"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Midsommar: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. A flawed, but creepy and symbolically rich horror movie that is both deeply unsettling and mythologically satisfying. If you love horror movies then go see it in the theatre, but for everyone else watch it on Netflix or cable.

Midsommar, written and directed by Ari Aster, is the story of Dani, a young women in emotional turmoil who accompanies her lukewarm boyfriend on a trip to Harga, an isolated rural commune in Finland, for a once in every 90 years religious festival. The film stars Florence Pugh as Dani, with supporting turns from Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter.

Midsommar describes itself as a “folk horror film”, which is an intriguing twist on the horror formula. In general I am not a fan of horror movies, the ones I do enjoy, like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, are more great movies of horror than they are great horror movies. Those movies deal with the occult and spiritual horror as opposed to just slasher or monster type movies, and that is probably why I appreciate them so much.

Midsommar is director Ari Aster’s second feature film, his first was last year’s Hereditary, another ambitious horror film. I liked Hereditary and even though it was flawed I thought Aster showed a great deal of potential as a filmmaker as he coaxed some terrific performances out of his leads Toni Collette and Alex Wolff and put together some really gripping sequences. Hereditary was also chock full of really rich symbolism and sub-text…so much so that I wrote an entire piece about it.

Hereditary’s biggest flaw was that Aster’s creative eyes were bigger than his directorial stomach…which is my way of saying that Aster is a better writer than a director as he was unable to entirely capture the entirety of his unique vision on film.

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Midsommar is a worthy follow up to Hereditary, and is very similar in many ways as the film boasts a stellar female performance at its center and has a wildly creepy and unsettling story at its center. Midsommar is also bursting with insightful symbolism and sub-text that make it a very layered film. Hereditary and Midsommar are also twins in that they explore a dark occult underbelly to the rather benign settings of suburbia and a seemingly gentle Finnish commune respectively.

Sadly though, the similarities don’t end there as Midsommar also suffers from the same ailment that hampered Hereditary, namely that the narrative was too dramatically unwieldy for the director Aster to tame fully.

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The very best thing about the film is the performance of Florence Pugh, who won a Breakout Performance of the Year Mickey Award in 2016 for the independent drama Lady MacBeth, and lives up to that promise in Midsommar. Pugh is so spot on in her characterization that it is at times uncomfortable to watch. Pugh’s Dani is deeply and specifically wounded and reeks of desperation, so much so that she relentlessly needs to accommodate others to an embarrassing degree. The camera adores Pugh as she is blessed with an exquisitely perfect face that is both stunningly gorgeous and approachable. Pugh’s magnetism and girl-next-door beauty are used to great affect as it makes Dani’s insecurity and low self-esteem a conflicting yet captivating mess.

Dani’s at best indifferent boyfriend, Christian, is played by Jack Reynor, who sort of looks like a slightly less douchebaggy version of Seth Rogan. Reynor’s Christian is a pitch perfect asshole, and he wisely never goes over the top with his asshole-ishness, but it is certainly a palpable presence. Reynor as an actor is a bit overwhelmed by Pugh though, as he currently seems to lack the charisma and skill to go toe to toe with his very formidable leading lady. That said, to Reynor’s great credit he proves is certainly game for anything and shows he has enough balls (literally and figuratively) to try and tackle a role that ends up being just a bit out of his reach.

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Midsommar’s cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, does fantastic work as he captures the pseudo-David Lynchian creepiness beneath the quaint facade of the commune. Pogorzelski uses the midnight sun of Finland effectively to create a disorienting visual experience that is subtly alarming. There are psychedelic sequences where Pogorzelski shows his talent in not overwhelming the viewer with obviousness but rather makes the delirious experience so seamless as to be unnerving. There are also some deliciously well-done shots using the reflections from a mirror or a television set that I thought were glorious. Pogorzelski worked on Hereditary as well and his style and skill definitely elevate both films.

The thing I liked the most about Midsommar was the symbolism and sub-text. This film, just like Hereditary, is bursting at the seams with political and social commentary that is hiding in plain sight. The commune at the center of the story is an alluring combination of old world folk religion, New Age spirituality, modern day social progressivism and extreme environmentalism. It is easy to imagine that the divergent anti-Trump resistance could come together to form the alleged utopia that is Harga.

