The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (Ari Aster, 2011, USA)

The Strange Thing About the Johnsons opens with an awkward instance of a father disrupting his son in the middle of a private business, followed by an apology. The level of awkwardness is immediately quite high. There is an immediate twist revealed within the first few minutes, indicating that this is not a normal family at all. The film then flashes back to 14 years earlier, to the scene of a festive outdoor party, celebrating a special event. This party soon becomes the scene of a horrible discovery by one of the attendees, who is traumatized but promptly ignores the events.

We learn that the family patriarch, Sidney Johnson, is a celebrated writer and poet. We have entered seemingly normal domestic life with a nuclear family. Knowing what we already know about the characters involved, the whole film has taken on the character of deep menace. Sidney, later on, places a script on his son's bed, asking for forgiveness. This then leads to a confrontation between Sidney and his son Isaiah, wherein Isaiah tells him he is going to burn the script. After a horrifying encounter, the confrontation between father and son culminates with Sidney running into the road and getting hit by a car. 


The film ends with a brutally violent confrontation. The Strange Thing is extreme even by the standards of Midsommar and Hereditary and does make one wonder why Aster felt compelled to make such a film. Technically the film is well-made, although it is hard to see much here beyond the pure shock value. Unsurprisingly, the film has become something of a viral success on YouTube, and it is the kind of divisive film which will repulse many audience members. In the context of Aster's filmography, is the most fully realized and developed of his short films overall. 


6/10

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