Director: Ari Aster
Screenwriter: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Pouter, Vilhelm Blomgren
I went into this film having only seen the poster and I was already thinking – The Wicker Man, and I wasn’t far off the mark. American directors don’t have a good track record with material like this, based on traditional folklore – who can forget the awful Wicker Man remake with Nicolas Cage – but Ari Aster has done his homework and delivered a masterclass in creeping dread against the most picturesque backdrop you’re likely to see on screen this year.
I’m not going to say too much about the plot. I went into this film knowing nothing and that’s the best way to experience it, but if you need a little convincing, I’ll give you the setup from the first 15mins. Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers a tragedy in her personal life and leans on her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) for support. It’s an awkward situation as Jack has been looking for a way to end their relationship, but now feels obligated to remain. To the quiet annoyance of his three male friends, Christian also invites her along on holiday with them to Sweden.
They go to a remote village where a commune exists, and where Christian’s friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) grew up. The guys are students of anthropology so they’re fascinated by this place and relish in it’s history, traditions and customs… to begin with. As soon as we arrive we get the feeling something isn’t right. Even the houses are built at odd angles, like they were designed by the Tim Burton school of architecture, but there’s also unbelievably gorgeous scenery and plenty of beautiful girls, so the guys don’t worry too much.
If you’ve seen enough movies of this ilk, you can probably guess where this is going pretty early on, but that’s not the point. This isn’t a movie that hinges on one big reveal. Lots of little shocking and worrying things turn the temperature up slowly on our tourists, so by the time they realise what trouble they’re in, it’s way too late.
I should state clearly that this is not a horror movie; not by my definition at least. Nothing supernatural occurs in this film, which is how I class a horror, but that doesn’t mean horrific things don’t happen. They do, and they’re very graphic. This film carries an 18 certificate so it has no need to pull its punches in either the blood and guts stakes, or full-frontal nudity.
Apparently Florence Pugh was also in The Falling but I don’t remember her. It was a low budget British film that got lots of critics excited back in 2014 but I thought was a bit of a snooze. Still, fair play to this actress; she’s done well going from The Falling to this, and she’s currently filming the Black Widow movie with Scarlett Johansson. Her career is on the rise and it’s well deserved if her performance here is anything to go by. She is completely convincing whether she’s plumbing the depths of grief, being the awkward fifth wheel on the boys’ trip or off her face on magic mushrooms. I was a little more familiar with Jack Reynor, who was in the feelgood Irish 80s-set musical Sing Street – a film well worth checking out if you’ve never seen it – and he’s also exceptionally good. The rest of the cast were unknown to me but no one drops the ball and the acting in general is of a very high standard.
Midsommar is a slow burning examination of grief with some shocking set pieces peppering an exceptionally well written script. Aster’s previous effort Hereditary was lauded by many horror fans and got some great reviews. I thought it was two-thirds of a great movie that was a bit let down by the last act. This follow-up suffers no such failing. I was gripped from start to finish. It’s a long film, coming in at 2hrs 27mins so don’t have the jumbo soft drink with your popcorn, because you will not want to have to duck out in the final act of this film. You have been warned.