A group of (toxic) friends travel to Sweden to visit a mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves (like the plot of this film) into a violent and bizarre experience.
Midsommar starts off strong, then devolves into a muddled mess plot wise. Ari Aster clearly hopes you’re too spellbound by the pretty visuals, solid acting, and explicit violence to notice that this isn’t a very good movie overall.
The history-making Black film director, screenwriter, and producer John Singleton has passed away at the age of 51 after suffering a stroke on April 17. Singleton used his talent to shine light on Black urban life, blazing a trail for many filmmakers, such as Ryan Coogler and Jordan Peele. His work centered the narrative of the Black experience.
Singleton rose to fame with his first film, Boyz n the Hood, in 1991. It featured an array of Black Hollywood actors that would go on to be stars in their own right, such as Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Regina King, and Angela Bassett. The film focused on a group of Black teenagers living in South Central Los Angeles maneuvering between gang violence, poverty, police harassment, and trying to succeed despite the odds stacked against them.
It was a film that gave nuanced layers to its teenage characters, their struggles, defeats, and triumphs. Singleton, who wrote and directed the feature, dared the audience to take a look at the dangers and trials inner-city Black youth faced in a gritty and unapologetic way. He did all of this at the age of 24, which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. Singleton made history not only as the youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Director, but the first African American as well.
The filmmaker would go on to use his influence to testify before a Senate subcommittee at a hearing titled “Children at War: Violence and America’s Youth,” in 1992. Along with other witnesses, Singleton gave testimony on the possible causes for the then rising homicide rates among America’s youth. Singleton highlighted illegal drug trafficking and gun violence and bought attention to those most affected by them.
At the hearing, he stated, “My intention is to shed light on some things that may not be getting emphasis [at this hearing] when speaking to the violent conditions our children in this country are going through now…. The condition in which these children [in large American cities] live in did not just pop up like magic. They were created. Most of the guns that children receive are acquired through illegal means, and many trickle down from organized efforts. And it is a fact that the drug trade in this country is largely, and intentionally, concentrated in most urban areas…and is not in the control of those that live in these cities, or those most adversely affected.”
Singleton would go on to create a number of iconic movies that centered young Black people in the narrative. Poetic Justice, starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in 1993, displayed the power of love and hope in the midst of violence and tragedy. His 1995 film, Higher Learning, explored the themes of the Black experience in predominantly white spaces, sexuality, white supremacy, and education under an oppressive system.
The story focused on Black and white students at the fictional Columbus University. One of the most notable quotes from the film, from the main character Malik, a young Black man, speaking his feelings about living in the U.S. and attending college:
“As a Black man in America, my stress comes from everywhere. Recognize. Take a look around you. Look at this, Columbus, it disgusts me. Fool wasn’t nothin’ but a thief, mass murderer. He done slaughtered millions of Native Americans, and we done got a holiday and university named after his honor.”
In 1997, Singleton brought the story of the 1923 Rosewood massacre to the mainstream public. His feature film Rosewood was a historical fiction drama based on the racially-motivated massacre of Black people residing in Levy County, Florida. With a possible death count as high as fifty or more, the predominantly African-American town of Rosewood was destroyed by racist white hysteria. This moment in history was hidden for decades until the 1980s, and it wasn’t until Singleton’s film that the story was disseminated widely.
Singleton stayed busy with a number of projects since the 1990s, such as Shaft (2000), Baby Boy (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and Four Brothers (2005). He co-created the American crime drama television series Snowfall, which focuses on the crack epidemic of the 1980s and its impact on the city of Los Angeles.
A quote from an interview Singleton gave to the Guardian in 2017 perhaps best describes the legacy in film he leaves behind:
“Drugs devastated a generation. It gave me something to write about, but I had to survive it first. It made me a very angry young man. I didn’t understand why I was so angry, but I wasn’t someone who took my anger and applied it inward. I turned it into being a storyteller. I was on a kamikaze mission to really tell stories from my perspective—an authentic Black perspective.”
Singleton’s films centering the Black experience will live on, inspiring future Black storytellers and showing that these stories can be told, despite the odds.
In a surprise release, Blumhouse Productions debuted its latest film Thriller on the streaming giant Netflix on April 14. Although there is no shortage of slasher flicks, the subgenre of horror movies that involve a violent psychopath stalking and murdering a group of people, Thriller serves as a fresher take on this type of film.
