Will Ari Aster’s Disappointment Blvd. To be a horror movie?
With the one-two punch of Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019), Ari Aster has endeared himself to lovers of horror, arthouse and all things weird. After a three-year break, he will return this year with Boulevard of disappointment. (2022), the sprawling story of a successful entrepreneur starring Joaquin Phoenix. The cast also includes such important names as Nathan Lane, Meryl Streep, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Richard Kind. Aster will co-produce with Midsommar producer Lars Knudsen, and the film will be distributed by A24.
No official release date has been announced and very little is known about the film. However, the little we do knowing is enough to get us excited for what will no doubt be an uncompromising descent into anxiety, madness, ambition and desperation – in other words, another classic Ari Aster movie.
Will this film be another anxiety-provoking horror film, using the sandbox of the genre to plunge us into transgressive psychological spaces? Or will it mark a new chapter in Aster’s burgeoning filmography (one that will have no trouble disturbing its audience without the aid of horror tropes)? What is the movie really on?
What we know so far: Gender
Little is known about Boulevard of disappointment.story or genre. According to Wikipedia, it’s a horror/comedy, although it’s unclear if this is confirmed or just speculation. In a 2019 Reddit AMA, Aster said he planned to follow Midsommar with a four-hour “nightmare comedy”. There has been speculation that Aster was referring to handsome is scareda leaked script about an anxious man with mommy issues.
Yes Boulevard of disappointment. marks Aster’s return to this material, it won’t be the first time he’s delved into his twisted world. In 2011, Aster published handsomean eleven-minute variation on the story and themes of handsome is scared (this film, as well as most of Aster’s short filmography, is readily available on YouTube). Like the feature film script, handsome (2011) resists classification in terms of genre and narrative structure. Its plot contains elements of Repulsion (1965), Alone at home (1990), and duck soup (1933). In other words, the short straddles the lines between horror, thriller, and slapstick without ever giving audiences the relief of settling into a singular mode.
Aster’s approach to gender
Whether Boulevard of disappointment. is a new title handsome is scared or an entirely new storyline remains to be seen. Regardless, the movie is unlikely to be a typical horror/comedy if it is a horror/comedy. There’s no doubt that Ari Aster can make a horror movie off the ground, but it was clear from the start that his ambitions stretched beyond any genre. For all his haunted house shenanigans, Hereditary is a heartbreaking melodrama about grief, trauma and hereditary dysfunction. At one level, Midsommar is classic folk horror, filled with American tourists, pagan rituals and human sacrifice – but Aster knows we know the formula and allows much of the horror to take place in the background, focusing instead on the failing relationship between its protagonists. Thus, the film becomes as much about co-dependency and cultural attitudes towards empathy as the ancient versus modern conflict intrinsic to the genre.
This playfulness of the genre goes back to Aster’s short work, which balanced the twisted, the macabre and the whimsical. The weird thing about the Johnsons (2011) is a straight-acting non-PC shock comedy, with genuine empathy for its characters. So it morphs into jaw-dropping horror of epic proportions without ever giving up the sick humor inherent in its premise (if you’re unfamiliar with the controversial film, it’s a Google search – but be warned: this is not for the faint-hearted). Likewise, Munchhausen (2013) mimics the tender, wordless structure of a Pixar short – until it turns into a comically morbid rumination on the hurt we do to the people we love. Aster’s other shorts live well outside the horror box, ranging from monologue films to neo-noir, though they also take an anarchic approach to the genre.
All this to say that whatever the story Boulevard of disappointment. follows, it will almost certainly resist classification. Will it be a horror movie? Maybe – but certainly not in a conventional sense. Aster may have carved out a niche for himself in the art horror world, but his cinematic tastes are eclectic. He has written and spoken passionately about authors as disparate as Ingmar Bergman and Albert Brooks. With the boundaries he’s already pushed in his genre films, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll eventually step out of the genre altogether.
What we know so far: history
The little that East known to Boulevard of disappointment.The story of – which spans decades and follows a successful entrepreneur – suggests less of a gore festival and more of a story of ambition, success and disappointment. Genre-wise, this would place it in line with American epics that focus on the rise (and fall) of the individual within a capitalist state (a large and diverse subgenre including scarface (1983), there will be blood (2007), The social network (2010), and more). That’s not to say the film won’t border on the horrifying realm (there will be blood spends much of its runtime playing like a horror movie, thanks in large part to Johnny Greenwood’s score) – only that its horror probably won’t come from ghosts or murder cults. Which, for an Ari Aster fan, shouldn’t be a problem at all – though its absurd violence and chilling imagery shines, the real source of terror is still human frailty and existential despair. That’s what makes his films truly scary, and it’s not a source of horror that needs the archetypes of the horror genre.
Whatever the shape Boulevard of disappointment. eventually takes, it will no doubt be a provocative, unclassifiable dive into the recesses of the human psyche – and moviegoers will be better off for it.
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