Graphic by Alexandria Moore
Summer movie lineups typically feature great diversity, both in genre and quality, and the 2019 summer lineup is no exception. From live-action Disney adaptations to folk horror/romance hybrid films, this summer was certainly a dynamic one for the film industry. That being said, some of the films released this summer managed to stick out in this very unique crowd, both in good and bad ways.
One such film is Tate Taylor’s “Ma”, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer that follows the story of a middle-aged woman who allows a group of high school students to use her basement as a party venue. Drawn in by the fact that the woman, who calls herself “Ma,” is willing to supply them with alcohol, the teenagers let their guard down as Ma becomes increasingly erratic, clingy and manipulative, inevitably driving the film’s plot.
The reason that this film sticks out is that it falls flat in almost every way imaginable when executing this concept. The biggest flaw with the movie is the writing. The script gives the teenage characters the typical, cheesy, unrealistic dialogue that is reflective of the way that a middle-aged man suspects that high school students talk. Consequently, the performances for these characters made them feel shallow and one-dimensional. The main protagonist felt no different from the other copied-and-pasted American teenage personalities that made up the cast.
The overall tone of the film is just bland and gloomy; it feels like there is supposed to be some sense of dread that comes from Ma’s unraveling character, but the writing, music, cinematography and acting all work to ensure that the tone stays consistently flat throughout the film. This disappointing waste of a premise is what lands “Ma” the title of the worst movie of the summer.
In a similar vein lies Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.” Starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, the movie follows a Hollywood actor and his stuntman as they navigate what their next steps should be now that they are approaching their careers’ sunset years.
This film faces a very different type of flaw from “Ma” in that the dialogue is engaging, the performances are dynamic, the tone is nostalgic and the cinematography is competently done. On almost every technical level, this film is perfectly adequate; the biggest problem that it has is that is all that can be said about it. In the entire two hour, 41-minute run time, the plot only manages to be interesting in its last 20 minutes.
As a standalone movie, it is an entirely unremarkable experience. But if put into the context of Tarantino’s body of work, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is a startling disappointment from a filmmaker who is typically known for the engaging manner in which he can make a story unfold. This failure to meet expectations lands the film only slightly above “Ma” in a summer movie ranking.
Moving to the opposite end of the spectrum is “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” Directed by Jon Watts, the movie is both a standalone Spider-Man story and a way to connect the events of “Endgame” to the MCU’s next phase. The plot follows Peter Parker as a school trip to Europe is abruptly interrupted by an archaic, almost fantastical group of adversaries known as “The Elementals.”
The unconventional plot, beautiful CGI, interesting antagonist and endearing dialogue are all wildly complemented by the dynamic that Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal bring to the screen. The two actors have a chemistry that makes the entire film more meaningful, especially considering that their characters both represent another’s flaws in one way or another. This use of complementary character development truly is what makes the movie a memorable experience. It becomes even more meaningful when taking into account Spider-Man’s tumultuous situation regarding the character’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of these factors place “Spider-Man: Far from Home” as the second-best film of the summer.
This finally leads to Ari Aster’s sophomore film “Midsommar,” a folk-horror film that follows the story of a woman who has been faced with enormous, personal loss as she finds herself going on an academic trip with her boyfriend to a secluded neo-pagan commune in Sweden. Making a large departure from the dark atmosphere of his directorial debut “Hereditary,” Aster brings the incredibly grotesque horrors of this tension-filled exploration of darkness into the bright sunlight, with the contrast between the sunny, beautiful scenery and dark story elements fueling this tense atmosphere.
Every aspect of “Midsommar” is exceptional, from the performances of Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor, who play the roles of protagonist Dani and boyfriend Christian, to the stunning cinematography and chilling original soundtrack by Bobby Krlic. The film manages to invoke such an extreme range of emotions and is an extremely cathartic and jarring experience that will undoubtedly remain a cult classic for years to come.
With a timely release at the beginning of July, “Midsommar” earns its place as the best of the 2019 summer movie lineup, and without a doubt will be a contender for this year’s best film.