REVIEW: Midsommar (2019)



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WARNING: This contains spoilers.

Horror is a genre that rarely gets much, if any, recognition from Hollywood at all – usually most cinema-going people and executives treat the entire genre much like how many treat professional wrestling – a entertainment style that is assumed to be for only uncultured people to watch. Well, that was until recently, when we started seeing yearly Arthouse horror films getting all sorts of buzz from the staunchest Hollywood suit. Films like Jordan Peele’s Us, and Get Out as well as Ari Aster’s Hereditary seemed to prove that horror could be done in a way to almost make it into the award scene. I have enjoyed most of these films despite the relative over-hype in the media, so I was excited to see what was coming next.

I’m not going to lie, I was initially worried, of not annoyed by the original trailer for Midsommar, the newest film by the aforementioned Ari Aster. I even wrote an article based solely on the trailer and everyone’s reaction to it making me nervous. I feel very strongly that Pagans are the low hanging fruit of easy targets to demonize in films, ranked almost as high as Russian mobsters and Satanists.

Examples of this trend are The Wicker Man (Celtic Reconstructionists / possible Neopagans depicted as a human sacrifice cult). Halloween III (Same as The Wicker Man, but worse because it’s on a sacred Celtic festival). The Serpent and The Rainbow (multiple voodoo stereotypes all rolled into one). Pet Semetary (Druidic magic is only good for raising the dead to do your bidding). Drag Me to Hell (Romani people, or pejoratively Gypsies, are willing to feed people to demonic abominations if wronged). And that’s just a few films out of the hundreds like this.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Midsommar.

The film centers around an American couple, Christian and Dani, that seem to be having troubles in their relationship. Dani has just gone through a hash family trauma, and has little help from her boyfriend, who actively is seeking a way to end their relationship mostly due to his college friends trying to tempt him into leading a far more promiscuous lifestyle more to their needs. Hoping to get some relief, the pair decide to take an offer for a vacation in Sweden with their friends, Mark and Josh, hosted by a Swedish transplant named Pelle to a small village that is hosting a festival held once every 90 years. Unbeknownst to them, the festivities are not exactly within their cultural wheelhouse.

I spoke early about my fear of the demonization of the rural Swedish Pagan characters in the film, but they really aren’t the bad guys. If anything, Christian and his friends (especially Mark) are far worse, and most of the movie was spent, for me at least, was waiting for them to get their comeuppance.

We also are not 100% sure what the beliefs of the actual villagers are. Like most folk horror films, Midsommar borrows from here and there, and tries to keep it deliberately vague. We can make assumptions based on the fact that the number nine pops up a lot, and the use of Elder Futhark runes, that these people are the remnants of some sort of Norse Pagan group that somehow escaped Christianization or reverted back at some point. This is never really talked about in the film, as the events really don’t open up room for this sort of dialog. People well versed in the motifs of what we presume to be Viking religion can definitely pick up on “Easter Eggs”.

While I can assume that all of the deaths in the film would have likely happened anyway considering that the brothers Pelle and Ingemar were specifically told to bring back people to be sacrificed, I’m not sure it would have happened the way it did. For example, two characters tried to flee the compound vowing to “call the cops” after witnessing a cultural “rite of passage” wherein everyone that reaches the age of 72 commits ritual suicide. Mark spends the entire film lusting after women and urinates on an ancient tree that is seen to house the souls of all of the village’s ancestors. Josh is seen taking pictures of a sacred text from the group despite being specifically denied doing so. and Finally, Christian spends the entire film basically ignoring his girlfriend, and betrays Josh in order to work on his college thesis about the village despite knowing Josh was going to do so as well. These characters made themselves embody, greed, lust, and evil – all things anyone would abhor.

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The whole film is a study in coming face-to-face with cultural relativism. By judging the village’s actions that are seen as holy and traditional as being evil one could come away with a sense that the village are the villains, but the film handles the ambiguity so much better than films such as The Wicker Man, as it avoids the preachy modern know-it-all character that tells everyone off before getting covered in bees and burned alive ala the aforementioned film. I can’t really say none of the villagers acted in malice, as they did manipulate Dani to such an extreme that she seemingly suffers a psychotic break at the end of the film, but everyone that dies are bad people for various reasons. it’s a tough situation Aster has put the audience in – who’s the bad guy here?

