever imagined.

You rarely see movies like this made by or with black people or Latinos. The Chinese are just as fucked up but there’s just something creepier about über-white people in groups behaving in wholly bizarre settings that are both fascinating and unsettling.

The Wicker Man (with Edward Woodward rather than Nic Cage)

Dancer in the Dark

Epidemic

Pelle the Conquerer

The Celebration

The work of Lars Von Trier is benchmark for this genre — AntiChrist, Dogville, Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II, The House That Jack Built — white people living in realities and making choices that both defy rationality and explore the darkest surrealism put on screen.

Then came Yorgos Lanthimos.

The first film my wife required of me to watch when we began dating (all three of them before getting engaged) was Dogtooth. She called it a Coming of Age film which is true from an angle reserved mostly for the mentally deranged.

A family of four. Two grown children who seem to think they’re much younger and have never seen a cat. The boy (who is a grown man) being sexually serviced by a maid. A (dead) brother on the other side of a huge hedge row who isn’t allowed on the grounds. The girl (woman) discovers a cache of Sylvester Stallone moves and wonders what might be beyond the hedge row. A murdered cat.

Coming of Age? Sure. White people are fucked up? Definitely.

Then came The Lobster. And The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for his latest The Favourite. All bizarrely brilliant. All completely fucked up. All about white people doing things only white people could possibly find themselves doing.

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So when Ari Aster presented the world with Hereditary, I was ready. The formula was set: white people, odd occurrences, ominous underpinnings, and a moment in the midway point of the film so unexpected, so shocking, my wife and I screamed, paused the film, and had to walk around the apartment yelling “What the fuck?! No fucking way! Holy shit!”

The ending of Hereditary disappointed some people but not me. I loved it. I loved the idea that this was a sacrificial lamb story told from the lamb’s perspective. It quickly became one of my top ten horror films.

Aster’s latest is a bit of a twist on your expectations. He assumes you expect the gritty and gloomy horror of his first outing and gives, instead, a completely different kind of trippy fable. My wife said it was a breakup movie and, like Dogtooth and its Coming of Age angle, she’s right. But only through the lens of derangement and with the understanding that only white people in Nordic countries could ever be this freakish.

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Midsommar is, as he describes it, a dark comedy of the blackest kind and, true to his word, I found myself laughing hard toward the end but it was an odd kind of gallows laughing. Laughing at a idiot sown up in the carcass of a slain grizzly bear with his face protruding out of its mouth like a kid in a bear onesy as they prepare to burn him alive is not normal laughter.

One thing I now know about Aster: he has definitely ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms. Likely a lot of them as, in scenes when the standard cast of Americans amidst the smiling and brutal clan of Swedish hippies drug them up, the camera work and CGI looks and feels exactly like doing shrooms. Exactly like it.

It occurred to me halfway through the film that if I did shrooms and then came to see Midsommar, it might simply put me into a bliss coma from which I’d never come down from because it’s overwhelming enough with just the drugs. 

It’s like the check out line at a Whole Foods…

It’s like the check out line at a Whole Foods…

Further, this is a horror movie done entirely in sunlight. There is no true night or dark. The gruesome details of death and sex are right out there in full daylight which has an oddly cruel and detached quality to it. Watching someone’s head be split in half in the dark is shocking; watching the same thing in broad day makes it feel more antiseptic, more normal. Which is kind of horrifying but not in the way you’re horrified at a scary movie. More like the horrified you feel looking at dead bodies in a morgue when your gory friend sticks a toothpick in the eye of one to see if it’s really like jelly inside.

I loved it. I don’t really know if I can recommend it, though. This shit isn’t for everyone (and maybe shouldn’t be for anyone) so suggesting you go see it is couched with the caveat that I’m not saying you’ll like Midsommar, just that it is definitely worth seeing.

NOTE: I’ve never gone back to Andy Warhol’s Dracula because it’s somehow better to walk out of at least one movie and keep it that way.

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