Midsommar director Ari Aster on finding horror in the mundane, and why he's scared of the dark
I'll have to admit; after watching American filmmaker Ari Aster's folk horror film Midsommar, I felt the need to go on a long walk to process what I saw on the big screen at the Jio MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival, which hosted the India premiere of the film.
I went into the film bracing myself for some chills, since I had watched Aster's previous film, Hereditary, last year. But what I did not see coming was a break-up movie in the guise of a folk horror film. Yes, Midsommar is all of those rolled into one.
"Midsommar is exactly the opposite of Hereditary. It's all bright and sunny. I thought horror depends too much on darkness. So I thought of setting the film in a place where the sun never sets," says Ari at the Jio MAMI 21th Mumbai Film Festival.
The first fascinating thing Ari reveals in this interview is that he is scared of the dark. "In my childhood, when I used to walk in the dark, I used to see horrifying images lurking around me. So I used to run back to my room. I would think these images are in my head. I would go there again, and tell myself the image is not there. But my mind would be like, 'Which image?' So I thought of the image again, and rushed back to my room."
Ari claims his idea of filmmaking is thus image-making. It is the same reason why the haunting image of Toni Colette walking on the wall in the background in Hereditary lingers in the audience's mind a year later. "I'm not trying to make the audience run from the theater, screaming their heads off, after watching my film," he says, referring to when he ran on the streets, with his mom chasing him, when he saw Dick Tracy at the age of four. "In fact, I'm not trying to 'scare' them. I make films that linger in the mind or are haunting. I get very excited about creating vivid images."
Since he has undergone the trauma of getting scared of watching something dreadful on screen, Ari claims the experience has only helped him as an individual. "It has helped me grow. If something bothers you, it forces you to contend with that, makes you dive into it, and question yourself. You think, 'Why do I feel this way? What's about this particular image or idea that bothers me?' The more you ask those questions, the more you become a better person."
Even as a horror filmmaker, there are still areas Ari refrains from venturing into. "There are certain things which make me feel like this isn't the right time to confront them and that I should confront them later. And then some things, which I confront before time. Not much is taboo for me. But there's stuff which is so unpleasant that you may not want your audience to watch. You run the risk of losing them. You think, 'Am I stepping over the line?' Then you'll take a step back and reassess."
Ari claims that he designed Midsommar as a fairy tale, but he was not adhering to the Disney template. "I wasn't thinking about Disney at all. When I talk about fairy tales, I wasn't referring to Disney. I was harking back to an older tradition of fairy tales, which used to be dark. I think Disney has found a way to make that more digestible to the larger, family audiences. I don't think there's anything wrong with that but I feel the general audience have less sympathy towards that style because they're exposed less to it."
Throughout the film, Midsommar surprises you (or haunts you) with a touch of the horror of mundane things, like the protagonist crying with an unsettling howl because she lost her parents, or a group of friends encountering airplane turbulence as they land in a foreign, isolated place. But Ari claims his intention is more to make the horror more real, than vice-versa.
"What excites me as a filmmaker is taking a situation that's extreme, or even bordering on the fantastical or the strange of the eerie or the weird, and then treating it with a certain degree of banality or psychological realism. It includes finding what's unremarkable about daily life, and peppering those details over the narrative so that one illuminates the other. It can also give the audience a sense of foreboding if you render the banal surreal."
Ari has revealed that he wrote Midsommar immediately after recovering from a breakup. Since the film is essentially also a breakup story, he ran the risk of repeating his trauma all over again. But he insists the process was instead cathartic for him. "It's always cathartic. There are things that are difficult like going back into the time, and wrestling with different emotions. For the most part, it was fun to ride and fun to think about," says Ari, who claims the protagonist of Midommar had to be a woman, "because he felt so", though the film is semi-autobiographical to an extent.
Meanwhile, he's not sure if his ex-partner has watched the film yet. "I don't know. Probably not," he says, with a smirk.
All images from YouTube.
Updated Date: Nov 03, 2019 11:33:35 IST