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The character arc of Dani is that of the modern women who has put her needs second to those around her and has made herself small so that others feel big. As Dani goes through the odyssey of the commune she is forced to choose between the way things are now with her as a pliant caretaker to others, or the way things could be with a women in charge. In this way the film is, much like Hereditary, a commentary on the Trump presidency and the fall of Hillary and the rise of neo-feminism. While those things are potentially over-analyzed subjects in our current political and cultural climate, Aster does a magnificent job of deftly addressing these issues in an unconventional way and subtly layering the film’s inventive perspective throughout the film.

To be clear, I truly did enjoy Midsommar, just as I did Hereditary, but as with Hereditary, Midsommar does go a bit off the rails about two thirds of the way through and the film loses dramatic momentum. I think Aster’s biggest issue, in both films, is that the major beats of the story are not well placed in the narrative arc, and so the film feels a bit off in the final act.

In conclusion, while I think Ari Aster has slightly missed the mark with both Hereditary and Midsommar, I am very glad for his ambition and that he is out there making movies. I think he is a very original voice and his expansive ideas on horror and the nature of evil are remarkably insightful about the world in which we currently reside. I hope Aster keeps exploring the depths of that unique darkness that he shared with viewers in both Hereditary and Midsommar.

While Midsommar is not worth shelling out big bucks to see in a theatre, I do think it is worth seeing on Netflix or cable for “free” for Pugh’s performance alone. The movie is also genuinely creepy and not of the instantly forgettable horror movie formula that has grown so tiresome. Midsommar is definitely a flawed film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile or that the message it sends isn’t right on the money. If, at some point, you have a chance to check it out I think you should…it will unsettle you…and we all need to be unsettled every now and again.

©2019

A Quiet Place: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW.

A Quiet Place, written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and directed by John Krasinski, is a horror/thriller about a family that must live in silence in order to avoid being killed by creatures that hunt exclusively by sound. The film stars Emily Blunt and John Krasinski with supporting turns from Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. 

As a general rule, I am not a fan of horror/thriller films, they just aren't my thing and since I have to be judicious with my limited movie going time, I rarely if ever go see them in the theatre, instead I'll wait to see them on cable or Netflix. But since I just got MoviePass, and since MoviePass is probably going out of business very soon, I decided I better use it before I lose it, so I made my virgin MoviePass journey to go see a film I otherwise never would have seen in the theatre...A Quiet Place. Boy am I ever glad that I did.

A Quiet Place is an absolutely phenomenal motion picture. It is a perfect combination of independent movie aesthetics with conventional Hollywood horror structure. The film is a riveting and engrossing piece of work by first time director John Krasinski (aka Jim from The Office), and is highlighted by a staggering performance from Emily Blunt. 

Krasinski's direction borders on Hitchcockian in its sheer brilliance and deft use of craft. The film is, at times, reminiscent of (and pays tribute to) such great films as Ridley Scott's Alien, Spielberg's Jaws and Shyamalan's Signs, but yet remains a very unique and original vision. 

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Krasinski skillfully trims all the fat from A Quiet Place and what is left is a tense, taut and harrowing thriller of sinewy cinematic muscle and dramatic bone that is at times unnerving to experience. Krasinski so expertly raises the tension throughout the 90 minute movie that when it ended I surprised myself when I audibly exhaled a breath of air I wasn't even consciously aware that I was holding.

Krasinski masterfully uses good old fashioned fundamental filmmaking - camera movement, framing, lighting, sound and music (things often overlooked in special effects laden films) to build and heighten tension and drama throughout the movie, and yet he also expertly deploys top-notch Hollywood CGI creatures to further enhance the story. 

John Krasisnki also stars in the film as the father of the family and does very solid, subtle and sturdy work. Krasinski's character in A Quiet Place is a long way from his lovable incarnation as Jim on The Office, and this character's gravitas and complexity is a testament to Krasinski's versatility as an actor.

Emily Blunt is absolutely stunning as the wife/mother of the vulnerable brood that are desperate to stay silent and therefore stay alive. There is a sequence, which I won't give away, where Blunt is so remarkable in expressing yet containing her pain, fear and anguish that it is sublime and artistically transcendent. Blunt's performance is further buttressed by Krasinski's exquisite direction which makes the most of her truly dynamic talents. 

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Millicent Simmonds plays the pre-teen daughter of the family and does excellent work in the film. Simmonds brings a palpable and visceral isolation to her character that is a cornerstone of the film. Simmonds character is extremely well-written, and she brings all of its complexity to life with a compelling awkwardness and discomfort.

