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Film and drama

Screen Themes: Midsommar vs Uncut Gems

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Genuine tension is a rare thing in modern movies. Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out two recent releases that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Uncut Gems

Directed by Benny & Josh Safdie

You might not have heard of the Safdie brothers, but the New York duo have been collaborating to make tense and uncomfortable movies since 2005. Some readers might know them for making Robert Pattinson seem like he might be a decent actor in 2017’s Good Time. The brother's first feature length collaboration was 2009’s Daddy Long Legs (also known as Go Get Some Rosemary), a film loosely based on their upbringing, when they were split between acrimoniously divorced parents. This fractured relationship provides a central theme to much of the Safdie brothers work, and Uncut Gems is no exception.

Adam Sandler plays the fast-talking, sweatily charismatic Howie Ratner, a successful Manhattan gem dealer whose gambling addiction and increasingly bad decisions begin to catch up with him. Alienated from his soon-to-be-divorced wife and hounded by loan sharks, Howie is a terrible father to his teenaged kids and always on the lookout for the next big score, usually to his detriment. With every move Howie makes, the tension ratchets up a notch, to the point where some viewers of a nervous disposition may stop watching entirely.

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The fact Adam Sandler plays the lead role in this film may deter some viewers, but I implore you to believe the accolades that this is the best performance of his entire career.  Memories of the mentally challenged man-child that Sandler has played for most of his life are erased within moments as viewers are immersed in a world that feels grimy, scary and incredibly real.

With a supporting cast that includes LaKeith Stanfield (from the TV series, Atlanta), Idina Menzel (from Frozen), Eric Bogosian (from Under Siege 2) and Kevin Garnett (from the basketball team Boston Celtics, playing himself), Uncut Gems is a masterpiece of anxiety. Maybe Adam Sandler has grown up, but the more likely explanation is that the Safdie brothers have an uncanny ability to pull a great performance out of a not-so-great actor (reference R. Pattinson, above).

Midsommar

Directed by Ari Aster


The genre of horror movies is diverse, to say the least. From the stylish restraint of Suspira, to the unrepentant gore of Evil Dead, horror covers a lot of ground. With this in mind, Midsommar could fairly be called a horror genre outlier — lyrically composed and beautifully shot, but with a jet black heart beating in its Nordic chest.

A bit like Hostel with far better cinematography, Midsommar tells the tale of a group of American students who are invited to a cultural festival in a remote region of Sweden. Our protagonist is Dani (Florence Pugh), a young woman struggling with grief following the death of her family, who tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Chris Pratt lookalike Jack Reynor) and his "bros" on their journey. As the tourists take lots of drugs and struggle with the fact the sun never goes down, the air of unease continues to grow.

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From a thematic point of view, it’s interesting to see how much director Ari Aster plays with the concept of "wokeness". Despite being horror movie standard-issue moronic American tourists, Dani and her friends refuse to condemn the increasingly disturbing behaviour of the locals, writing off their unease on cultural differences.

With influences from movies like The Wicker Man, The Ritual and even A Clockwork Orange, Midsommar isn’t your regular horror movie. It’s disturbing, to be sure, but seldom feels predictable, gratuitous, or derivative, which certainly isn’t something that can be said about most of the horror flicks made today.

The Verdict

Some people watch movies for a wholesome, innocent, good time. Neither of these movies are suitable for those people.

If you’ve been considering a Scandinavian holiday and aren’t put off by cultural differences, which may or may not involve ritual sacrifice, Midsommar is definitely the movie for you.

If, on the other hand, you want to see a deeply flawed man make increasingly desperate moves you’re pretty sure will lead to his inevitable well-earned downfall, then Uncut Gems is your jam.

Midsommar — 7/10

Uncut Gems — 9/10

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