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‘Midsommar’ Offers a Vision of What Awaits Us After Society Collapses

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Ari Aster makes scary movies. The times we’re in make them even scarier. Aster isn’t a political filmmaker by any traditional definition, but the two features he’s directed—last year’s Hereditary and the stunning new “folk horror” film Midsommar—play like movies specifically made for our current political moment, as institutions appear on the verge of crumbling, one norm vanishes after another, and the damage visited on the Earth reaches a tipping point that threatens to drive the ground beneath our feet and the air we breathe into revolt. There’s nothing ripped-from-the-headlines about either film, and neither works as a powerful allegory, the way Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us both do. But Aster’s features nonetheless capture the free-floating terror of life in the latter half of the 2010s by offering visions of what might come next—visions that he draws from the most horrific tendencies of our past, with the suggestion that the old, more violent ways of thinking and living might have been driven into hiding rather than banished.

Sometimes the horror calls from inside the house. (What follows, unavoidably, includes spoilers for both of Aster’s films.) In Hereditary, Toni Collette plays Annie, an artist specializing in unsettling miniature domestic scenes who, as the film opens, is grieving the loss of her mother. Only “grieving” isn’t quite the right word. Her mother’s death has brought a certain amount of relief that she can’t hide—at least until a tragic accident makes her aware of her mother’s secret life as part of an occult society determined to find a male human host for the demon Paimon. Soon she’s at odds with a sinister sect, one that has no use for civilization and its morality beyond using their polite trappings as a source of cover. They worship an old form of darkness, one hiding in plain sight in suburban Utah, waiting until it can reassert itself.

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