Usually, entries in the subgenre are set in some suburb, where the focus is often on upper-middle-class predominantly white youth. Thriller decides to center working-class inner-city high schoolers of Compton, California instead. With this shift, the movie breathes a bit of fresh air into the tried and true tropes of horror, while adding a flavor of the real world traumas and struggles working-class teenagers have to contend with—horrors that go beyond fictional masked serial killers.
Produced by Blumhouse Productions and Meridian Entertainment, the film is directed by Dallas Jackson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ken Rance. It stars Tequan Richmond (Boomerang), Jessica Allain (The Honor List), Chelsea Rendon (Murder in the Woods), Mitchell Edwards (The First Purge), Pepi Sonuga (Leprechaun Returns), Maestro Harrell (The Wire), Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (better known as RZA of the famous hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan), and Mykelti Williamson (The Purge: Election Year).
The film focuses on a group of high school seniors in Compton who harbor a dark secret. Years ago, in a prank gone terribly wrong that resulted in the death of a classmate, the group was responsible for the imprisonment of their peer, Chauncey Page. Four years later, as the clique is attending their last homecoming dance and preparing to head into the world after high school, they find themselves in fear for their lives. it appears that Chauncey is out of prison, and he may be set on revenge by killing them off one by one.
The film has a number of positive aspects that stand out. The aesthetic of the movie has a 1980s B-movie horror vibe to it. Some may say that means “low-budget,” but I contend that this look was deliberate in that many of the slasher movies that have become cult or mainstream classics often came from that decade. The film also pays homage to some of these movies, such as Prom Night, The Prowler, and My Bloody Valentine, in various ways, while putting its own spin on some of the iconic moments associated with those pictures. This will be a treat for fans of the genre who want to test their horror trivia as they watch.
Something that goes against the grain of what we’ve seen in slasher flicks of the past is that the characters aren’t simply one-dimensional archetypes waiting to be killed off. The story does well in giving each of the young people, all young people of color, an interesting background and story to deal with that go beyond the immediate danger of a stalker. Not only are they young people dealing with the trauma of holding their dark secret, but they are also young people thinking about their future, and how most of them feel like the odds are stacked against them because of their class and race.
The film does well in highlighting each of the main characters’ problems, such as being able to afford college and avoiding the gang and gun violence in their community. There are scenes in which, while discussing the possibility of a shadowy figure trying to kill them, the young people lament over how it seems like the world is against them being successful or surviving. This is different from what viewers may be used to from other slasher films, where the characters’ only concern, outside of avoiding a fictional murderer, is who is dating whom.
This layered character approach that the film takes speaks to the larger theme within the story. Although there is a possible killer after the group, being that they are inner-city youth of color, this is not their first brush with danger or hardship. Slasher flicks of the past have often taken place in the predominantly white suburbs. Placing a serial killer in the midst of the suburbs shattered the idea of security and safe haven that is often associated with upper-middle-class life. The fear of death in that way is abnormal for “those people” supposedly. Thriller subverts this trope by placing a killer in a place where the fear of early and unnatural death isn’t exactly an anomaly, but an embedded way of life. This makes for interesting dialogue between characters as we see the way they deal with their fear and trauma.
There are a number of scenes where, even before the body count rises, characters are already speaking to real-life horror. There’s a moment where a character even explains the dangers of being young and Black in the United States. They do this by highlighting the fact that Black people are more likely to be shot by the police than their white peers, and that Black men aged 15–34 are between nine and sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than any other group.
Yet, even with the heavy subject matter the movie tackles, there are fun elements as well. The moments of humor help to bring levity to the script, along with the energetic soundtrack. The movie has some effective jump scares that remind you this is a horror film, after all. The kill count isn’t very high for those looking for an all-out bloodfest, but there’s plenty of murder throughout.
The one drawback of the film is that the plot twist, as many of these types of films tend to have, may seem predictable for viewers. I figured it out about halfway through, but the journey to get to that reveal was still an enjoyable ride.
Fans of this horror subgenre who are looking for something a little different, and a bit deeper, while still maintaining the slasher aesthetic, will enjoy Thriller. At one hour and twenty-six minutes, the movie isn’t too long or drawn out, and even makes some valid points about society along the way.
Thriller is now streaming on Netflix. The trailer can be seen here.