Cinematographer Charlotte Brus Christensen does exquisite work on A Quiet Place and her use of red light, bare lightbulbs and distant fires creates a sparse but effective visual aesthetic that is cinematically and dramatically effective in propelling the narrative and fleshing out the sub-text of the film.

The sound design and sound editors do remarkable work on the movie as well, and without their magnificent contributions this film would not succeed. The same with the special effects team that created the creatures, which are as unique as you could ever hope and put the movie over the top.

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A Quiet Place is a film that excels on multiple levels, it is an entertaining and compelling horror/thriller that will have you squirming on the edge of your seat, but it is also a film of much deeper meaning with a political/cultural sub-text pulsating just beneath its surface. In order to avoid spoilers, I will avoid speaking of the metaphor at the heart of A Quiet Place, but will do so below. Needless to say, I found the sub-text to be absolutely fascinating and have been thinking about it and the film non-stop since I left the theatre.

One word of caution though, if you are a person who is uncomfortable with "children in peril" types of narratives in a film, I recommend you skip A Quiet Place, as it is basically 90 minutes of children in peril. I usually dislike the use of children in peril as a narrative device myself, but I thought A Quiet Place did it very effectively and not in a cheap way, but that being said, as a father it was very, very difficult to watch.

In conclusion, as someone who was reticent to see the film due to its genre, I must say A Quiet Place handily won me over and impressed the hell out of me. I highly recommend A Quiet Place to anyone who wants to see a well-crafted and original film that happens to be a horror/thriller, it is well worth your time and effort to go see it in the theatre. Just remember...don't buy popcorn, as your loud munching will break the hypnotic silence of the film...and also draw the attention of the creatures…like me! So…BE QUIET! The life you save could be your own!!

 

FILM COMMENTARY - WITH SPOILERS

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****WARNING- THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!****

****THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

There is a lot to get to in terms of the deeper meaning, metaphor and sub-text of A Quiet Place. As the film ended I was overwhelmed with thoughts and was frantically jotting down as many notes as I could in order to remember. Here are some of those thoughts...

1. A Quiet Place is a metaphor for our current politics and culture. In the film, a White "traditional" family, who live on a farm in rural upstate New York, must stay silent in order to stay alive. If they speak up, if they raise their voices, the creatures will come and devour them.

Obviously, this speaks to the current climate of suffocating tribalism, political correctness and lack of diversity of thought in our culture. The rural "traditional" White family in the film represent not only the White majority in America who feel "under siege" by "cultural elites" who despise, belittle and chastise them at every turn, but also anyone who dare speak up and out against their own tribe's rigid dogma.

As America changes, the traditionalist Whites (even liberal ones) feel they cannot speak up for themselves, their country, their religion or their ethnicity or they will be brandished as racist, xenophobic or worse by the ever vigilant PC police in the media and online that attack anyone who dare challenge liberal establishment orthodoxy. A Quiet Place gives voice to this anxiety about the pitfalls of speaking freely. 

An emphasis on racial, ethnic and sexual diversity is bringing change (some believe much needed change) to America, and A Quiet Place speaks to the discomfort of White traditionalists with that change.

Even the casting of A Quiet Place speaks to the changing face of American culture, as it is startling that there are only White actors in the film, "diversity" and "inclusivity riders" need not apply here, and it actually felt refreshing and oddly subversive that no one felt the need to do any token casting of minorities in order to elevate liberal establishment sensibilities above storytelling.

It is even more oddly subversive that the family in A Quiet Place actually prays. It is only one brief scene, and there are no other overt displays of religiosity, but it is striking that this brief scene is in the film because prayer and religion is so rare in cinema nowadays (except of course in those God-awful - pun intended - super Christian movies that are so sugary they cause an intellectual cavity). 

The film's metaphor seen through the eyes of Christians in America (or the west) gives voice to their anxiety over the decline of Christianity in the west, hostility in the public square towards Christianity and the perceived threat of expansionist Islam. Christianity's fears and feelings of persecution may seem unreasonable to nonbelievers, but it is a genuine sentiment among many in the pews, and A Quiet Place is an effective metaphorical tool for expressing it. 

