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July 11, 2019 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily

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Thursday, July 11, 2019
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com ARTS

“Hereditary” director Ari Aster
has been very open about the fact
that his latest film venture, “Mid-
sommar,” is at its core a breakup
movie. This revelation probably
comes as a surprise to anyone who’s
heard of the movie, but hasn’t actu-
ally seen it. Its marketing campaign
has focused on depicting the pagan
cult ceremony the central charac-
ters find themselves participating
in, which ultimately becomes a hor-
rifying spectacle of shocking vio-
lence and breathtaking, sun-soaked
imagery. And while at its surface
“Midsommar” is exactly that, over
its 147-minute runtime the film
reveals itself to be so much more.
(Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”), a
young college student struggling to
cope with the murder-suicide that
claimed the lives of her sister and
her parents. Alongside this, Dani
is also working to salvage her rela-
tionship with her boyfriend Chris-
tian (Jack Reynor, “What Richard
Did”), a relationship neither of them
are fully sure they want to save. The
two find themselves travelling with
Christian’s academically minded
friends to Sweden to witness a
midsummer tradition taking place
among the fictional Hårga people,
whose celebration takes place only
once every 90 years. Their inno-
cent, well meaning anthropological
investigation results in bloodshed,
sex and a climax no one could have
It’s nearly impossible to think

about “Midsommar” without con-
sidering its predecessor, “Heredi-
tary,” a film so admired and beloved
it’s been given the distinction by
many of being a “modern horror
masterpiece.” To be sure, the two
films share several uncanny simi-
larities. Both examine the depths of
grief, both find horror in paganistic
religious rituals, both are carried
by Oscar-worthy lead performanc-
es from Florence Pugh and Toni
Collette, respectively.
That’s just about where the simi-
larities end. “Midsommar” distin-
guishes itself from “Hereditary”
by embracing an entirely differ-

ent approach to instilling fear in
its viewers. For one, the two could
not be more aesthetically opposed.
In “Hereditary,” a substantial por-
tion of the central action takes
place in the dark, allowing evil to
lurk and sneak up on characters
in unexpected places, whereas the
vast majority of “Midsommar”
transpires under an oppressive
and nearly blinding sun. There’s
nowhere for anyone to hide, which
is both comforting and terrifying.
The film’s literal brightness forc-
es us to take in its horrors with a
shocking clarity.
“Midsommar” further separates
itself by embracing a technique

that’s wholly absent from the lat-
ter film: comedy. With Will Poul-
ter (“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”)
serving as a fairly consistent source
of comedic relief, “Midsommar”
deliberately disorients our expec-
tations of what watching a horror
film should feel like. The thrill-
ingly messy concoction of horror,
relationship drama and comedy
that constitutes “Midsommar” cre-
ates an overall tonal inconsistency
that actually serves to its advan-
tage, generating an uncomfortable
and unpredictable atmosphere. No
other movie feels quite like it.
Perhaps the thing that most dis-
tinguishes “Midsommar” from its
predecessor is that the star of the
film is not its protagonist. Its star
is the world it creates and culture
that exists within it. In an inter-
view with Slate, Aster remarks,
“Life is suffering. I agree with that,
and I think it’s therapeutic to give
expression to that … there’s also this
high-minded part of me that wants
to do it in the most elegant way pos-
sible. That’s where this (Midsom-
mar) comes from.” “Elegant” is
precisely the adjective that comes
to mind when I think of how Aster
presents the Hårga people. Their
ceremony becomes a hypnotic blur
of earth and sky and flower crowns
and immaculate whiteness that’s as
nauseating as it is beautiful. It lures
you in and doesn’t let go.
“Midsommar” is not “Heredi-
tary.” It’s not trying to be. “Mid-
sommar” is a spectacularly shot
and surprisingly hilarious experi-
ment in immersive filmmaking that
without question deserves a spot
alongside “Hereditary” in the art-
house horror canon.

Aster’s latest raises the bar

Daily Arts Writer



When I first opened my copy
“Stonebreaker” by Peter Wart-
man last week, I pursued it as I
would any other graphic novel.
I flipped through to admire the
artwork, marvel at the color
scheme, take in the very mid-’10s
style animation. I read it cover to
cover, fully engrossed in its dys-
topian sci-fi appeal. Then I took
to Google to gain more insight
on what exactly makes Wartman
and his “Stonebreaker” protago-
nist Anya tick.
A skim at the second link
brought my attention to the glossy
black “Book 2”
label across both
front and back
covers and the
spine. I sighed
as I immediately
took to hunting
down its prede-
cessor “Over the
Wall,” a graphic
novel that, con-
veniently for me, was initially
published serially online on Ship-
wrecked Planet. Although I ini-
tially found the task of going back
and forth between the two novels
tedious, this provided me better
insight into how “Stonebreaker”
came to be and what it represents,
independent of its predecessor.
Set four years apart, “Over the
Wall” and “Stonebreaker” detail
the adventures of Anya, a heroine
living in a fictional, post-apoca-
lyptic metropolis called Noridun,
forbidden to women and separat-
ed from the countryside by a wall.
Whereas “Over the Wall” warms
us up to the dystopian backdrop
and Anya’s aim to find her miss-
ing brother she can’t remember,
“Stonebreaker” jumps headfirst
into Anya’s desire to recover both
his and her missing memories —
her brother doesn’t even remem-
ber his own name.
Rather than embarking on this
adventure out of sheer familial
commitment, we realize early on
that she’s older (16, to be exact)
and more assured of herself
this time around. The threat of

deadly demons looms over a care-
less Anya, who aspires to defy
the concerns and expectations
of those around her. Despite the
arduous task of saving her broth-
er in the last novel, everyone
from her father to the friendly
demon Toris doubts her ability to
make it through another adven-
ture. She nonetheless perseveres
through the doubt cast on her
and strives to defy the odds. This
inevitably places her in the same
dilemmas she faced years ago as
she wrestles with the tension of
memories and reality, hoping to
find answers she suspects and
believes to be true without any
formal indicators.
The magic of “Stonebreak-
er” presents itself in the way it
finds herself in
faced in the last
book, from the
grand desire to
help her brother
to the more abstract question
of what she’ll move on to in her
future. Wartman, however, is
able to wrap these ideas into more
mature packaging as we follow an
older Anya in her ever-evolving
town with some new characters
— it’s not just Anya’s story this
time around. Intersecting her
narrative is the orange-paneled
adventures of Kohjen and Bara-
dei, two outsiders from Tatchan
seeking mysterious focus stones.
They too are familiar with the
“Stonebreaker” myth as told in
the beginning of the text through
Anya’s flashbacks to memories of
her grandmother. The myth itself
circles around the ancient begin-
nings of Noridun as a civilization
and its cruel demon leader, Stone-
breaker, and what became of him.
Intersecting with this plot is the
backstory of Toris in the form of
flashbacks from a past life that
scatter his memories sporadically
throughout the pages in pale blue

‘Stonebreaker’ on
memory’s power

Daily Arts Writer


Read more at michigandaily.com



State Theatre


Peter Wartman

ODOD Books

July 8, 2019

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