Summer is finally here and it is time to celebrate! What better way than with Ari Aster’s second feature film Midsommar? In contrast to the horrors of the night showcased in his full-feature debut, Hereditary, Aster’s latest dramatic nightmare is shown under an endless glaring summer sun. While nonfans will likely hate this more than Hereditary, fans of the director’s previous work will, yet again, be mesmerized by the filmmaker’s slow burn style while infusing sudden moments of unsuspecting shock and horror. Blossoming into a beautiful, deadly tale of terror, Aster’s latest work proves that some horrors need not lurk about in the shadows to invoke fear.
Contrary to the title’s implication, Midsommar opens with a dreary winter landscape covered in snow, ice and melancholy. This bleak mood takes a deeper depressing turn when Dani (Florence Pugh: Lady Macbeth, 2016) is blindsided with tragedy sending her spiraling into grief and dismay. Pugh gives a phenomenal performance as a college student attempting to cope with this sudden life-changing event while holding onto an already wavering relationship.
Prior to this incident, her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor: Macbeth, 2015), was working up the courage to end things between them. Upon breaking from this relationship, Christian planned to embark on a trip to Sweden with his college buddies for a summer to remember. However, with Dani now in emotional disarray, Christian feels obligated to stay with her out of guilt.
Reynor matches Pugh’s performance giving layers to his character placed in a difficult position. Continuing this one-sided relationship, Christian decides to invite Dani on his trip to Sweden hoping that she would decline. She doesn’t. And in an attempt to salvage one of the last remaining relationships in her life, Dani tentatively joins Christian’s summertime soon-to-be misadventure.
Joined by fellow college students, Josh (William Jackson Harper: Paterson, 2016), Mark (Will Poulter: We’re The Millers, 2013) and Swedish native, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), Midsommar begins to develop a recipe dangerously close to early ’00s hit comedy features Road Trip and EuroTrip. While these works of humor are lighthearted fun, this would simply spell disaster with such a dramatically dark tone already established. Thankfully, this bullet is dodged as Dani’s mournful state causes the travelling companions to hold their tongues as they venture into the small Swedish village community Pelle calls home.
Although Poulter, with his comedy film experience, adds a well-placed comedic touch, this feature stays rooted in horror. When the group arrives at Pelle’s small community of pagan worshipers, something seems off, to say the least … and it isn’t just the eerily long summer days that see little to no darkness. Perhaps due to the psychedelic drugs that seem to be so plentiful and freely used, a sense of overjoy is seen radiating throughout the community as the group is greeted by Pelle’s friends and family. As the community gears up for their annual celebration of the summer solstice, outlandish tasks and rituals begin to set off flags. However, these strange festivities are simply shrugged off as cultural differences. That is, until these cultural differences take an alarming gruesome turn.
While somewhat predictable, Midsommar is brilliant, bizarre and hypnotic in all the right ways. Utilizing simple, yet stunning visuals, Aster slowly draws anyone with a sense of curiosity and patience into his creation until there is no turning back. Echoing art-house horror influence from last year’s release of Annihilation (Natalie Portman) while encompassing strong elements from The Wicker Man (Nicolas Cage, 2006), this feature stands apart from most theatrical horror releases of today. Sure to be criticized from all sides, this grief stricken story of psychological, physical and emotional torment is sure to be much talked about for some time to come. Be sure not to miss the summer solstice festivities and check out Midsommar showing at a theater near you!