'Hereditary' vs. 'Midsommar': Which Ari Aster Flick is the Better Horror Movie?

It’s like the “birds and the bees." We all knew this day would come—the day where we take Director Ari Aster’s two groundbreaking horror films and make them fight to the death. Maybe I’m overstepping, thinking this event has been a priority on everybody’s calendars, but I know personally, I’ve been waiting to pin these two gems side-by-side for some time. 

With Halloween knocking at our door, I couldn’t think of a better time to dive into the dark and twisted pool of Ari Aster. Aster made waves with his debut horror film, Hereditary in 2018 and popped back onto the horror scene earlier this year with his second film, Midsommar. Both films are Aster to the core—full of disturbing imagery, strong female leads and enough cult sh*t to make your head spin. Now, we could sit here all day and fight about which one is the “better movie,” but to be honest, “better” is subjective. Instead, I’d like to focus on which film is a more effective horror piece, breaking down each film in various categories and seeing which one ultimately comes out on top. Before we begin, let’s brush up a bit on the two films in question.

"Hereditary" (2018)

 

Hereditary follows the story of the Graham family as their lives begin to slowly unravel when sinister details of their ancestry begin to reveal themselves after the matriarch passes away. Hereditary was a box office success, taking in over $70.9 million on a $10 million budget and currently sits at a 7.3/10 rating on IMDB. The film earned the spot of A24’s highest-grossing film to date and was amid discussion for one of the best films and/or performances of 2018. Hereditary coined some of the most recognizable scenes and images to emerge from the industry in the past year, including the now-infamous “I am your Mother” speech, delivered flawlessly by Toni Collette.

"Midsommar" (2019)

 

Midsommar follows the story of Dani, a grief-stricken young woman who follows her boyfriend to Sweden to attend a fabled midsummer festival in their mutual friend’s homeland. What begins as a picturesque getaway quickly devolves into madness at the hands of a violent, ritualistic cult. While not as big of a box office smash as its 2018 brethren, the nearly three-hour flick still received rave reviews from audiences and critics alike and currently sits at exactly the same score on IMDB as Hereditary. Due to the success of his first film, Aster’s Midsommar was widely anticipated and was even re-released as a “director’s cut”, clocking in at 171 minutes.

Round 1: Originality

 

This is a tough one to nail down because the entire reason for Ari Aster’s success can be boiled down to the fact that he was bringing something fresh to the banquet of horror. Both Hereditary and Midsommar are supremely unique in their own ways. However, if I had to pick a top dog for originality, I’d have to give it to Midsommar. The Swedish setting and festival storyline of Midsommar really pushed it further on the originality scale for me because I had never seen a movie explore this event before. In other words, it would be easier to find a story closer to Hereditary than Midsommar. The story of Midsommar was something I had never seen on screen at all, let alone in a horror film and for that reason, it wins the point for originality.

Score:

"Hereditary": 0

"Midsommar": 1

Round 2: Acting/Characters

 

Being an actress myself, I look at performances in film with a much more critical eye than the average viewer. Needless to say, performances can be a deal-breaker for me in terms of my overall rating of a film. Luckily, both of Aster’s flicks do not fall short in this category. Toni Collette and Alex Wolff gave, in my humble opinion, some of the best performances of 2018 for their roles in Hereditary.

On the flip side, Midsommar was carried by newcomer Florence Pugh who gave a stellar performance among several excellent co-stars, including Will Poulter. Both excelling in the acting department, the deciding factor for me in this category came from my connection to the characters themselves. Personally, I felt much more empathetic towards the characters in Hereditary than in Midsommar. Most of the guys in Midsommar were total d-bags that you genuinely were just waiting to see perish. In contrast, I think Hereditary did a superb job of drenching the plot in so much dread, that you couldn't help but ache for the sorrow of the characters. I remember the scene where Toni Collette’s character finds out her daughter is dead felt so realistic and was unbelievably heartbreaking to watch. In the end, Hereditary had moments that completely floored me acting-wise and for that reason, I am awarding it the point for this category.

