Ari Aster is uncomfortable. It's two days after his latest film Midsommar, out on July 3, screened for critics, but only a day after he put the final touches on his upsetting, weirdly funny spin on folk horror. Aster agreed to a photoshoot with Thrillist, but he's not at ease in front of the camera at all. He seems utterly miserable, and says as much. For a moment, it feels like payback.
Over the course of two feature films, the 32-year-old Aster has redefined what it means to make audiences squirm in their seats. About 30 minutes into Hereditary, a young woman, in a state of anaphylactic shock, is decapitated when she sticks her head out the window of a swerving car to gasp for air. Even sooner into Midsommar, Aster reveals the terrible fate that befalls the parents and sister of his heroine Dani (Florence Pugh), crafting an image that will probably never leave my mind.
As we sit on couches after the shoot, more relaxed, in New York's Crosby Street Hotel, Aster promises that it's not a sadistic impulse -- his term. "I guess what drives me to do that, film after film and script after script -- there are a lot of other scripts that go kind of in that direction -- is probably as simple as I'm a neurotic guy, and I have a lot of fears, and I'm hypochondriacal. If anything, it's I can unburden myself of something by inflicting it on these imaginary people. I found that a lot of my most present fears become secondary, or they lose power, at the end of these movies. That's a dangerous thing that I'm learning, because it just encourages me to do it more often." He continues: "It's not me taking pleasure in torturing people. But, you know, life is suffering. And I want to honor the pain of the people in my films."
I push the matter further and he admits that the writing process isn't entirely grim or anxiety ridden. "There's a mischievous side of me that enjoys like, you know, fashioning worst-case scenarios," he says.