Psychology of Relations in Ari Aster's Horrors

Until 2018, Ari Aster was known as a director of short films. Hereditary was his feature-length debut, and soon after it Midsommar came. Let's analyze these frighteningly mad horrors.

by Anastasia Odintsova


Hereditary (2018)
Annie Graham's mother Ellen was a difficult woman. In the last years of her life she suffered from dementia which aggravated the relationship with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Besides, Annie had been suffering from her mother's pressure for all her life. She wasn't completely free of Ellen's suffocating influence even after Annie's marriage and the birth of her children Charlie and Peter. So, when Ellen died, Annie felt no bitterness but only relief and emptiness. Annie's daughter Charlie was the only one who really missed her grandmother.

After the funeral Annie immersed herself in creating realistic miniatures for an art exhibition. But the woman didn't manage to distract herself. She began to attend secret meetings of a group supporting people who had lost their loved ones. However, this therapy didn't bring the results. Guilt and fear didn't go away. Annie's miniatures were becoming more and more gloomy, her behavior frightened her loved ones. The relations in the family began to deteriorate. Annie's husband Steve tried to support his wife, but the Grahams' problems weren't limited to Annie's oddities. A week after the funeral, someone desecrated Ellen's grave. On the same day Peter and Charlie visited the school party after which they got into a terrible, almost surreal car accident. Since that moment inexplicable things began slowly destroying the family.
The plot of the film is built around the summer solstice day. This ancient holiday is shrouded in a mystical aura in all the cultures. For example, for many centuries the unique rites are held on this day in a Swedish settlement cut off from the civilized world. To explore their traditions, a group of young American anthropology students goes there. However, soon after arriving the friends find out that the local rituals aren't harmless at all. They face such terrible rites as bloodletting, forced insemination, skinning, burning people and so on.

Here we see again how the difficult relationship between close people leads them to a real nightmare. One of the students Christian is tired of being with his girlfriend Dani and is looking for a way to break up. But he has to stay with her out of a sense of duty because Dani sufferes emotional trauma after her sister killed their parents and committed suicide. It is ironic and creepy at the same time that this drama turns into a hell on the summer solstice holiday, which name and atmosphere should cause joy and a smile. Perhaps, that was a subtle idea of the director.
There is a mention of ancient Greek mythology in the film. This is done in order to pay viewers' attention to the similarity of the film's plot with the ancient Greek fatalistic formula of an absolute inevitability. From the outset of the movie there is no possibility for Grahams to change anything. For example, we know that all of Annie's older relatives suffered from mental disorders which led almost all of them to a terrible end. Annie brings this inheritance to her own family and lets the dark forces in their house. (Perhaps that's why the film is called Hereditary. Russian translation "Реинкарнация" is not exactly accurate, though it somehow reflects the storyline.) These forces begin to rule in the house, and any Grahams' attempt to control what is happening is doomed in advance.
Midsommar (2019)
This film is an occult horror consisting of metaphors about fear, grief and guilt. These feelings are filigree expressed here in various details - small figures that Annie makes in the basement and manages by herself, pigeon heads that Charlie plays with, mysterious blood inscriptions on the walls of the house, etc. Finally, the guilt and fear permeating the film are the guilt and fear of relatives, both living and dead. The family is presented here as a source of an existential horror. Such an inconvenient and unpleasant topic throws the viewers out of their comfort zone. But that's why Hereditary has such a strong effect.
Curiously Aster creates a small pagan sect based on real-life rituals and folklore. As a result, Midsommar fascinates with its atmosphere, entourage and visual part. It scares not with individual elements but with the totality of what is happening on the screen. This is a meditative horror that doesn't develop into a thriller but focuses on the drama between the main character and her boyfriend. It is Christian's indifference that poisons the mind of Dani, who falsely considers herself to be responsible for all the problems. Toxic relationships are depicted here in the form of a painful and exhausting horror.
By the way, there are a lot of symbols and references throughout the film. Here are the most important ones. (Attention, spoilers!)

  • Dani's scream which Christian hears on the phone at the beginning of the film and Dani's wail in the commune which sounds in the end make a rounded composition. But if Dani's condition scares everyone at home, people in the commune share her pain and support her moan. The contraposition of loneliness and community is a substantial motif of the movie.
  • The names of the main characters are significant. Danis's surname "Ardor" comes from the Latin word "ardor" which means "fervor", "heat" or "passion". Christian's name refers to Christianity and to the fact that he becomes a victim and a martyr.
  • In Dani's apartment there is a picture of a girl in a crown kissing a bear on the nose. This is the work of the famous Swedish illustrator Jon Bauer for the fairy tale "Innocent walk". The tale tells about a little Princess who went for a walk in a dense forest, met a snake, a bear, a raven and an eagle. Then she had to give the animals all her clothes and come home naked. Such a picture in Dani's house is not only a sign that from the very beginning she is prepared for the final with the coronation and the bear. It also hints that Dani will return to herself with a bare soul.
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