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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Dark Space

Writer-director Ari Aster on being a rising star in horror films, their therapeutic effect and being afraid of the dark.

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Updated: October 31, 2019 12:19:55 am
The Dark Space A still from Midsommar, a ‘break-up’ movie as Aster calls it.

I’M being cheeky when I say this but isn’t the role of the artist to take their sickness and put it into other people?,” says American filmmaker Ari Aster, who has created a niche for himself in the horror genre with his features such as Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019). He, however, considers his movies to be “pretty personal”. While Hereditary can be seen as a “family drama”, Midsommar is a “break-up” movie.

Speaking at a masterclass during the Mumbai Film Festival, the 33-year-old filmmaker says, “I didn’t know how to be totally literal about personal stories and make kitchen-sink dramas. The genre is a filter through which I could get past personal material. It was a kind of disguise. The process ends up being therapeutic.” Hereditary, which has the protagonist dealing with the death of her mother, is one of the most-talked-about genre films of 2018. A year later, Aster came up with Midsommar, a psychological nightmare that unfolds in the backdrop of a Swedish midsummer tradition practiced by a commune.

So far, Aster has written everything, including the short films that he has directed. Mostly, his mornings are dedicated to writing. “I read a lot while I am writing. For me, structure is very important. At the beginning, it is a few scenes and set pieces, but outlining is very important.” He usually takes around three months of fill up and create the
entire script.

Somehow, his scripts end up twice longer than they should be. Hereditary was three hours long, which is not an ideal length for the work of a debutante director in the horror genre. Even though the four-hour Midsommar was reduced to two hours for theatrical release, the producers A24 are releasing its director’s cut that’s three hours long. As for gore and grotesque scenes, the filmmaker wrestles with them. “There are times I write something and wonder if it’s fair. I was surprised that we got away with as much as we did to get the ‘R’ rating for Midsommar,” says Aster, who has a couple more scary scripts that have not been made yet.

Usually, Aster shortlists everything before he starts shooting a new project. “I come up with blocking, camera sequence and shot-taking before I talk to my director of photography. I’m trying not to be dictatorial and loosen up a bit,” says Aster, who has a Masters of Fine Arts degree from AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles.

Aster, who grew up being afraid of the dark, had watched David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange by the time he was 11. “They felt kind of evil. But I kept returning to them.” Later on, he became obsessed with people like Chris Morris, who he believes created “true satire”. Though he does not get scared by movies, what really disturbed him was The Baby of Mâcon (1993), directed by Peter Greenaway.

“He is a perfectionist and a brilliant filmmaker but I never enjoy the feeling that’s provoked in me while I watch his films. His movies radiate this misanthropic energy. There’s a coldness to his movies that really disturbs me,” says Aster. Even though horror genre is now associated with this writer-director, Aster one day wishes to direct a “romantic musical”, a genre few are dabbling with, and is curious to know how that would turn out.

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