Once again, director Ari Aster takes us with him to very personal arenas of dread with Midsommar. With almost a completely different flavor, Hereditary follow up, Midsommar manages to surprise, darkly charm and have another long lasting effect that proves Aster is a singular voice currently in the genre.
I was a bloke who skipped every trailer, first impression and publicity still that I could in anticipation of this one. I was able to experience it going in entirely cold and for those like myself, I’ll spare you any spoilers during this review.
In broad strokes this is about a young group of friends that heads to Sweden in order to take part of a mid-summer fest. As the fest progresses through its varying phases each day, the young group of Americans find themselves far from home, high and in the midst of strange and horrific pagan activities.
The formula is akin to a common slasher at its ground floor, complete with all the fixins of a group of young folks heading out into the unknown for some fun. Aster then stirs in a complex blend with bits of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man and elements of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs.
Added to that formula is Aster’s overtly personal approach to his writing, which includes twinges of grief with what is (now) widely known to be a film that is about the inner workings of a breakup. The interesting thing here is that Aster doesn’t strictly make one individual or group the “bad guy,” instead he spreads the very human elements of being a jerk or being out right malicious to almost all the characters in the film.
“Aster’s voice is hypnotic
and completely vicious.”
On a small scale Aster also compares everyday American sensibilities and places against a backdrop of a pagan cult and does a nice deconstruction by way of juxtaposition. The end result being that the strange and violent ways of maintaining faith and order sometimes look better than ideological, self-centered opportunism. Order by big acts as opposed to chaos, self worth and the passive aggressive.
The true horror of the film comes at you through brightly lit pastel framework where the sun doesn’t set, and where the subtext of the first act sets up a tightly fastened snare of dread. Most impressively, Midsommar manages to do all that before the first bit of blood is spilled.
There is a special kind of accelerant behind the misery that makes this film’s run-time fly that is heavily reliant on its stellar cast and their chemistry. Leads Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor particularly compel with a subdued desperation and play nicely with the ideas of the more toxic sides of relationships that have run their course. In the third act of the film Pugh reaches a propulsive level of character work that makes it almost difficult to find your breath.
There are some gnarly sights and kills flowing throughout this one that manage to burn themselves deep into your subconscious. Shock inducing gore set pieces that at times reaches impressive levels of works of high art.
Strangely, the film is peppered with a really great sense of humor about itself. The horror elements don’t takeaway from the feeling of a real group of young folks. In its early moments there is a stoner comedy at work just under the low tide of the bizarre horror in wait. It’s an extraordinary approach given the subject matter and a vibe that I’m certain changes from audience to audience.
Midsommar is transportive, trippy dread that is depraved and darkly sensual. Aster’s voice is hypnotic as ever and completely vicious. Not taking anything away from the masterful, Hereditary, but Midsommar transcends and gives way to something that is as brilliant as it is unnerving.