This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tuomas Kiiskinen’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The director's cut is absolutely an improvement over the theatrical cut, but the same problem still persists, that I simply don't believe Dani's decision to sacrifice her boyfriend. The guy is a manipulative snake, which the theatrical cut makes even more apparent. There are more scenes of him gaslighting Dani and there are added scenes that flesh out his conflict with Chidi regarding him choosing pretty much the same subject as his thesis. That being said, Christian never just gets to the level where I believe Dani would want him dead and that frustrates me so much. I love the idea of her killing him as the culmination of her indoctrination to the cult, but I just don't buy it.
Asides from that rather massive point, I love the director's cut. It fleshes out so much of the story, adding dimensions and a few scenes that delightfully foreshadow what's to come. The biggest one is easily the night time festivity, where Dani and others almost witness another suicide sacrifice to the gods, which is called off as a clear way to try to convince Dani, that the place isn't as bad as she thinks it is. We get a lengthy discussion between Dani and Christian where Dani flat out confronts him about if he wants to continue the relationship or not, because she really feels like he wants to end it and that she has been in denial about his feelings for the longest.
In a way I completely understand why this was cut from the theatrical cut. The scene happens only ten minutes after first ritual suicides, which makes it too soon to be doing something, which is very similar and the conversation between Dani and Christian shows Dani having maybe a little too much clarity when it comes to their relationship, but the scene does bring it back by having Christian gaslight her and guilt trip her into feeling she's the bad guy, even though Christian is just a spineless coward who doesn't have the courage to break up.
Another crucial re-contextualized scene happens when a village elder discusses with Christian inside the house. In the theatrical cut the scene is shorter and mostly alludes to the pube in the food thing, while here in the director's cut, the elder flat out negotiates with him about him having sex with the girl and impregnating. Neither here or in the theatrical do we see him say yes. He goes back to the may queen dance looking all kinds of uncomfortable. One of the village girls gives him the drug, which she flat out says helps him bring down his defenses. With no objections he takes it and I assume this is supposed to signify how indecisiveness is his sin, which leads to his downfall, but I don't think it works that well in this context. His cowardice in his relationship makes perfect sense, but I don't buy that he wouldn't have clarity or confidence in other contexts. So him being rather reluctant with the drug and then eventually with the ritual sex kind of collides what the movie is building towards otherwise.
The weird thing is, that I don't know what could have fixed my problem. If you make Christian even more clearly manipulative, cowardly and all around shit, you make his sacrifice burning more cathartic than you do terrifying, but if you don't make him worse, then how is Dani's decision going to make more sense? She's characterized as a sensitive, incredibly empathetic person who probably forgives and understands too much and while everyone has their breaking point, I just don't belive that her seeing him fuck the girl in especially as fucked up of a context as it happened in as something that would alter her morals so greatly that would explain her decision.
I got it. When Christian runs away from the den of love and discovers that one guy's body, which leads to him getting knocked out, we cut immediately to the finale where Dani is in her flower tower and Christian is paralyzed. Dani jumps from her seeing the fucking, to her being love bombed by the cultists only to immediately cut to final stage. This part needed to show me that Dani has fallen into psychosis, because that's really what her state of mind at the finale is supposed to be. Christian only needs to be caught after he starts running, the longer you stay on him, the more helpless he comes off and the easier it's to feel for him. Immediately catch him, show Dani clearly falling into psychosis and then cut to the finale, maybe then the scene would have landed exactly as I would have hoped.
This might seem like a whole a lot about something that only takes a few moments in the movie and it absolute is. Even though I don't like the ending as much as I would hope, I think everything else is fantastic. The second time made the cult indoctrination a hell of a lot more harrowing, especially how much they take and advantage of Dani's vulnerable state, but I also think if it had been more focused on that, the movie would have been a masterpiece because all the pieces are there, it's just that Aster unfortunately was primarily interested in the relationship between Christian and Dani.
The atmosphere of the movie is pure joy, which is most likely why I loved all of the deleted scenes, except the dream sequence. I remember seeing the theatrical cut and coming away from it thinking I could have watched four hours of that world and loved all of it even though I thought it was crucially flawed. I loved the tone, the setting and the actors that much.