After two feature-directing credits, it’s safe to declare writer-director Ari Aster a master of horror. Midsommar, the sophomore effort after his masterpiece Hereditary, is 2 1/2 hours of nerve-fraying terror, staged mostly in broad daylight—and it’s a thing of demented beauty.
Dani (Florence Pugh, who is dynamite) and Christian (Jack Reynor, who is excellent) are having relationship issues. Dani is super-dependent on Christian during a major time of need; her sister is constantly bombarding her with toxic emails. Christian halfheartedly provides what he tries to pass off as sage advice, but his heart isn’t in it—and he’s starting to think a break-up might make sense.
Tragedy then strikes Dani’s family, and it’s time for Christian to step up. His solution? Take Dani along on what was supposed to be a bro trip to Sweden for a traditional family summer festival. He sort of asks her to go; she sort of says yes; and before you know it, Dani is on a plane to Sweden with Christian and his friends.
Christian’s crew consists of Mark (the always-good Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and the resident Swede, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the smiley-faced dude who suggested the trip. His family is at the core of the festival, and he can’t wait to show his pals their idea of a good time.
Shortly after arriving, Dani and friends ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. The weirdness kicks in immediately—and the movie comes off as a really bad trip. Take note of the paintings on the walls throughout the film; they provide fun hints of the terrors to come. When two elderly members of the happy tribe show a sick form of commitment to the festival, it’s an act that would make reasonable people flee. However … Christian and Pelle are doing a thesis for school, so they write off the strange goings-on as “tribal” and stick around until the very end. Bad, bad call.
That end is a real scorcher, a final testament to lousy significant others. Pugh, so good in this year’s Fighting With My Family, makes a grand statement with this movie: She’s an acting force. She puts everything on the table, and it pays off in a performance that will surely be one of the year’s most memorable (as was Toni Collette’s lead performance in last year’s Hereditary). Chris Pratt-lookalike Reynor is a well-placed and sound counterpart, but this is Pugh’s show.
One of the pleasures of Midsommar is that it’s obvious where things are going. Lots of clues are put right in front of your face as the sun shines brightly. While the movie is a deliberately paced slow burn, the 2 1/2 hours go by pretty quickly. Aster never loses the sense of dread, so while you could call the movie predictable in some ways, it’s not anything resembling a letdown. It’s a movie that constantly delivers on the dread it promises in its every frame.
According to Aster, he was going through his own dark relationship issues when putting this film together. I feel very sorry for the person on the other side of that relationship. Aster’s dark soul runs very deep, and he’s a great writer. Some poor soul had their ass handed to them in the final email exchanges.
Midsommar stands as a nice companion piece to Hereditary. I see myself enduring a delightfully miserable double-feature in the near future and purposefully bumming myself out—because, you know, that’s why we watch horror films. Aster has a way of putting a lot of pain and nightmare fuel on the screen while somehow making it all very entertaining. As he did last year, he’s made one of 2019’s best films.
Midsommar is now playing at theaters across the valley.