Ari Aster may have only directed two feature films, but both have certainly made waves and proved to be incredibly divisive by horror fans.
It seems that people either understood these movies, finding them brilliant, or found them incredibly boring.
But we can’t deny that Aster blended arthouse cinematic brilliance with psychological horror, and the results are two of the best horror movies of 2018 and 2019.
So, just for fun, we’ve decided to pit Hereditary and Midsommar against each other and definitely determine which is the superior arthouse horror film!
Round I – Protagonist
Let’s begin with the closest and most difficult category to decide. It really boils down to a contest between two brilliant actresses that give tense, well-rounded, and transformative performances.
Both Toni Collette and Florence Pugh portray characters that deal with the tragic loss of family members, before the real horror sets in.
However, Pugh’s character has a somewhat darkly optimistic end, as she wins May Queen, and finally finds her family, even in a cult willing to resort to human sacrifice.
Collette’s character, on the other hand, faces the reality that her own mother had set her up for disaster years earlier.
Florence Pugh is nothing short of amazing in Midsommar. She portrays a protagonist riddled with grief and trauma.
The way that she subtly demonstrates the effects of PTSD is really moving, particularly when we see her begin to fall apart any time her deceased family is brought up.
But she goes from barely holding it together to finding her place in the world, in what is a fascinating transformation and character arc.
It’s an incredibly hard round to call, but we have to give the slightest of edges to Toni Collette. In Hereditary, she demonstrates all the stages of grief, including the depression, the rage, and the desperate bargaining to make contact with her daughter’s spirit from beyond.
But really, it’s that infamous dinner scene, where she just lets loose emotionally, unleashing everything she’s been feeling.
That scene alone was worthy enough to win her an Oscar, and it’s still a cinematic injustice that she wasn’t even nominated!
Round I Winner – Hereditary
Round II – Story
Midsommar definitely follows a more traditional “travel horror” movie storyline. We see a group of Americans traveling to a foreign country, where they fall victim to that foreign culture’s customs.
It’s the same sort of tribal horror we’ve seen in films like Cannibal Holocaust, Hostel, Turistas, and many more. However, Midsommar has the most similarities, both plotwise and visually, with the British horror classic The Wicker Man (no, not the laughably terrible 2006 remake).
Both feature someone traveling to a remote Nordic location where they end up becoming a human sacrifice by a cult of pagans who are doing it for their crops.
Hereditary on the other hand, feels more like a family drama for the first half of the movie, only letting the horror set in towards the end of the second act.
For some, this discredits it as a horror movie, but this narrative choice allows the audience to feel as this family does, when we’re all drawn slowly into the horror aspect together.
Both movies tell compelling stories, but Hereditary sets itself apart, while Midsommar (while done brilliantly) is a bit more derivative of previous horror movies. And that’s the ultimate deciding factor here.
Round II Winner – Hereditary
Round III – Style/Tone
In both of his films, Ari Aster creates a long tension build that all leads up to a disturbing payoff in the final act. Hereditary’s bleak tone is conveyed using a great deal of low lighting, along with a really cool visual of zooming into a miniature model of a house, which becomes the family’s house, as if they are all just pawns in a larger demonic scheme (which they are).
We also can’t forget the sickeningly gruesome image of Charlie’s severed head, covered in ants. While Midsommar has its share of shockingly visceral scenes, its overall visual style is much brighter and more optimistic.
Taking place during the “midnight sun” in Sweden, most of its scenes are in the bright sunlight, with vibrant colors.
In a stark contrast to the dimly lit Hereditary, Midsommar creates a compelling juxtaposition between its beautiful visuals and stunning cinematography, with its horrific subject matter. And because of that, it just makes things a bit more interesting.
Round III Winner – Midsommar
Round IV – Scares
Neither film plays out like most other horror films. In both cases, the horror doesn’t really begin until at least 1 hour into the runtime. However, both manage to pull off an intense psychological assault on the senses.
Perhaps it would be better to describe them as foreboding rather than outright scary. Hereditary is disturbing because it’s technically a possession film, but feels very real and grounded.
Actor, Alex Wolff claims that even just making the film may have given some a form of PTSD, because of the dark places he had to go.
That said, this may have just been media sensationalism to sell the movie. Either way, we can’t deny that Hereditary taps into the inner darkness we all have, and it makes for a very unsettling watch. Midsommar taps more into what we know as tangible fear.
Our characters are in very real and physical danger, but for the most of the movie they don’t know it, beyond a sense of creepy secrecy. But between its overt brutal kills, and tourist horror tropes, it makes for a scarier experience.
Round IV Winner – Midsommar
Round V – Themes/Symbolism
The whole point of arthouse cinema, particularly arthouse horror, is that it often uses surrealism to make bold statements or convey interesting ideas.
As previously mentioned, both movies deal with protagonists suffering from trauma, following the death of family members. Midsommar, with its cult vibes, reinforces the idea that everyone has a place in society, and the world overall.
We see this with the elders willingly leaping to their deaths, and cult members gladly volunteering to be sacrificed at the end.
For Florence Pugh’s character, it’s about finding a sense of belonging and family that she lost when her sister and parents died.
And she finds this by becoming May Queen, giving the movie a somewhat positive ending, if you overlook all the human sacrifice of course.
Hereditary comes off as far more sinister and mean-spirited in its themes (as well as everything else about it).
Its title (and tagline) suggest that ever curses can be passed down from one generation to the next.
It reinforces the idea that we have no control over our fate, which is an incredibly depressing and bleak conclusion.
As the classroom scene in the movie conveys, it’s more tragic when someone never had a chance.
And this family was set up for disaster years earlier by their grandmother, who promised her own flesh and blood to host the demon Paimon.
So what it comes down to is a comparison between dark optimism and even darker pessimism. Since this is a showdown between two horror movies, we have to slight edge to the pessimistic one.
Round V (and overall) Winner – Hereditary
Which movie did you like better? Let us know in the comments!
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