Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Ari Aster and the one word titles!
Following the success of Hereditary in 2018, Ari Aster is back with Midsommar and he’s still playing in that horror sandpit. Whereas that movie was a psychological family horror-drama, Midsommar is straight-up folk horror – comparisons have been made to The Wicker Man (not the Nic Cage one…) and it’s really not hard to see why. They aren’t the same movie, but what made The Wicker Man so unsettling is just what makes Midsommar unsettling also. The slow burn. The slow march towards something horrifying.
The movie follows the struggling relationship of Dani (Pugh) and Christian (Reynor) as they travel to a strange midsummer festival in Sweden – rural Sweden, to be exact – in order to research for Christian and his buddies’ thesis. The local festivalgoers aren’t quite as they seem, however, as behind their white cult robes and ideals lies something far more horrific than their American guests could have ever imagined. Aster is extremely astute at magnifying human emotion and drama – see: Toni Collette’s haunting breakdown throughout Hereditary – and Midsommar focuses in on that with a laser-like quality. Pugh’s Dani is struggling with the sudden death of her parents and sister (a tragedy orchestrated BY the sister) and the unhinged relationship she has with Christian – plus his mates (played by Harper, Poulter and Blomgren) don’t really like her either – before she’s plunged into this drug-addled romp far from home. Florence Pugh is magnificent in the lead role (something which I’m sure will be recited throughout her career) as she portrays grief, sadness, terror, anxiety and release so pertinently in a challenging role. The supporting cast are all solid and provide the great foundation for Pugh’s lead – especially Reynor’s sympathetically unlike Christian.
What sets this apart from most modern horrors is that for the vast majority of its runtime (around 95%) is set during the bright daylight. The horrors that unfold are witnessed under the blazing sun to ensure everyone gets a good look – and there is plenty of grizzly, gory and surprisingly shocking things to be looking at. Not just that, there is some extremely explicit sexual activity going on as well, so be prepared. Aster has again sculpted a movie drenched in nervous atmosphere, that feeling that everything is rising to a nightmarish crescendo hangs over every scene until that nightmarish crescendo comes to fruition. This isn’t a balls-to-the-wall horror thriller, it’s a long candle slowly burning down and that’s just what it needs to be. In-between the terror are deep character moments, often quiet, as Aster has us focus on the people and not just the twists – though the Pagan Menace is a powerful element. It’s a patient movie that requires a patient viewer.
At times, it can dwell or wander for a bit too long, Aster’s pacing wasn’t quite spot on, however, the music and cinematography are detailed and beautiful enough to carry the movie through. At times, though, it feels like Midsommar – which is essentially about relationship troubles and punishing bad people – strives for more by simply looking great and having that arthouse feel to it. Either way, the majority of it is great.
Is it as good as Hereditary? Maybe. That depends on your tastes. Both are slow burners with shocking moments throughout so that’s going to subjective. However, on its own, Midsommar is an unsettling, creepy and nasty pagan-fuelled nightmare that cements Aster as one to watch. Florence Pugh is magnificent again so forget Florence and the Machine, this Florence is the machine. Strap in for a cruel, slow ride and you’ll be thinking about Midsommar long after the credits roll.
September 2nd 2019