By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Ari Aster’s sophomore is as disturbing as the remarkable Hereditary, but brings a surprising amount of humour to a tale that is otherwise about the torment of grief and our need to adhere to tradition and culture, even if it literally rips us to shreds.
Midsommar sees Dani (Florence Pugh), who is suffering from crippling depression and grief after a family tragedy, join her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his college friends on a trip to a 9-day Swedish midsommar festival, but what begins as a fascinating and curious look at the colourful, albeit bizarre, traditions of an age-old Nordic festival soon spirals into a terrfiying nightmare of blood and botanics.
First of all, Pugh is incredible. Like Toni Collette in Hereditary, she is burdened with an unspeakable grief from the haunting and yet exhilirating opening credits. Her guy Christian and his college mates, which includes Josh (William Jackson-Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and native Swede Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), reluctantly agree to her coming along on the trip even though she’s a bit of a Debbie Downer.
Aster’s careful and steady build of tension and suspense is genuinely terrific again in this film, and I felt overwhelmed by paranoia at times, especially when they first arrive at the camp and celebrate with a quick mushroom trip that serves as a sort of premonition for the horrors to come.
Like the original Wicker Man, which is to this day, is one of the most bizarre and fascinating horror films I’ve ever seen, Aster builds on the idea that too much of a good thing is… well not a good thing, and is most certainly hiding something more sinister. From their arrival to the festival, the tiny village of Hårga is aglow with godliness and colour. Director of Photography Pawel Pogorzelski utilised overexposure to give the film a remarkable palette of pastels and washed-out whites. It’s stunning to look at but also feels like you’re being smothered by the midnight sun, and strangled by sympathy.
And smothered (and strangled) they are, one by one the newcomers are bewitched by the overwhelming beauty and goodness of Hårga and fall victim to its creepy community, whose midsommar traditions (some of them very unsavoury and not for the faint of heart) stretch back to the beginning of time. Swedish actress Gunnel Fred stands out as creepy village elder, and matchmaker, Siv – killer stare.
Overcoming grief and suffering are without a doubt at this film’s core, but Midsommar also touches on the selfishness of the young white college dude. Reynor, in his best role to date, gives us a character who is lazy, weak and wholly insufferable… but so relatable. We’ve all seen this breed of dick before, and the way he takes advantage of the hard-working and conscientious Josh, who’s writing a thesis on midsommar traditions, is just so familiar. Poulter also plays a decent douchebag and rarely misses an opportunity to make you laugh.
Unlike Hereditary, Midsommar brings an ounce of humour for every horror. It’s HILARIOUS in parts thanks to Aster’s brilliant writing and its charismatic cast. For its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it holds its notes extremely well, and by its fever dream finale, feels like a horror epic in the vein of Luca Guadagnino’s recent Suspiria remake… but also feels like a bit of a break-up movie?
There’s so much to take away from this film. So many easter eggs to unwrap, and a lot of flowery symbolism to sink your teeth into. It also feels as though Aster is poking fun at mankind’s tendency to cling to tradition, even if it kills.
Midsommar is in Czech cinemas from today. See it today, and then go and see it again.