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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