MIDSOMMAR / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ARI ASTER / SCREENPLAY: ARI ASTER / STARRING: FLORENCE PUGH, JACK REYNOR, WILL POULTER, WILLIAM JACKSON HARPER, VILHELM BLOMGREN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a BIG surprise – a large commune of Swedish folk who are celebrating a seemingly innocent pagan festival known as Midsommar until events take a sinister turn all whilst being bathed in the hot summer sun in horror auteur Ari Aster’s latest nightmarish trip.
Dani (Florence Pugh, Fighting With My Family), a college student who has recently been through a truly traumatic family tragedy, tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Swedish native Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to visit the aforementioned student’s home community in Hårga and partake in a once-in-a-lifetime experience of the Midsummer festival; that takes place once every ninety years. But once the foreigners arrive and the drugs start flowing, the supposedly beautiful and serenading surroundings take on a claustrophobic and disturbing appearance that takes our characters and the audience on a mind-bending trip that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Since last year’s breakout smash hit Hereditary, fans of Aster’s debut were anxiously awaiting his follow up film and it did not disappoint. Although an unpredicted change from the spine-chilling scares of this director's previous mind-bend, Midsommar accomplishes something different with a simple but effective plot setup through Aster’s insanely twisted attention to detail to ensure that the audience is encapsulated and unnerved from beginning to end. The opening act, before the title card has even appeared, sets up Dani’s tragic loss and develops her character in a way that emotionally tethers you from the word go. From there, the warped imagery and distorted eyes through which we witness the story all play a part in Aster’s grand scheme of making sure that you don’t know what is coming next.
Aster’s partner in crime, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, once again proves his immense talent as each and every frame of the film is dripping with atmosphere and character. With 95 per cent of the films 147-minute runtime taking place during the glaring sunlight, one might imagine that the tension is lacking. But with Pogorzelski’s eye and Aster’s harrowingly brilliant mindset, the relentless fear and dread creeping up your spine never cease - with upsetting imagery and gory set pieces scattered throughout, you are always kept on the edge of your seat. Midsommar also contains one of the strangest sex scenes we’ve personally witnessed on film, but it so well presented that you can’t look away even though you want to.
From the unsettling smiles of the locals to the questionable but accepted practises that they perform, Dani and her friends seemingly have no choice to welcome the ritualist actions of the commune’s heritage (with some celebrations having a comedic factor but still possessing an overwhelming uneasy foundation because of the lack of our knowledge of said celebration).
By the end of the film, it is clear that every character had a part to play in this slow-burning but ultimately fascinating pagan horror tale. Dani’s character arc of grief and the overarching story of family and having a place in the world, which is tremendously elevated by Florence Pugh’s stellar performance, acts as a relatable and agonisingly deep way into this strange new world that our students are witnessing.
Even though this may not be to everyone’s taste, as was the case with Hereditary, Midsommar is another perfect entry into the growing filmography of Ari Aster who is quickly becoming a true tour-de-force in the world of abnormal horror and can already be considered a modern auteur of the genre. A worthy follow-up that will leave audiences questioning their own sanity with devasting effect.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10