From the director of Hereditary, Ari Aster comes a follow-up folk horror film that is what nightmares are made of.
The film is Midsommar and the protagonist is Dani, played by Fighting With Your Family’s Florence Pugh. It kicks off with an unthinkable tragedy of which Dani is at the centre and she’s forced to lean on her weak excuse for a boyfriend, Christian, played by Jack Reynor.
Dani and Christian’s relationship is already rocky and when she finds out in front of a group that he’s planning to leave for a guys’ trip to Sweden in a couple of weeks, she’s understandably upset.
He smooths things over by inviting her along and Dani completely misses (or chooses to ignore all signs pointing to the fact) that no one genuinely wants her to go. So together they head off on holiday to an isolated Swedish commune where their friend Pelle grew up. The trip is doubling as a research excursion for their anthropology PhDs, but what they’ll come to learn about the local festival and pagan traditions will shock them, to say the least.
To get the most out of Midsommar, you don’t want to know more than that before you see it. The story is a slow burn and uneasy from the word go. You’ll get a general vibe about the horrors that are coming but you’ll be engrossed every step of the way nonetheless.
The only problem with this is that by the time the film reaches its climax, it’s hard to make it considerably more powerful than the events that have come before it.
If you can stomach it, this is a film that would benefit from multiple viewings as it is packed with motifs and symbolism. That said, many of the themes it explores- grief, family, cultural practices, relationships and connection- don’t really feel dealt with by the film’s end. You may leave the cinema feeling floored, wondering exactly what you’re supposed to take away from the last two and a half hours. There are also a couple of minor plot points that get disappointingly glossed over but can’t be revealed here.
The characters are quite efficiently established and the acting is something to behold. Pugh masterfully moves from delighted to pissed off to terrified, sometimes within a single shot. She’s the girlfriend who never wants her hurt feelings or trepidation to inconvenience her boyfriend for fear that their already fragile relationship will fall apart. Reynor expertly plays Christian, who is basically staying in a relationship because he doesn’t have the balls to look like a bad guy, but does the bare minimum for his partner.
The strong supporting cast of friends includes Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter. Blomgren is the local host who is suspiciously sweet, while Harper and Poulter play Christian’s two American pals chiefly concerned with self-interest.
The sun is another key player in Midsommar. Sunlight takes on a vicious unsettling quality usually bestowed upon the darkness in a horror film. So much comes together in this film to create a trippy, nightmarish setting in broad daylight. The impressive sound design includes repeated guttural cries, eery folk music, distorted recurrent noises and a tweaked score. The clever camera work shakes and turns to ensure you’re always on edge. Even the editing, particularly in the films opening half-hour, never lets you get too comfortable.
Drug-fuelled, demented and depraved. Midsommar is a nightmare of a trip but a masterful and memorable film for those who can handle it.
SEE IT if…
You’re not afraid of a bad trip
You can stomach some hardcore gore
SKIP IT if…
You’re in a relationship that’s on rocky ground
You’re heading on a Swedish summer holiday
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
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