Hereditary and Midsommar are two films by new horror auteur Ari Aster with completely different pacing structures, settings, and character archetypes. They do however share commonalities in the bond of family, the repercussions of psychological trauma, and the impact of mental illness. Hereditary is geared towards a more mainstream audience, with a terror that is dark, disturbing, and subversive, whereas Midsommar is a more artistic detour, with a dread that's ironically bathed in sunlight, and takes it's time arriving.
Hereditary is a family affair, focusing on the Graham family and its descent into madness after a series of tragedies, whereas Midsommar focuses on a group of college youths exploring the Scandinavian village of Horga and its unsettling pagan rituals. Aster designs horror films to please both the arthouse fan and the casual viewer, so both are thoughtful, compelling, and rich in detail. But is one truly superior? Below you'll find 5 things that Midsommar does better, and 5 that Hereditary does.
10 MIDSOMMAR: GORE
Midsommar, with its ritualistic sadism and graphic violence beats Hereditary in the gore category, mostly because the gory aspects of that film were strategically placed rather than prolonged. Midsommar takes it's time with its violence, and doesn't turn the camera away in moments that would have created more ambiguity.
Whether it's showing actual close up shots of caved in heads, or what happens with a solid object goes through the soft, fallible flesh of a human being, it revels in its sanguinary displays with vigor and relish found in the most soaked slashers.
9 HEREDITARY: FAMILY DYNAMICS
Based on its title alone, the film deals with things passed down from one generation to the next. In this case just what is passed down can be literal (mental illness) or imagined (a supernatural curse). Because family is central to the film, the family dynamic has to be the center around which all other events occur.
The family dynamic is raw, ugly, and authentic, with a lot of the passive aggression, hurt feelings, and turmoil found in real families. There is a family dynamic to Midsommar, in that the commune of Harga is like one big"happy" family, but the concept is abstract, not visceral.
8 MIDSOMMAR: PAGAN RITUALS
There were pagan rituals featured in both Hereditary and Midsommar, though to very different extents. Hereditary focuses on domestic life and interpersonal relationships long before much of the aspect of pagan ritual is discovered. When it's revealed, it feels added on and separate from the rest of the film.
Midsommar makes pagan rituals its entire premise, and as such allows them to be more fully explored in a meaningful way as they relate to the story, not for shock value at the end. As a viewer, you know going in that the film explores them, so you can feel free absorbing what you learn.
7 HEREDITARY: UNPREDICTABILITY
Horror aficionados have likely seen many of the elements that both movies draw from many times before. The horror genre builds on the narratives that came before it, but the best of it pushes the boundaries of humanity's primal fears and urges.
For that reason Hereditary is less predictable than Midsommar, because there are many moments where the narrative seems like it's going to take one direction and it veers in the complete opposite. Whether it's because we've all seen The Wicker Man before, or because it's too overt with its foreshadowing, Midsommar is too predictable, and viewers will likely guess its revelations long before they appear.
6 MIDSOMMAR: MENTAL ILLNESS
Both Hereditary and Midsommar focus on mental illness, but in completely different ways. In the former, it's much more insidious, even symbolic. Is the curse of the family the mental illness itself, or an actual curse? Were the horrific events always destined to happen, or were they instigated because the psychological trauma of a woman grappling with mental illness lost it?
Midsommar doesn't imply as much as it shows, because while both films feature their lead female protagonists grappling with mental illness, Midsommar shows its lead being ravaged of it in a variety of instances, and for justifiable reasons, in an effort to validate it and humanize it.
5 HEREDITARY: DIALOGUE
Hereditary has a much smaller cast of characters, and therefore more intimate scenes between them. Any missteps in the script would have been noticeable. The dialogue always seems appropriate to the scene, which sometimes means there are long stretches without it, allowing what's not being said to say the most.
In Midsommar, some of the dialogue comes off as clunky and out of place. The members of the commune spend half their time speaking in Swedish, so that's negligible, but it's the leads, who often speak in a rehearsed manner (despite obvious moments where adrenaline would be coursing through them) that remind you they've practiced their lines.
4 MIDSOMMAR: ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Whether it's authentically capturing a magic mushroom trip, or painstakingly recreating runes on a stone marker, Midsommar makes attention to detail an art form. Everywhere you look in the film, from the interior of one of the commune's lodges, to the careful embroidery of their ceremonial robes, there's something for your eyes to feast on.
Hereditary by contrast spends much of its time in the dark, both literally and figuratively. The level of detail isn't focused in the same anthropological way, and on the same grand scale. Midsommar's commune is rich and fully realized, whereas most of Hereditary's detail comes from Annie's miniature houses.
3 HEREDITARY: AMBIANCE
Hereditary takes place in a variety of environments, at a variety of times. While some of its best jump scares come with the oppressive onset of night, many of its standout moments come at twilight, or in the middle of a school day. It has ambiance and mood, most greatly affected by lighting and cinematography.
Because Midsommar is shot almost entirely in the blinding light of day, with the objective of being terrifying despite the lack of shadows and dark places for evil to lurk, it's difficult to create an ambiance that isn't anything other than sterile and over-saturated.
2 MIDSOMMAR: GRIEF
Hereditary begins with the Graham family losing a loved one (Annie's mother), and very soon after losing another (her daughter). She deals with her grief by suppressing it, as is her nature, but very soon after these events other situations pull focus from what's happening with Annie's grieving process (or lack of one).
In Midsommar, the film also begins with loss (Dani loses both her parents and sister in a murder-suicide), and she spends the entire time in the Scandinavian-set movie dealing with it. Because the community celebrates and grieves together, the ending sequence that allows Dani to finally expel all the grief she's been building up is both satisfying and cathartic.
1 HEREDITARY: ACTING
Hereditary had strong performances from its small ensemble cast, led by veteran horror actress Toni Colette. She excelled as the matriarch forced to hold her family together in the wake of several tragedies, barely able to keep her sanity in tact while it bursts at the seams. She was complimented by the measured, smoldering presence of Gabriel Byrne, and her wild-eyed, furtive teenage son (Alex Wollf).
Midsommar featured a cast of young adults that made do with the roles given to them, most of them portraying stereotypes of pontificating academics, horny opportunists, or quarreling couples. The rest of the cast, composed of ancillary characters from the pagan commune, are believable if a little