Like Hereditary (2018), his first feature, Ari Aster’s follow up hipster horror is sumptuous and engaging but ultimately disappointing.
We start with a tragedy that sets up the fractured relationship of Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Raynor). He is cast as an immature bloke, dismissive of her fragility but unable to be honest about how he feels. There is something suffocatingly familiar in the way she tries so hard to be understanding, accepting blame while he more or less gaslights her. We like her though, and when she joins Christian as he journeys with his fellow anthropology study mates to the isolated home of new friend, Swedish Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), it seems the worst that might happen is the end of Dani and Christian’s relationship.
The sunshine, flowers and white dresses of the commune-like community don’t seem at all threatening. We understand that there are some odd histories and rituals at play, with dramatic irony used to ensure the hapless Americans remain clueless. The story takes a long time to build, which is good in some ways, but little effort is made to build motivation or depth in the characters and we are left with caricatures, to a certain extent.
William Harper Jackson, so wonderful as Chidi in The Good Place (2016-20), is academic nerd Josh. Will Poulter’s Mark is the joker who is really just a bully. Dani seems to be in a befuddled daze most of the time, interspersed with emotional breakdowns.
For a while it feels like the story is going somewhere interesting. The scene with the cliff positions the horror as a stripping away of cultural and social protections. It all goes downhill after that though. Unquestioned disappearances, nonsensical scares and a whole lot of effort for very little gain. And a bear.
There are some good elements to the ending – Dani’s choice, the shared and cathartic emotion – and it’s not as ridiculous as Hereditary. It could be a metaphor; a woman experiences trauma and to overcome it, she must transcend the many toxic masculinities in her life and rule her own path. It’s a long bow to draw though and I think the lack of or muddy subtext is what makes this movie, though enjoyable and something you might watch more than once, ultimately hollow.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.