The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011)

As a film lover and someone who loves to keep his ear to the ground to hear about films that people are talking about, I found “The Strange Thing about the Johnsons” to be a film everyone was buzzing about since 2011. Premiering at Slamdance, director Ari Aster’s short film has made waves across the board amassing a following of film lovers. The aspect about Ari Aster’s short film is that it’s built a foundation of movie lovers that have seen the film and either love it or absolutely despise it. Checking the buzz on the net, I’ve seen so many viewers who detest it from head to toe and just bash it endlessly, while others appreciate and adore its guts. One commenter of the film claims this is a part of the Jewish agenda to tarnish the African American image.

Sydney is a well meaning father who accidentally walks in on his son Isaiah masturbating one day, and after an awkward encounter allows him to express himself sexually and pretty much gives him the go ahead on pleasing himself and exploring his own sexual desires. This inevitably backfires on Sydney as we learn that this connection between father and son has become a taboo bond that has no end in sight. Director Ari Aster not only spotlights a disgustingly common demon of families for centuries, but manages to change the formula, turn it on its head, and derive dark comedy from it more times than not. Hollywood has built this image of the African American upper class family, somewhat implicating this idea that they are a notch above other families. The efforts to depict African American families as just as normal as everyone else has rendered them incapable of flaw, and Aster challenges that notion that, yes, they’re like everyone else.

Even with the same series of demons in their closet. And Director Ari Aster completely shatters this cliché by setting the light on an upper class aristocratic family named the Johnsons, all of whom have a secret that is disgusting, disturbing, and impossible to turn away from. Aster satirizes and sheds the light on the cycle of violence, and explores the process of sexual abuse as a door that turns both ways. By featuring a different dynamic to a brutal crime often involving family, Aster calls attention to its vicious timeline while also allowing the audience to feel somewhat amused by the absurdity of it. Again, “The Strange Thing about the Johnsons” is a film you’ll either loathe or love, and I found myself loving it from the prologue. Aster’s film is brilliantly shot with incredible cinematography and a slick sense of storytelling that offers disturbing imagery that is never shown to the audience. It also helps that Aster is able to derive some incredible performances from his entire cast, all of whom play the material with a morbid tongue in cheek that signals what we’re seeing is just absolutely intolerable.

And yet, there’s really nothing that can be done about it. Director Aster adds some shocks to the proceedings as well as a climax that is inevitable, but strictly the occurrence of fiction and fiction only. Because in reality, this kind of crime is almost never dealt with, and is the path to self-destruction for most. A polarizing and daring short film, “The Strange Thing about the Johnsons” is a morbid and grotesque short dark comedy that will inspire many a discussions, awkward laughs, and just gasps of awe. Director Ari Aster has created something of a gem, and it’s worth watching. You can find it online if you look hard enough.