Film: Mid Sommar
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, William Jackson Haper
Director: Ari Aster
Review: Anthony Holden @Moviebuffhustla [Instagram]
Rating: 4X’s out of 5X’s
2018’s “Hereditary” changed the game for horror films and broke genre conventions – it was a film about grief in the disguise of a witchcraft thriller. With “Midsommar”, writer/director Ari Aster aims for the same Houdini trick – a breakup story masked in a folk horror film. The film begins with the most fragile couple of the year - Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Dani, who is prone to anxiety attacks, comes face-to-face with an unspeakable personal tragedy. Christian, who is previously shown contemplating with his friends about breaking up with Dani, chooses to stay in the relationship because of guilt.
This serves as the prelude to this ambitious, unpredictable, strange, beautiful film. At a party, Dani overhears one of Christian’s Swedish friends Pelle speak of a week-long celebration that happens every 90 years in his hometown (commune) in Northern Sweden. After being put in an awkward position, Christian invites Dani to the festival. When they arrive, things only get stranger from there.
People familiar with cult films such as The Wicker Man will see inspired direction in Aster’s creation of the commune’s residents – from their costumes to their rituals. On the flip side of that coin, people familiar with “The Wicker Man” will also know in a way where this film is eventually going. Here, however, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the long, twisted journey.
Aster walks a daring line between surreal horror and absurd comedy as he follows the American outsiders falling deep into the Swedish rabbit hole. Just to give a few glimpses into the mayhem: there are gripping scenes of suicide, gruesome cutaways, disturbing imagery (and paintings!), absurd prophecy, deadly culture clashes, an uncomfortable, hilarious sex scene and one hell of a transcendent, cathartic final shot.
At the center of all this is tortured, lost Dani (the “Alice” of this dark wonderland). Florence Pugh’s powerful and haunting performance parallels and rivals that of Toni Collette’s in “Hereditary”. Jack Reynor plays the perfect, fish-out-of-water douchebag boyfriend with a great balance of indifference and confoundment. The supporting players here include William Jackson Harper (very good) and Will Poulter (deserved a better role) as Christian’s friends who are even more distant towards Dani and even more tripped out by what’s around them.
While “Midsommar” may have its faults – it can be a bit meandering and slow at times – it is executed with care and love by its horror-auteur creator. It leaves more room and excitement for what’s to come next in Aster’s career. With two powerful films (and some haunting short films) in his reservoir, he is a young talent proving he is here to stay.