For me, the film has a happy ending. In many ways Dani is the happiest that we know her to be at the end of the film. Her family was all killed in a shocking murder-suicide by her sister months before, so she’s not exactly on a level playing field going into the events. Pelle steps in to be the love interest that she needs, a man that is going out of his way to check on her and make sure she’s okay and can relate to her plight. She is accepted into the group, and allowed to be happy for the first time in her life. In the final thirty minutes of the film, she is crowned the May Queen of the festival and paraded around town like a living goddess – she is given purpose in life for the first time, feels accepted and loved. When she witnesses Christian cheating on her, albeit coerced, she is quick to choose him to be the final sacrifice of the nine to be given to the gods. At the end of the film, as everyone that wronged her is burning inside a wooden pyramid, she smiles. She is home. Her past life is dead.

The juxtaposition of the bright happy setting and the disturbing deaths is very off-putting and far more scary than what happens in many actual horror films. I can see why some horror fans would not like the film as it was presented as a hard horror movie, and its honestly more of a thriller or drama film with a VERY shocking final act. This isn’t too far from how Aster’s previous film, Hereditary, was viewed by many.

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I loved Midsommar despite my previous misgivings about my perceived reaction to the film. It is artistically a beautiful film, a VERY disorienting film, and just shocking enough to have power without being gratuitous like slasher films.

Godzilla: Monster Planet Announced

For better or worse, the 2010’s have been a big decade for the revitalization of the Kaiju genre. We’ve had multiple Godzilla films from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, a new King Kong film, Pacific Rim, Matt Damon fighting Chinese wall monsters, and even plans for eventual cross-overs. Hot off the heels of 2016’s Shin Godzilla, it looks like Japan is going the anime route for the first time ever for a proposed new series of films called Godzilla: Monster Planet.

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a look at the launch website reveals the following:

Since its birth in 1954, the feature film “Godzilla” has been loved all around the world as a giant cultural icon. This is followed by “SHIN GODZILLA” (General Director: Hideaki Anno) released in 2016. The thorough realism depicted in the film grasped the heart of many audiences, recording a big hit of 8.25 billion yen box office. And in 2017, Godzilla goes through a brand new “evolution” no one has ever expected: the animated feature film “GODZILLA”.

The work depicts a severe and hard-core future world unlike any previous Godzilla films. It is a story of human beings destined to confront “Godzilla” that has reigned the Earth for 20,000 years.

One of the dual director is Kobun Shizuno, who realized “Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare” (2016), which marked the box office of 6.33 billion yen; the highest record of the franchise. Another director is Hiroyuki Seshita who has proved his abilities at the forefront of CG field through his direction/ general direction in “Knights of Sidonia” and “Ajin”. Original story and screenplay is written by Gen Urobuchi, known for “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” and “Psycho-Pass”. His groundbreaking ideas and unpredictably elaborate structures has grasped the heart of many fans. The production house is the greatest 3DCG studio in Japan, Polygon Pictures, which has created “Knights of Sidonia”, and through their work such as “Star Wars: Clone Wars”, received an award for three consecutive years for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program at 41st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, known to be the Oscars of the U.S. television industry.

Hear the roar echoing through the world, telling the beginning of the unprecedented, brand new “GODZILLA”.

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also included are details on the plot:

The last summer of the 20th Century. That day, the human beings learn that they are not the only ruler of the planet Earth.

The appearance of the giant living creatures “Kaiju’s” and the ultimate existence that destroys all monsters: Godzilla. Through the battle against kaiju’s that lasted for half a century, human beings has experienced continuous defeat, and finally plans to escape from the Earth. And in 2048, only those who were selected by the A.I. managed under the central government boarded the inter-sidereal emigrant spaceship “Aratrum” to head for “Tau Cetus e”, the planet beyond the distance of 11.9 light-year. However, the environmental condition differences between that of the Earth and Tau e, which they finally arrived after 20 years were far beyond the predicted numbers, and was not an environment considered to be habitable by human beings.

