The Best Films of the Decade: #32. Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019)

| December 10, 2019
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In just 21 days, the decade will come to a close and so for movie lovers like me it is an opportunity to look over the decade of movies that are left behind. Over the next few weeks I am going to count down the best films of the past 10 years from #40 to #1. My choices are personal choices swayed by nothing but the love I have for this medium. These are all great movies. These films all achieved something great. All reached for something special. They are the best of the decade . . .

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For filmgoers with an adventurous spirit, there can be nothing so tantalizing as a filmmaker who isn’t fond of rules.  Ari Aster is a director whose films are brutal in every sense of the word.  They are cold, bloody, unpleasant and leave the viewer emotionally and viscerally exhausted.  He’s dangerous in a very interesting way.  And yes, I’m cheating with today’s selection only because it is difficult to mention one of Aster’s two directorial efforts without mentioning the other.

First was Hereditary, a movie that redefined the word “bizarre” in its dealings with a haunted family whose inward turmoil bubbles to the surface under the worst circumstances one could imagine.  Toni Collette plays Annie, an artist who is suffering emotional turmoil after the death of her mentally ill mother.  What wrings of that tragedy is a weird (and I do mean weird) series of events as the family begins to have strange dealings with the supernatural.

Of course, this could have been just a sound and light show, but Aster is after something more profound and more gut-wrenching, the mere idea that your ancestry is as much of a killer as any yahoo with a knife.  We sense that this family is disturbed even before the supernatural stuff starts.  This is the kind of movie that is difficult to discuss without spoilers, which is why I’m being vague.  It’s the kind of movie that plays so unpredictable and often so unpleasant that you aren’t sure if the characters are delusional or possibly dreaming.

Certainly no one was dreaming during Aster’s 2019 follow-up Midsommar which is much more direct in its storytelling because you never have to wonder what is actually going on.  This one is more of a commentary on the ways in which Americans tend to invade and despoil other cultures.  In this case we follow a group of college kids to a small commune in Sweden, a seemingly passive religious sect that seems spaced away from the rest of the world.  Of course, what comes of these over-privileged westerners when faced with a culture that doesn’t cotton to their invasionist tendencies is more than just a cult stalk-and-slash.  There’s more going on here as our Final Girl gains not only the comforting rays of sunlight but a redefinition of family that is disturbing beyond words.

What I love about Ari Aster with these two films is that he values me as a viewer with intelligence.  This films are allowed to be unsettling in a way that our weak-kneed, mamby-pamby PG-13 American horror genre shies away from.  I can’t say that I’ll see either of these films again anytime soon.  They are too unsettling and too stressful to jump back into right away.  I mean that as a supreme compliment.  With Hereditary and Midsommar I have encountered a filmmaker who is dangerous, one who is willing to go all the way with this visual style, and one who is willing to treat me like an intelligent adult.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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