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111. “Midsommar” (Ari Aster, 2019)
“Midsommar” begins with a traumatic event and ends on a perverse sex scene, capped by devious, vengeful circumstances at once cathartic and macabre. It’s mad-science filmmaking worth rooting for: Aster refashions “The Wicker Man” as a perverse breakup movie, douses Swedish mythology in Bergmanesque despair, and sets the epic collage ablaze.
Perhaps the first bonafide horror movie to take place exclusively in daylight, “Midsommar” unfolds against a blinding whiteness of the midnight sun and bucolic vistas at odds with the psychological disturbances in play. Florence Pugh is stunning as Dani, who attempts to recover from a recent loss by following her terrible boyfriend (Jack Reynor) on a trip to the Swedish countryside. All kinds of bizarre cultish mayhem ensues, as the movie builds to riotous May Queen ritual that reaches phantasmagoric heights in its psychedelic finale. “Midsommar” illustrates the potential of a filmmaker both enamored of classic horror-movie tropes and eager to transform them into savvy instruments for dissecting intimate problems. We all go a little mad sometimes, especially when it comes to bad breakups, but the subversive kick of Aster’s climax suggests that sometimes that madness can feel just right. —EK
110. “Dracula” (Tod Browning, 1931)
The first thing you notice is his stillness. The chilling effect of Bela Lugosi’s performance as the undead Transylvanian count lies in his uncanny ability to stare into the camera… and into you. The opening 15 minutes is all that’s set in this courtly vampire’s home country, but director Tod Browning delivers a masterpiece of mood. One that’s pretty accurate, too: When Bram Stoker published “Dracula” in 1897, Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary — hence, all the peasants you see say their prayers in Hungarian, and of course Lugosi himself, 48 when he donned the cape and fangs onscreen, was Hungarian. He was only 6’1″ but he somehow seems much taller. His eyes sharply lit by a spotlight from cinematographer Karl Freund, Lugosi looks striking, even handsome. His protracted delivery set the stage for countless horror films to come (and even more parodies): “I do not drink… wine.” “We will leave tomorrow… even-ing.” But in context it also suits a character for whom English is far from a first language, and lends itself to a story about twee English folk fearing this exotic foreigner with his strange appetites. Most of Browning’s chills come from simple shot-reverse-shot edits, all powered by Lugosi’s unwavering gaze. He co