Score:

"Hereditary": 1

"Midsommar": 1

Round 3: Atmosphere / Cinematography

 

Let’s be clear, the cinematography in both films is great. However, these two films could not be more opposite in their overall look. Hereditary is bathed in pure darkness, while Midsommar is showered in pure light. Miraculously, each film is still able to evoke fear and pocket some pretty amazing shots. Hereditary sends chills down our spines with its bleak color scheme and claustrophobia, while Midsommar spooks with its overexposure and abundance of space. However, and I don’t think anyone is too surprised, the prize here is going to Midsommar.

Midsommar finds its identity within its aesthetic—the film is completely shaped around the beautiful colors and landscape that is the Swedish Midsummer Festival. Midsommar’s cinematography is the beating heart of the film and the thing that foremost demands the audience’s attention. It is so aesthetically pleasing and not your typical “horror movie look.” This film achieved a level of claustrophobia in wide-open spaces, painted with a rainbow color palette, which isn’t always easy to do. Midsommar’s atmosphere pushed the boundaries of horror and for that reason, wins this round.

Score:

"Hereditary": 1

"Midsommar": 2

Round 4: Rewatchability

Now don’t get me wrong, both of Ari Aster’s films are very hard to watch. However, I do think that one of them stacks up to be a more digestible second viewing. Midsommar presents a more difficult case to defend in terms of rewatchability—its frightfully lengthy and contains disturbing, gory images throughout, whereas Hereditary boasts a more modest runtime and really only gets into the bloody stuff in the final 15 minutes. Not to mention, Hereditary’s slightly less original storyline is more familiar and therefore more consumable for a night-in with the girls. People typically gravitate more towards what they know and I personally see myself reaching to rewatch Hereditary more than Midsommar. I equate Midsommar more to an experience than a film. For me, it was a "one and done" type of situation.

Score:

"Hereditary": 2

"Midsommar": 2

Round 5: Fear Factor

Ah yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for—the one where we discuss if these movies are actually scary or not. Now, before I go into my pick for this category, I want to give credit where credit is due. Midsommar has great kills. The bodily gore presented in this film surpasses Hereditary's showcase. But does this make it scarier? Absolutely not. 

For me, there is a clear winner in terms of fright and that is Hereditary. Director Ari Aster said himself on the A24 podcast that this was his “attempt at a horror film.”  If it walks like a horror movie and talks like a horror movie, it’s probably a horror movie. Hereditary, because of its design, was simply streamlined to be scarier than Midsommar. It was dark, suspenseful, and eerie. Not to mention, the last 10 minutes are just plain terrifying. Seriously, I will never get the image of Toni Collette hitting her head on the ceiling over and over again out of my mind.

Something about Hereditary just felt reallike it could happen to you or me. Whereas Midsommar had a bit more distance from reality. Crazy cult doing ritualistic things in Sweden? I guess I won’t be going to Sweden anytime soon! It's just that simple.

Personally, I think it’s a stretch to even call Midsommar a horror film at all. Rather, it’s a drama with horror elements. Ari Aster based the story off of a real-life breakup of his and didn’t originally intend to create a “scary movie” out of it. Not to mention, the look of the film is so anti-horror movie that it's often easy to forget that it's supposed to be something scary. Does that make it the perfect horror movie then? That it was able to be a horror movie without subscribing to all the previously known ideas of what a horror movie is? Maybe. But at the end of the day, my heart was racing far faster while viewing Hereditary as opposed to Midsommar.

Score:

"Hereditary": 3

"Midsommar": 2

Overall Winner for Best Horror Film: "Hereditary"

 

In the end, Hereditary was a more effective horror film in the sense that it achieved what it intended to do. I think the motives of Midsommar remain a bit more ambiguous, and for that reason, it also reigns as an excellent piece of cinema. I will even go as far as to say that Midsommar may be the better overall film, but alas Hereditary still takes the cake in the horror category.

Both of Ari Aster’s films are superb pieces of cinema that refreshed the horror genre for the better. What you or I believe to wear the pants for best horror film between Hereditary and Midsommar is irrelevant. What matters is the fact that horror is evolving; it's continuing to push the boundaries of cinema and it most certainly is not dead.

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