Midsommar review Florence Pugh Jack Reynor

Year: 2019
Director(s): Ari Aster
Writer(s): Ari Aster
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
Rating: R
Color, 140 mins

Synopsis: What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. (Source)

Midsommar marks director Ari Aster’s next big step. With Hereditary, Aster created one of the most cutting films ever made about death and grief. Now, he’s twisted Swedish traditions into something that examines the cyclical nature of life itself – birth, fertility, death and rebirth. This naturally ups the ambition and scale significantly. But even more surprising, is how pitch black funny the film is. It’s absolutely not your run-of-the-mill, scare-a-minute fluff. Instead, it’s one of the sickest, most perverse things I’ve seen in a good while. Aster thrives and relishes in pushing us with his cheeky irreverence, and if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that he’s someone who keenly understands what makes our skin crawl. 

After a horrific tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) is left reeling. She’s trying to recover, but it doesn’t help that she’s stuck in dead end relationship and her life feels rudderless. Looking for a way out, her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), nonchalantly books a ticket to Sweden. The plan is to join his friends as they travel to a colleague’s quaint commune and observe a once-in-a-lifetime summer festival. Out of guilt, Christian invites Dani, unsure of where to take their relationship. Once there, Dani, Christian and co. realize that their friend’s secluded hometown is host to all manner of increasingly sinister pagan rituals and traditions. 

Like in Hereditary, Aster’s latest is the type of film that’s in it for the long game. This is not popcorn horror or simply instant gratification. The film opens up in the most horrifying way, upending its characters before settling on a slow, patient dive into a world that almost feels like a thorny rose. It’s beautiful, but it will cut you if you attempt to get too close. Eschewing the dark, shadowy atmosphere of most modern horror films, Aster’s is bright and colorful, taking place almost entirely in daylight and contrasting surface beauty with shocking images that’ll make you shift in your seat. Thanks to an expert focus on character relations and a mystery that unfolds through masterful world-building, what should’ve been a nice, summer excursion turns out to be a waking, psychedelic nightmare that doesn’t pull any punches. 

Midsommar review Ari Aster

Competing with Aster’s focused direction, is a cast who doesn’t skip a beat. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor are excellent as the film’s pivotal leads. Each of their characters are come from completely different places, but the middle ground between them is stunning. Both never bow to who we think they should be or how they should act, and trap us within the story’s emotionally destabilizing world. William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren and especially Will Poulter fill out things nicely, with each adding distinct and diverse tonal textures. 

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen anything quite like Midsommar. You can see the folk genre roots that Aster is subverting, but this is wholly his. At its core, the film is an anarchic, shockingly and cathartic perspective of life, death and even family. The film ends on a shot that is so perfect and painful and inexplicable, we can’t help but laugh at the fragility of our brief existence. It ultimately calls upon a low-key form of social solidarity, hinting at the ways death and pain connect us now matter who we are or where we come from. One night removed from my viewing, I truly can’t get this film out of my head, and I can’t wait to revisit its disorienting, mercurial grip.