In the past couple of years, Ari Aster has established himself as one of the sharpest new filmmakers to make their name in the horror genre. Alongside fellow newcomers like Jordan Peele and Robert Eggers, Aster has contributed to the new wave of critically-acclaimed horror that emerged in the 2010s.
Aster’s first movie, Hereditary, exemplified the fragility of the nuclear family by introducing one to a pagan cult, while his second, Midsommar, has challenged The Wicker Man for the title of greatest folk horror movie.
Updated on October 24th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: Hereditary and Midsommar are two of the most popular horror movies released in recent years, and that success stems from a winning combination of striking visual ideas and excellent acting. Both films are full of disturbing moments but the scariest scenes in either one revolve around the committed performances of Toni Collette, Alex Wolf, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, and more from the impressive ensembles.
The Scariest Scenes In Hereditary
Annie’s Mother Appears In The Corner Of the Room
The opening of Hereditary is mostly filled with dramatic tension as opposed to the more graphic and directly horrifying imagery that comes later. The first moment that the audience truly begins to sense something supernaturally wrong is when Annie’s mother appears suddenly in the corner of the room after Annie finds an ominous note from her, giving the first clues to the Paimon storyline.
She’s barely visible when Annie looks at her, causing her to switch on the light in the room, causing her mother to instantly disappear. It’s a simple but very effective idea that sets the tone well.
Steve Instantly Catches Fire
Once the supernatural elements of Hereditary have truly kicked into gear, there’s no slowing down and the movie’s scenes become progressively more and more shocking and horrifying until the credits roll.
Steve’s death is by far one of the most standout moments of the film not just for the frightening visual of him unexpectedly catching fire all over his body, and both the terrified reactions of him and Annie, but because Steve is clearly a rock in Annie’s life and, with him now gone, the audience knows that there’s nothing holding the horror at bay anymore.
The trailers for Hereditary brilliantly misled viewers by introducing Charlie as the film’s lead character. No one was expecting the story’s shocking inciting incident. Peter is forced to take Charlie to a party, where he leaves her alone. She accidentally eats nuts and goes into anaphylactic shock.
A panicked Peter, already prone to paranoia, rushes her into the car and drives into the night. She sticks her head out the window to get some air at the worst possible moment, as Peter swerves to avoid roadkill and takes off Charlie’s head on a telephone pole.
Annie And Peter Are Suddenly Covered In Lighter Fluid
Ari Aster is such a master of the horror genre that he uses a filmmaking technique as simple as shot reverse shot to create scares. When Annie is telling Peter that she attempted to miscarry him and he’s understandably very upset, the back-and-forth shots suddenly show the two characters drenched in lighter fluid.
The moment foreshadows Steve’s death by burning and makes the audience question how much of the movie is actually taking place.
Peter Breaks His Own Nose
As the demonic possession begins to take hold, Peter’s life becomes increasingly horrifying. When Peter catches his reflection in a glass pane in his classroom, Paimon smiles at Peter with his own mouth.
Then, out of nowhere, Peter slams his face against his desk, breaking his own nose. He reacts with terror as he realizes he’s losing control of his own motor functions.
Charlie Appears In Peter’s Bedroom
Easily one of the scariest scenes in Hereditary is when Charlie appears in the corner of Peter’s bedroom in the middle of the night, surrounded by shadow.
From one perspective, this apparition is perhaps just Paimon toying with Peter for fun, but it can also be seen as a projection of the guilt he feels over Charlie’s death, as her head rolls off onto the floor and transforms into a ball when it reaches the light in a seamless effect.
Paimon’s Followers Gather In The Tree House
The final moments of Hereditary realize the audience’s worst nightmares. The genius of the movie is that it heads toward a terrifying conclusion that is inevitable; nothing the characters do can prevent the unavoidable tragedy.
Peter finds his dad’s corpse in the living room and gets chased to the attic by his possessed mother, where she floats in the air and decapitates herself, prompting him to jump out the window. He arises seemingly possessed by Paimon and joins his followers in the treehouse, where Charlie’s head is mounted ominously on a mannequin.
Hereditary is available to stream on Showtime.
The Scariest Scenes In Midsommar
The Opening Scene
Horror movies often set their tone with an ominous scene that is sometimes only loosely connected to the main plot, almost like an opening action sequence in a James Bond movie. Midsommar goes straight to the heart of the horror in its opening scene, showing Dani’s mounting anxiety, as she believes something is wrong due to a worrying message from her sister, and the early signs of Christian’s inability to be supportive enough in their relationship.
After the slowly moving camera movement throughout Dani’s parents’ home reveals their deaths, the scene cuts back to Dani wailing in a distant-looking Christian’s arms, setting the horror into motion.
A lot of the scariest scenes in Midsommar stem from the passiveness of the characters, with Dani’s clear discomfort being dismissed by both herself and her supposed friends. This manifests into a frightening dream that Dani has about the group packing up and leaving her behind at the commune in the middle of the night.
As they drive away in her dream, she attempts to yell out for them but only thick black smoke comes out of her mouth, mirroring her sister’s death.
Dani Sees Her Sister
On the way to the Hårga commune, Dani and the guys stop off to take psychedelic drugs. Dani is clearly not in the right headspace for the experience but her passiveness in the face of Christian’s continued unsupportiveness leads to her joining in anyway.
When Dani is triggered by an offhand comment, she begins to have a bad trip. Through Florence Pugh’s outstanding performance, the audience can see that everything around her begins to heighten her anxiety and, as she sequesters herself, she sees an apparition of her sister appear behind her.
The Cliff Jump
Easily the most gruesome scene in Midsommar is when a couple of Hårga elders climb up to the top of a cliff to sacrifice themselves by jumping off. The first person to jump is killed instantly when she hits a rock below.
The second person isn’t so lucky, as he lands on his feet and breaks his leg without actually dying. Another man has to finish him off by swinging a giant mallet into his head. The collective outpouring from the commune members watching, empathizing and mimicking the man as he screams in pain, makes it a terrifying spectacle.
Josh Sneaks Into The Temple
To be fair to the Hårga cult, they did make the rules explicitly clear to Josh. He could research their customs and write about them, but he couldn’t take any pictures in their temple. Still, in the middle of the night, he sneaks into the temple and starts snapping pictures on his phone.
The audience realizes that a mallet-wielding cult member is standing behind Josh before he does, and the last thing he sees is a cultist wearing his missing friend’s skin.
Christian Finds His Friends’ Bodies
After being drugged and led into a mating ritual, Christian stumbles out of the temple, totally naked, which was apparently Jack Reynor’s own suggestion to subvert the horror genre’s long history of sexually humiliating female characters by doing so to a male character.
As he wanders around the commune, Christian finds the corpses of all his missing friends. He finds Josh’s leg sticking out of a flowerbed, while Simon has been strung up and turned into a blood eagle.
Dani Chooses To Burn Christian Alive
At the end of Midsommar, Dani is crowned May Queen and paraded around the commune by her loyal followers. Meanwhile, Christian is captured, paralyzed, and stuffed into the skin of a brown bear.
Dani is allowed to choose the final sacrifice: a random villager who’s more than willing to die, or her cheating boyfriend. She chooses the latter, and begins to smile for the first time since the deaths of her sister and parents as Christian is burned alive.
Midsommar is available to stream on Prime Video.
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