- Director Jonathan Levine used Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” as inspiration for “Nine Perfect Strangers.”
- Levine studied the scene in which Dani (Pugh) trips on magic mushrooms, watching it “over and over.”
- He also found inspiration in movies like “Black Swan” and “Get Out.”
Before director Jonathan Levine began work on “Nine Perfect Strangers,” he dedicated hours to researching on-screen drug trips. Insider told him that he wanted his portrayal to be evocative, difficult, and a bit funny.
Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” (2019), a dark fairy-tale film about American graduate students that unwittingly become enmeshed in a sinister Swedish cult, proved the ultimate reference point for the
series, which follows nine individuals that microdose psilocybin during their stay at a holistic wellness retreat.
“‘Midsommar,’ we certainly ripped off a lot,” Levine told Insider, pausing to note that the director behind the A24 film is “so talented.”
In “Midsommar,” the details of the students’ sun-drenched Scandinavian vacation become hazy after they ingest psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, and drink hallucinogenic tea. Aster and Pawel Pogorzelski, the cinematographer, created specific visuals to take viewers along on the trip. The colors in the film are vibrant and the later scenes are shot using a wide lens to create more depth, the collaborators told IndieWire.
“A lot of the look and a lot of the compositions [of ‘Midsommar’] were big references for us,” Levine said of “Nine Perfect Strangers.”
One scene of “Midsommar,” in particular, resonated with Levine: Shortly after Dani (Florence Pugh), a young woman grieving the recent loss of her family, doses psilocybin en route to the Swedish village, she grows captivated by the countryside surrounding her. She experiences hallucinations like grass growing out of the palm of her hand and pulsating tree limbs. But when one of her friends mentions the word “family,” Dani’s mind is flooded with thoughts of her parents’ deaths. She flees in a panic into the forest.
“That scene where Florence Pugh starts to trip… I watched that over and over again,” the “Nine Perfect Strangers” director said as he considered ways to bring the characters from Liane Moriarty’s 2018 novel to the screen.
It wasn’t just about accurately capturing the reality of a hallucinogenic trip for Levine, but rather portraying a “parallel reality,” telling Insider that he was drawn to “movies where reality is questioned.”
Other films — like “Black Swan,” “Three Women,” “Black Narcissus,” and “Get Out” — shaped his vision as well, he said. After doing extensive research and reflecting on his own experiences, he realized that the key to balance the eight-episode program’s tone was to balance it.
“It’s the fact that it can be simultaneously horrific and funny at the same time, which is something I actually have experienced myself on mushrooms, just the sheer weight of what you’re doing makes things either hilarious or incredibly challenging,” He agreed.
Levine previously included drug-trip scenes in his films “The Night Before” (2015) and “Long Shot” (2019) but said “Nine Perfect Strangers” was his “most challenging balancing act ever.” With nine individuals taking hallucinogens over a sustained period of time while each working through their own individual traumas, the format posed an initial challenge.
“At the end of the day, the only way I could wrap my head around it was to make it about the people,” Insider heard from Levine.
Levine continued: “As fun as it is for me to put on a wide-angle lens on the camera and do a Steadicam move, it’s the characters and our empathy for them that really grounds it and carries us through the whole thing.”