The Strange Thing About the Johnsons
Dir. Ari Aster (2011)
An upper middle-class family has a secret that would ruin everything if revealed.
CAUTION: THIS MOVIE'S SUBJECT & CONTENT IS EXTREMELY DISTURBING AND/OR BRUTAL. I HAVE CHOSEN NOT TO INCLUDE ANY PICTURES IN THIS REVIEW BECAUSE THEY MAY BE UPSETTING TO SOME READERS. MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.
Director Ari Aster is a fucking genius. I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last. His films Hereditary and Midsommar are brilliant, and better minds than me have praised them with words that I don’t even know. I decided to throw an Aster-fest by reviewing both of his critically acclaimed (and extremely disturbing) films, and I also wanted to throw in his popular short film as well. And holy hell, I can see how his films turned out the way they did.
The Strange Things About the Johnsons is about an upper middle-class family that would fit in everywhere in America. The father, an acclaimed poet; the mother, a legendary homemaker; and the son, recently married to a woman just as charming as he is. The thing is… the son has been molesting his father since he was 12 years old. Read that again in case you didn’t quite get it the first time. The film is an extremely disturbing look inside of a nuclear family where appearances are not what they seem and the family is closer than one would expect.
The themes of the film are thought-provoking and painful, more than a little indicative of Aster’s twisted mind. It brings about questions of consent, responsibility, and control, exposing family dynamics that influence and permeate all levels of our culture, but it manages to somehow turn all of these complicated emotional subjects on their heads. It is a truly brilliant short film, packing the same punch that Aster is known for into a tiny package, running roughly a half hour. While it definitely isn’t as developed as his two features, it’s tight, fast-paced, and never feels like things are moving slower than they should be. The acting is really good for a short, and it’s easy to see why the studios came calling shortly thereafter.
Who this movie is for: Short film fans, Ari Aster lovers, Backwards Oedipus
Bottom Line: Aster is a master already, and he started his brand of disturbing entertainment right from the beginning with The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. It’s free to watch on YouTube, and it’s worth a watch for any fans of disturbing films. Another warning, however: the film is exceptionally disturbing with triggers out the wazoo. If that’s something that concerns you, maybe read a synopsis instead or avoid it altogether.