In the craziest movie sex scene of the year

Ari Aster’s Daylight-Drenched Nightmare Environment is never shy about the inevitability of its twisted fairytale ending. Quite the contrary: it exposes every step of our impending descent into pastoral hell in vivid, colorful images sewn onto quilts, long before the strangers we follow into a quaint Swedish commune understood what they mean. Without context, they only see a girl falling in love with bright red hearts in her eyes. Little do they know that they will soon be aware of a deliciously fucked up courtship display – or that it will culminate in one of the craziest sex scenes in recent memory, as hypnotic and unsettling as it is straight up. funny.

The Hereditary writer-director entered the Wicker man The folk horror lore was his way of dealing with “the ruins of a relationship that had just fallen apart,” Aster told The Daily Beast. Environment paints a compelling portrait of a disintegrating couple – Dani, played by Florence pugh, and Christian (Jack Reynor) – bound by little more than habit (on his part) and cowardice (on his). A trip abroad to the isolated Swedish community that one of Christian’s high school buddies hails from exposes all the cracks in their relationship to the midnight sun, forcing them to face their misfortune, to finally act.

Sometimes they do it while they are under the influence of drugs and in the clutches of a murderous sect. It all adds up to a sort of depraved catharsis, the kind Aster hopes “people will have to face later.”

(Warning: If you have not yet seen Environment and want to come in as blind as a sacrificial lamb, come back now. Light spoilers to come.)

Christian, who has long been looking for a way out of his relationship with Dani, catches the eye of his Swedish friend’s red-haired younger sister, Maja (Isabelle Grill), but not for her bubbly personality. She wants her baby, not him – the blood of strangers helps avoid the issue of incest. One thing leads to another and the minute Dani’s attention is diverted Christian finds himself stumbling over some hippie tea, tempted by Maja, who is waiting for him in a semicircle of pagan women – young, of middle aged and elderly, all naked and stroking each other. Once the date begins, everyone begins to moan in unison with Maja, creating a chorus of deviant cheerleaders.

It’s nightmarish, absurd, off-putting and darkly comical at the same time. Christian’s mouth is speechless, his eyes widening in wonder as he looks around and pumps. The hands of a wrinkled old woman planted firmly on her butt at one point, literally pushing him as she moaned. It’s an unsexy take on Christian’s fantasies, but also a point of no return for the character, sowing the grief and fury that motivates Dani’s final act.

And for a sex scene so disturbing it falls somewhere in between Howard the duck and David Cronenberg, maybe it’s a feat that this was only Aster’s first directorial debut.

“It was definitely the scene that excited me the most while writing the film,” he recalls, in a conversation at the offices of film distributor A24 in New York City. “And then when the time came to direct it, it was definitely the scene that worried me the most because I had never done a sex scene before, then I wrote this sex scene, ”he laughs. “It was like taking a real jump in cold water.”

The visceral jumble of conflicting reactions a viewer might have to the stage is the point. “It’s designed to be funny and uncomfortable and beautiful and weird, he says. The remainder of the film’s third act is intended to elicit “catharsis,” but not in a way that gets audiences off the hook. “The guy you’ve been conditioned to dislike is going to be humiliated for about 40 minutes and totally destroyed. He is totally undressed, made completely vulnerable, used by these women for their own ends. It is completely exploited by them.

For Aster, the archetype of popular horror in which a foreign man is tempted or manipulated in a vulnerable place by a young female cult member offered the opportunity to overturn another convention of horror. “Even though Christian gets what he thinks he wants, playing the field and living his life, so to speak, he’s used in a way that women tend to be into the horror genre,” he says. he. “Horror films and exploitation films are generally synonymous, and the people exploited are generally women. And so there was something fun about dressing this guy up and subjecting him to that.

EnvironmentThe blinding sun aesthetic typically meant seven- to ten-hour days of “sun hunting,” Aster says, but Christian’s scene was shot inside a Hungarian temple, giving the team a rare chance to film after sunset. It turned out to be the movie’s longest shooting day – around 5 p.m. – and the last day, to boot. Perhaps to appease his nerves more than anyone else, he took both the cast and crew through the “hundred times” streak.

The filming of the actual footage went “smoothly,” he says, even though he strayed from his norm to be successful. A meticulous planner who often goes beyond 20 takes per sequence, Aster has vowed to limit himself to “three or four takes” for this one, he says. “And for the most part we were actually doing them as a series, so I never even really cut it, I was just going back to one. It’s action, then going through the stage, then we just bring the camera and actors back to their original places.

The result is likely to haunt the minds of viewers as much as it tickles them. But has he ever watched the footage with an audience?

– Once, he said, smiling. “It was nice to hear laughter. It was good.”

Stay tuned: more information about our interview with Environment director Ari Aster will take place later this week.

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