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Ari Aster had gradually made a name for himself in the terms of the horror genre with his next film Midsommar coming after his 2018 directorial debut Hereditary. Before either, Aster had made several short films that would come to define his style. His most well-known short film is a little piece called The Strange Thing About the Johnsons.
The Strange Thing About the Johnsons revolves around an African American middle class family with the family patriarch Sidney Johnson a famous writer; his wife Joan; and son, Isaiah. Beneath the surface however, is a dark family secret one of abuse. For the most part, the film displays some of the motifs that Aster would later implement in his films. The film upon first viewing is very disturbing with the twist of the role reversal involved in the domestic abuse. It makes it almost unnerving to watch, it'd make one squirm in their seat. But for what it's worth, it does present the topic in a moderately respectable manner. There are many scenes that are genuinely unnerving, but some are also kind of funny. The absurdity of the situation is the source of humor rather than the issue itself, but it is never as a knee-slapping good time: people laugh more because they cannot process what they are watching.
Acting is corny for the most part. Billy Mayo plays the troubled Sidney, and while he is serviceable, Sidney otherwise comes off as a weak character and because a f the role reversal, it's hard to really find it believable. Angela Bullock plays Joan, and at first, she comes off as unlikable. She is fully aware of the abuse happening under her roof, but she does nothing about it until it becomes too late. Brandon Greenhouse plays Isaiah who is honestly the only good performance. He is intimidating and comes off as eerily realistic in the way that domestic abusers function in real life. They put on the image of being ordinary people, but are otherwise manipulative, controlling, and deflect blame and criticism onto their victim. As for the rest, the acting is corny but it also comes from the absurdity of the situation.
In all, the film isn't for the faint of heart. It is very triggering to anyone who was in a situation like the film, but it does show some of the unpleasantries that Aster would later use in Hereditary.
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