A Religious Cult Without Context, for Starters: The Many Annoyances of Ari Aster’s 2019 Film, “Midsommar”

It was during an AMA on Reddit 13 months ago that American writer and director Ari Aster first announced that Midsommar would be the title of his next film and he was hoping to release it on Midsummer’s Day of 2019. He teased at its folk horror genre classification, revealing that Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1968) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973)—which, incidentally, happen to be two of my all-time favorite films—served as Midsommar’s two biggest cinematic influences. I was ecstatic upon hearing this news.

Coming hot on the heels of his powerful and bold 2018 debut film, Hereditary (you can read my review of it here), the bar for my expectations was set very, very high. I wanted to love Midsommar—I truly did. Unfortunately, though, in sharp contrast to the undoubtedly flavorful hallucinogenic teas consumed by the characters in the world of Midsommar, the film came across as grossly insipid to me. Far from elevating the folk horror (sub)genre, as one reviewer gushed, Midsommar flattened it, rendered it as non-engaging and as uninspiring as pieces of disassembled IKEA furniture spilled out of their cardboard box.

Worse, I worry about the potential social ramifications of backlash against Pagan communities in the U.S. and in Europe—when we’re not fighting for our rights to (re)claim ancient sacred sites for contemporary religious worship from countries where Abrahamic monotheism strongly imprints the laws of the land (look at the situation in Greece, for example), we’re constantly trying to disprove to our secular and monotheist- majority neighbors that any connotations exist between our autonomous, fragmented communities and established “cults.” The disturbing kinds of cults—Jim Jonesesque, Peoples’ Temple-congregants-offing-themselves-by-the- hundreds-in-remote-Guyana kinds of cults. In that regard, this film doesn’t exactly serve as a brand ambassador for contemporary Western (Neo-)Paganism.

Warning: My review is rife with plot spoilers! 

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The Triumph of the Feminine Daemonic: Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” (2018)

“Horror films unleash the forces repressed by Christianity—evil and the barbarism of nature. Horror films are rituals of pagan worship. There western man obsessively confronts what Christianity has never been able to bury or explain away.”

—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, p.269

“The Eternal Feminine propels us onward.”—Goethe, Faust, II. V.

Whenever I approach the Crossroads of Art and Spirit, I hope to encounter newfound understanding for a given medium’s ability to express the Numinous. The effect of such an encounter on me is multidimensional—emotional, intellectual, and spiritual—and I require several days of processing before I can begin to consciously articulate the artwork’s Numinosity to others. In the case of American writer/director Ari Aster’s critically acclaimed 2018 debut feature film, Hereditary, I became hooked after my first viewing on the evening of June 8 (and dashed back to the theater for a second viewing 9 hours later) not just because the film is wonderfully Saturnian in its mood or because it courageously dares to cast an unflinching gaze at the culturally taboo subjects of the rejection of maternity, children’s deaths, and PTSD, but because it delivers a surprising whopper of an occult philosophy that showcases the Feminine Daemonic (in all Her Chinnamasta head-chopping glory, no less)!

chinnamasta

Be advised: This film review contains spoilers for Hereditary!

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“The Price of Our Rage”: A Dark Song (2016) as Cinematic Foray into “Low” Magic

I wish there were more overlap between horror film fans and occultists when it comes to giving reviews of spooky movies with strong occult themes. Since Nature abhors a vacuum, I’ll gladly step right in here, folks! While the film I’m reviewing, A Dark Song, came out in 2016 (to much critical acclaim, a feat all the more striking when you consider that this film serves as the directorial debut for Ireland’s Liam Gavin), and is thus not “new,” it is new to me and I only heard of it in the past week because of the wonderfully astute targeted marketing engine that drives Netflix! A Dark Song is a visually lush (absolutely captivating cinematography of Ireland’s brooding soulscapes), suspenseful, taut film (1 hour, 40 minutes long) with stellar acting performances and an unforgettable ending. It’s something that everyone with ceremonial magic ritual experience ought to see: at its core, we’re treated to a shamanic Underworld journey that vindicates so-called “Low” Magic. (If you’re expecting me to spell “magic” with a “k” tacked on at the end, sorry not sorry to disappoint because this is my editorial style!)  Continue reading

“The Dark Side of the Early Modern Witch”: Thoughts on Robert Eggers’ Film, “The Witch”

One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can.

–William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned” (1798), lines 21-24

I judge the effectiveness and emotional relevance of a film, as I would any other artistic medium, by how much I keep engaging in dialogue with it long after my initial experience of it has ended. Is my overall curiosity not sated, but piqued, as a result of the cinematic experience? What elements–in subject matter, theme, mood, portrayal, technical composition–prompt me to seek discussion with others? Do I find that thoughts of the film, or my visceral responses to my emotional experience of it, intrude in my waking consciousness the following day? Do I want to see/reexperience the film anytime soon?

Robert Eggers’ 2015 directorial debut of The Witch, a 92-minute genre-bending historical/horror/dark fantasy film set in seventeenth-century New England (the subtitle of the film is A New England Folk-Tale), is going to be incorporated into my Top 10 list of all-time favorite movies–right up there with Kubrick’s The Shining (which Eggers acknowledged as a conscious influence on his filmmaking process for The Witch) and The Last Unicorn. It won critical acclaim at last year’s Sundance Festival. It’s even gotten an official endorsement from the Satanic Temple! 

My Bodacious Beau™ and I saw it last night, and when (mostly fellow Pagan) Facebook friends of mine saw my movie theater check-in post, they naturally wanted a succinct review from me afterwards. “Delightfully unnerving” was my two-word answer. And yes, it felt so good to come home to so many familiars afterwards! (Too bad I don’t have a black goat…not yet, at any rate!) Continue reading