Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper.
This disturbing horror film is the sophomore feature from Ari Aster, whose previous film was Hereditary, which was regarded as one of the best horror films of recent years.
The film is set mainly in an isolated Swedish community that is celebrating their harvest with a special nine-day festival that is held only once every ninety years. Along to witness the celebrations is American psychology student Christian (Jack Reynor, from Sing Street, etc), who has been invited by his friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren in his film debut), an exchange student. Christian also brings along his girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh), a graduate student who is still reeling from the suicide of her parents.
Christian and Dani head off to the secluded community known as the Harga. The Harga have their own language, customs, history and traditions. Christian, Dani and Pelle are accompanied by fellow anthropology student Josh (William Jackson Harper, from Paterson, etc), who is writing a thesis on European midsummer rituals and folklore, and Mark (Will Poulter, from The Maze Runner series, etc), who just wants to get laid. Pelle, who grew up in this isolated community is keen to reconnect with his family.
The group experiences community meals, some strange and archaic seeming rituals and ceremonies. But an increasing sense of dread permeates the gathering as what starts out as a series of benign rituals soon takes a turn into more malevolent and unsettling territory. The rituals become more pagan in nature, and there are a couple of high impact gory deaths that further unsettle our protagonists. But the Harga elders have logical and plausible explanations for everything that occurs.
Written by Aster, this is a disquieting and dark tale that explores some big ideas and themes about culture, the clash of cultures, tradition, cults, and even relationships. Midsommar is a slow burn and deliberately paced and disturbing horror film as it works towards its denouement. The film’s ending seems heavily influenced by Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. Aster’s direction is quite stylish, and there are some viscerally unsettling moments. Usually most horror films are set at night or in dark creepy locations, but here the days are long, with long hours of daylight that somehow become creepy in Aster’s hands.
Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (who worked with Aster on the visuals of Hereditary, etc) creates an evocative atmosphere with his bright sun saturated visuals, often working with long takes, and close ups that gives the material a claustrophobic feel. There are some effectively unsettling special effects as well. The bucolic village is effectively brought to life with some unique production design from Henrik Svensson and some elaborate costumes from Andrea Flesch.
Pugh, who had such a chilling presence in Lady Macbeth, again brings a strong emotional quality to her character, who is still struggling with a sense of loss and grief. Some in the audience may also struggle to accept her final decision. English actor Poulter is given surprisingly little to do here as the arrogant and horny Mark, and his presence barely registers.
At a leisurely 147 minutes, and without any real jump scares, Midsommar may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly takes audiences out of their comfort zone and into territory not often seen on the screen.