Martin Scorsese is the very definition of a cinephile. He has lauded so many movies over the years, that I now have to question how on Earth he has had time to see them all. However, when it comes to the increasingly commoditised world of modern filmmaking, Scorsese has been rather scornful in his rally to protect the integrity of the art form.
Fortunately, there are still some visionaries out there holding the fort, and Scorsese has been quick to laud one of his very favourites. “Right from the start, I was impressed,” Scorsese said of Ari Aster. “Here was a young filmmaker that obviously knew cinema.”
According to Scorsese, this was all stunningly on display with the director’s debut feature-length film, 2018’s Hereditary. “The formal control, the precision of the framing and the movement within the frame, the pacing of the action, the sound — it was all there, immediately evident,” he eulogised.
However, beyond that skill, Aster exhibited an even more impressive asset—he found a way for the lens to tell its own story ala Scorsese’s old mantra, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” This is what truly makes a filmmaker a visionary auteur, and according to Scorsese, it was evident Aster fit into this from the off with his alluring and deeply original debut.
As the Taxi Driver director continued: “As the picture went on, it started to affect me in different ways. It became disturbing to the point of being uncomfortably so, particularly during the remarkable family dinner scene [Spoiler alert] after the sister has been killed. Like all memorable horror films, it tunnels deep into something unnameable and unspeakable, and the violence is as emotional as it is physical.”
That same strange spectacle of almost somnambulant unspooling horror that plays out like a car crash in ultra-slow motion with shocks where realities speed returns, also plays out in Aster’s second film, Midsommar. The Swedish set horror film from 2019 was a critical darling that gave emerging talents like Florence Pugh and Vilhelm Blomgren a stirring platform to work from.
Scorsese was so impressed that he decided to pen the introduction to the film’s accompanying book. The Goodfellas master wrote: “I can tell you that the formal control is just as impressive as that of Hereditary, maybe more so, and that it digs into emotions that are just as real and deeply uncomfortable as the ones shared between the characters in the earlier picture,” confirming that the film doesn’t fall foul of being a sophomore disappointment that makes a great debut look like a fluke.
Scorsese continued: “I can also tell you that there are true visions in this picture, particularly in the final stretch, that you are not likely to forget. I certainly haven’t.” Aside from elements of brutal gore, the film offers up unforgettable flashes in almost mystic ways as the slow pace of the film is often uncomfortably incongruous in a brilliant shiver-inducing way.
This is no doubt a brilliant indictment of Aster and his work. As he gears towards the release of Disappointment Blvd., his forthcoming feature about one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Ryan, fans like Scorsese will be hoping he can continue his golden opening run.