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‘Midsommar’ – A Deeply Unsettling, Sun-Bleached, & Somehow Beautiful Nightmare?

Ari Aster makes films that fuck you up. After only two films, ‘Hereditary’ and now ‘Midsommar’, he has proven to be an auteur of abject terror, writing and directing pieces of art that work on multiple levels to deeply unsettle. If ‘Hereditary’ showed audiences the potential for a film to worm its way into the subconscious, ‘Midsommar’ absolutely perfects it. Here he works with multiple creatives to craft a fully lived in society, complete with rich history and ritual, unique art and architecture, all unfolding over a truly captivating, tried-and-true horror movie setup centering on an incredible performance by Florence Pugh. What this all amounts to is an instant cult horror masterwork.

Conjuring vibes of the folk-horror sub-genre (think ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘The Apostle’), ‘Midsommar’ stands above as a perfect example. The film is basically a break-up movie about a foundation-strained relationship between two young people, Dani (Pugh), who is rocked by personal tragedy, and Christian (a wonderfully slack-jawed and malleable Jack Reynor), now trapped in supporting someone he cares for, but may not necessarily be in love with. They travel to a remote village in Sweden at the invitation of fellow anthropology grad student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) along with friends Josh (William Jackson Harper, Chidi from ‘The Good Place’) and Mark (Will Poulter providing most of the conventional obnoxious comedy in this piece), who represent naked American ambition and ugly overseas boorishness, respectively. What follows is a hallucinogenic, single location narrative concerning a truly unique nine day festival held in this tiny community.

At first, many of the ideals held by this commune are almost revolutionarily quaint in their inclusivity, and their social rituals are strange but endearing. Being outsiders, both the characters and the audience are naturally wary, but even when things start going awry and disturbing, it’s a testament to the world-building that the activity of these people is quasi-understandable in a culture clash fashion. Aster’s deliberate pacing, slow pans throughout the location, the camera lingering on the actors’ faces, presenting interactions utilizing reflection, the narrative tapestries and paintings throughout, and the overall sun-drenched, blinding visuals, all aid in creating a singular sense of beauty-facing, yet underlying dread.

Without some of the jarring swings taken by ‘Hereditary’, ‘Midsommar’ comes across as writer/director Ari Aster’s more cohesive, complete, and focused work. Aster surrounds himself with a talented crew, from composer The Haxan Cloak who delivers an incredible score, to long-time collaborator, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, who lenses an uncompromisingly bright visual aesthetic. Everything from the production design, to the choreography, to the subtle special effects (seriously, the greatest representation of hallucinogenic drugs ever presented) come together perfectly to craft a singular vision. As his previous film was anchored by strong work from Toni Collette, so is this one centered on the talented Florence Pugh (‘The Little Drummer Girl’). Her performance as Dani is extremely layered, drawing the audience into her pain and selling the reserved exasperation she feels every time she looks at Reynor’s Christian, a meekly opportunistic cipher who wittingly gets pulled into his situation. The film is long and deliberate, but never arduous, the horror coming from the almost banal terror presented. By the time it reaches its extended, brilliant climax and the May Queen is crowned, so too will astute purveyors of horror be crowning Ari Aster the modern master of terror . . .

Written & Directed By: Ari Aster

Running Time: 147 min.

Rated: R

* * * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- A

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