STARRING: FLORENCE PUGH; JACK REYNOR; WILL POULTER; WILLIAM JACKSON HARPER
DIRECTED BY: ARI ASTER
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There is nothing hidden in writer/director Ari Aster's 2nd film- Midsommar. It is exactly what audiences should expect, hell, it is exactly what the characters in the movie should have expected. This is The Wicker Man (1973) for today's generation, where a group of college kids head to the home of a classmate at his small village in Sweden, all to experience the Midsommar solstice festival. Of course, in the mind of Aster this is not going to be a fun vacation getaway, instead it is an exercise in sacrifice, pagan ritual, death, rebirth, and the misery of life. Midsommar may be drenched in sunlight, but this is a dark film, encapsulating the depressing emotions that come with loss. The various kinds of loss, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, and ultimately, the loss of all sanity.
For me, I thought Hereditary was a perfect film. A masterpiece of what the horror genre can be when made by an artist that is willing to dig into the human mind. Toni Collette delivered one of the greatest performances in the past 10-years and was rewarded with nothing for it, but either way, I think it is an impossible film to top. With Midsommar, Aster is retreating from Hereditary's color pallet, but he's also picking up where Hereditary left off, dealing with themes of religious fanaticism, family lineages, and how someone deals with death. Midsommar is an exercise for Aster more than it is for the audience and hopefully he is getting a lot off his chest, because this is another messed up entry into his filmography.
It begins with Dani (Florence Pugh), who along with a myriad of other reasons, is stressed out because she hasn't heard back from her sister in four days. Meanwhile, boyfriend Christian (Sing Street star Jack Reynor) is contemplating breaking up with her, but that changes quickly when Dani discovers her sister has died in a most horrific fashion. Instead of ending the relationship, Christian invites Dani to come along with friends Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Pelle (Villhelm Blomgren) to Sweden, all to experience Pelle's tradition and culture. What seems like a friendly town, where they offer you hugs and mind altering drugs upon your arrival, the women wear flowers in their hair, and the men smile like the sunshine powers them with joy, when actually it is just a community of mad believers, willing to sacrifice others in obscene ways, luring unsuspecting people to become the lions or the lambs.
A majority of Midsommar is an immersive experience for the audience. This is a fascinating film, especially because Aster forces us to see it all in the light, rarely turning away from the horrors we see, and frightening us with dark dreams that Dani begins to have, soon after her arrival. It's almost impossible to view Midsommar as a horror film, because it retreats from the typical tropes the genre has employed, no jump scares or typical demon stuff here. Instead, Aster has a rich knowledge of cinema, stealing from past works of Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier, caring little about scaring the audience, and more about shocking us with his imagery. And shocking is what he does best.
Somewhere along the line the facade not only fades, but its as if the townsfolk are not even pretending to be a cult of believers. That is a bit of Midsommar's flaws, where everything happening is neither surprising, nor horrifying because the characters should see it coming. Yet, Midsommar is so beautifully constructed cinematically it's impossible to fall for the beauty of it all. Aster, along with cinematographer Pawl Pogorzelski, shoot with precision, using lighting on the sets as if the sun was their master tool, doing overhead shots that evoke an image of the village that looks like a map, and it all ties together with gorgeous production design by Henrik Svensson. This village may not truly exist, but this festival comes alive, like a demented utopia.
So no, Midsommar is not better than Hereditary, it is just ultimately different. The performance from Florence Pugh is impressive, although I wish she had more moments in the film to spread her acting range. Above all, this is another fantastic installment from Aster as a director. His work rejuvenates your love for cinema, inviting audiences to go back and watch classic films that inspire his art. Whatever it is that is driving this director, I hope it doesn’t stop. He is a fascinating, talented artist that should be celebrated with a crown of flowers. My interpretation is that Midsommar is the brighter side of Aster. That bright side is as beautifully disturbed as the dark side, you just have to keep you mind clear, or you might end up joining in on the dance.
Written by: Leo Brady