Director Ari Aster has recently proved to be an up-and-coming horror master. Starting out with short films The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011) and Munchausen (2013), he rose to prominence last year with his feature-length debut, Hereditary. It received a great deal of critical acclaim, with special praise going to lead actress Toni Collette’s performance. The film stood out for being a slow-burning, atmospheric horror akin to The Shining or Rosemary’s Baby, featuring personable themes about mental illness and family. Many consider Hereditary to be one of the best horror movies of 2018, if not if the decade. Now, Aster brings his second feature film, with the summertime folk horror Midsommar.
The film follows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a couple whose relationship is on the verge of falling apart. When Dani’s bipolar sister kills her family and commits suicide, the tragedy prevents the couple from separating. The following summer, Dani goes along with Christian and his friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) when they are invited by their friend Pelle (Vilhem Blomgren) to visit his home, the Swedish commune of Harga. There, the commune’s midsummer celebration, which happens only once every 90 years, is about to occur. However, their summer vacation slowly takes a turn for the sinister when the inhabitants invite the group to take part in their festivities. This leads into a chain of increasingly disturbing and haunting events set in an eternally sunny land, all conducted by a pagan cult.
A beautiful, summertime daymare with great performances
The film features great acting from its central characters. Dani (Florence Pugh) is very real and shows a wide range of emotions, especially in the scene where she finds out what happened to her family. Her painful, sobbing wails, have stuck with me well after seeing the film. Jack Reynor also does a great job as Christian, especially once it becomes apparent how terrible this character is as a person. He constantly hurts others, in ways ranging from manipulating Dani into coming with him to Sweden, forgetting her birthday, poorly trying to make up for it, and even stealing Josh’s thesis idea on writing about Harga. It quickly becomes apparent how toxic his and Dani’s relationship is, and that he is the cause of it. However, the real standout of the cast is Will Poulter as Mark, the one friend in the group that always has sex on his mind. A character like this can become irritating when handled poorly; however, Poulter’s snark and comedic timing brings a lot of levity to the first half of the movie. Highlights from him include comparing the commune to Waco and asking if they could stop by “meatball sex clubs” when going through Stockholm.
Fantastic cinematography and slow-building horror
Most horror films are set at night to target primal fears of the dark and the unknown. This film, however, takes a page out of The Wicker Man’s book by being set almost entirely in daylight. The daylight setting makes it all the more beautiful to look at. There are several breathtaking shots of the commune that capture its idyllic, simple nature and make it look just like a summertime paradise. The fantastic cinematography isn’t just limited to the commune, though; the whole movie is well-shot. This includes scenes where two characters are having a conversation, with one person in the frame and the other person shown on the other side of the room in the mirror. Other highlights include the scene of Dani’s family being murdered, which is haunting, and an overhead shot of Dani walking into an apartment bathroom that transitions to her walking into an airplane bathroom. Overall these shots make this movie a treat to the eyes.
However, what sticks with me the most is the movie’s horror elements. Similar to Hereditary, Midsommar harkens back to an older style of horror with its elements. It’s not like a lot of mainstream horror movies, which are PG-13-laden jump-scare fests that teenage audiences can scream their heads off at. It features a slow-burning, foreboding atmosphere that slowly but surely builds to its horror. The movie is nearly two-and-half hours long, and the first cult event happens roughly an hour in. The audience’s patience is rewarded, as the disturbing imagery and events quickly escalate from there. But be warned, this movie is not for the faint of heart: a few audience members at my screening left later in the movie, and an older couple behind me considered leaving at the three-quarters mark. Even I contemplated leaving at one point, but the film had a hypnotic hold that kept me glued to my seat. The movie stuck with me long after I left the theater, and I daresay it’s even more disturbing and even better than Hereditary.
And with this film, Ari Aster proves that he is here to stay. He has already proved that he has a strong understanding of the horror genre, along with a great eye for visuals and cinematography. He, along with Jordan Peele, are the new pioneers of the horror genre. I’m excited to see what he does next since it’ll be quite the viewing experience.
Featured Image: IMDb
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