2. Rockets symbolically play a key role in the film. To open the film a young boy draws a rocket on the floor and says "this is how we will escape". Another little boy reaches precariously for a toy space shuttle on a shelf and nearly falls over making a loud noise (which would lead to death at the hands of the creatures)...but is saved by his sister. The older son is told to go do "rockets" which is code for shooting fireworks in order to distract the creatures when they are attacking the family farm. 

What does this rocket symbology mean? Well...rocketry and space exploration are from an earlier time in our history, a time when the the traditional White majority ruled unabashedly…post WWII 1950's and early 1960's. Kennedy's call to go to the moon, and America's successful journey there, were the height of human achievement, and the height of traditional "White" American accomplishment.

Pride in that accomplishment, and pride in White American heritage, gets the youngest son killed when he smuggles the toy space shuttle out of the store and turns it on during his walk home. The toy makes a noise...and draws the attention of the creature...who quickly runs and kills the boy. In other words, any display of pride in what America used to be, or pride in White achievement or heritage, will get you devoured by the creature/PC mob.

The Space Shuttle is symbolic of Reagan's vision of America…which is has now become diminished to just a small toy on a dusty shelf in a nearly vacant store. The little boy is attracted to Reagan's appeal to traditional White America…an 80's version of MAGA, a throwback to the glory days of post WWII 1950's and early 60's. The boy is destroyed by the PC watchdogs because he dares to be attracted to and celebrate the Reagan/traditional White American legacy of his forefathers. 

In terms of the older son launching rockets/fireworks to save his mother, the family(traditional White America), the father in particular, thinks strategically and studies all he can about the creatures and their strengths and weaknesses, and thus is smart enough to learn/know how to distract the creature/PC attack dogs in order to buy time for the next generation to be born safely, so that they can have a chance to stem the tide of the anti-traditional, anti-White "outsiders".

The rocket/fireworks...think of the tradition of the Fourth of July, a brazen celebration of America...is like red meat to the PC attack dogs in that it drives them crazy and makes them react instinctively. The fact that this leads to a fall, fight and near death in a silo (missile silo - rocket symbology again), is representative of the same thing...America's former post WWII might and 1950' and 60's missile/rocket development. This silo is filled with corn, symbolic of the farmland/heartland of America and the roots of America's beginning, and this is where a battle is fought and important lessons learned in how to defeat the creatures. The two children almost drown in traditional White America's abundance, symbolized by a tidal wave of corn, but are able to work together to stave off the pc attack dog. 

Anytime you see or hear rockets in the movie, think of it as a giant American flag and being symbolic of the height of traditional White American power back in post WWII 1950's and early 60's.

3. The father in the film is symbolic of the traditional White male in America. He is smart, resilient, reliable and handy. He sacrifices himself so that his children can live and maybe win the war against the barbarian hordes who literally eat their enemies, children included. Unbeknownst to him, he actually develops in his basement lab the technology to defeat these vicious "outsiders"/PC attack dogs. The traditional White American male saves his family, his race and his country through his ingenuity, skill, brains and sacrifice. 

He passes along his knowledge to his son…not his daughter, who is not allowed into his lab. He takes his son, not his daughter, on a fishing trip and teaches him about being able to yell…raise your voice and say what you want behind a wall of water (water being symbolic of the unconscious and transitions). 

It is his daughter, who is deaf, whom he tries to help literally to hear (the Truth), and in so doing she is able, along with her mother's shotgun, to defeat the invading beasts who threaten to devour them all. 

The father, in truly traditionalist form, is tasked with defending and protecting his family by his wife/mother to his children. He does so when he sacrifices himself, in front of his wife's eyes, thus making himself a sort of a martyr for the traditionalist cause. She, witnessing her husbands sacred sacrifice, is then transformed, and she is able to use his male energy and power after he dies, just like his daughter is able to use his hearing aid invention in order to defeat the monsters. In the end it is women who must step up in the absence of men and win the final victory. 

4. Considering all the above, there is an obvious parallel to immigration in America and traditional White America's anxiety over it. Also the stifling of dissent (particularly by establishment Democrats), which is at epic proportions over the last bunch of years, and has resulted in many negative thoughts and ideas being suppressed into the collective unconscious, and from this suppressed shadow place, these thoughts have grown and strengthened until they finally came out in spectacular fashion in the form of the beast Donald Trump. 

Trump is undoubtedly the American Shadow incarnate in all its vainglory.  

I hope to write more in the coming weeks about A Quiet Place as I think it is an extraordinarily important film in revealing the sentiments swirling around in our collective consciousness. 

©2018