The young man on the emigrant ship: Haruo, who saw his parents killed by Godzilla in front of his eyes when he was 4 years old, had only one thing in his mind for 20 years: to return to the Earth and defeat Godzilla. Shut out from the possibility of emigration, as the living environment in the ship deteriorates, the group of “Earth Returnists” led by Haruo became the majority, and determines to head back to Earth through a dangerous long-distance hyperspace navigation.

However, the Earth they have returned has already passed the time of 20,000 years, and has become an unknown world with the ecosystem reigned by Godzilla.

At the end, will human beings win back the Earth? And what will Haruo see beyond his fate…?

Her’s some more concept art, and stay tuned for details as they are revealed!


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Should there be a Hollywood Doctor Who movie?

NO.

I guess I’ll elaborate: The recent news of the (now confirmed as bogus) preliminary production on a big theatrical Doctor Who film had me both excited and worried. I’ve seen what happens when a “movie” version of the franchise gets made, and although Peter Cushing Tried his best, those were some “craptacular” films to be honest. The budget was bloated to the point where some guy obviously said “the TV show doesn’t have color, so let’s jack this thing to the brim with so much color that even Liberace will find it garish and unappealing…”

More proof that using garish colors is not better

This combined with a need to “change the story to fit the medium” and other movie-maker B.S. led to a product that didn’t feel like the show it was based on, and somehow seemed “cheaper” than a show that was filmed in a flea infested backlot for the first few years. I know that if I had even seen the movies at the height of “Dalekmania” back in the 60’s I might have loved it, but I’m a jaded Gen X /Gen Y guy and both movies bore the pants off of me. It really doesn’t help that my favorite episode of classic Doctor Who is The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the basis for the second film.

So anyway, there have been rumblings for a few years now that there would be a big budget Doctor Who film at some point. The sheer shock of this sentiment was only made worse when big nerdy websites started suggesting “dream casting” with actors such as Johnny Depp that were somehow in the running to play the Doctor. It seemed that someone had missed the point and we were in line for Depp’s bizarre take on a classic fictional character. “Sweet!” I thought to myself “we’ll get a Tim Burton directed Doctor with a loud cross between a camp homosexual accent and British accent, and insane clothes just to make sure people know he’s eccentric! And maybe Danny Elfman can do the soundtrack!!” This was of course sarcasm as that would be nearly unwatchable.

UGH!

It’s not that I don’t want something like this to ever happen, it’s just that Hollywood has a habit of jumping onto something popular, raping it for all it’s worth, then dropping it in the gutter if it fails to be the next Avatar. I could come up with one-hundred examples where this has happened, but I’ll run with another UK-based TV show to film conversion: the mid-90’s Bean Movie. I always liked the Mr. Bean episodes that ran on PBS around that time, I guess it had something of a U.S. resurgence then due to HBO frequently running the episodes, and plans were made to create a movie for American Audiences. Suddenly the title character, as played by Rowan Atkinson, was sidelined as the main character and everything was Americanized. There was nothing particularly wrong about the new characters added in, but let’s be honest here, nobody cared about an uptight American family; all they wanted to see was Mr. Bean. It was like watching a high school theater version of a Shakespeare play; the spirit was there, but everything seemed off. The movie did poorly as a result, and thank the lord that a real Mr. Bean movie came out later, one that felt like a continuation of the show.

This is what would happen with Doctor Who. The Hollywood producers would cast aside everything that makes it what it is in favor of trying to make a new audience. Last time I checked this cross-global whitewashing and repackaging has NEVER worked aside from a few Japanese horror films!

Luckily these tweets make me feel better:

(Twitter Images floating around on the net, not sure original source)

“If, and when, the movie happens it will need to star television’s Doctor Who — and there’s only ever one of those at a time. And it would need to come out of the same production operation that makes the series … Doctor Who is a vitally important BBC brand with a huge international audience and not even Hollywood can start this one from scratch. So sorry if there’s been any confusion, but on the plus side it has reminded us all what an exciting prospect this could be.”