Monday, 8 July 2019

Review: Midsommar

Cert: 18 / 147 mins / Dir. Ari Aster / Trailer

Perhaps the biggest surprise with Ari Aster's claustrophobic folk-horror Midsommar is that it's found a release window (appropriately) in the height of summer, rather than the March/October slots usually reserved for more challenging fare.

We follow four young Americans (Dani (Florence Pugh), Christian (Jack Reynor), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter)) as they're invited for a month-long vacation by their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to his home village in northern Sweden. Rural and more than a little isolated, it's a special time of year for the villagers as they begin a series of longstanding celebrations. But they're more than welcoming to their new guests, and before long the gang are getting involved at every level, no matter how odd it all seems...


Nobody does raging, existential paranoia quite like Ari Aster, and his film is surreal, soporific and in places bluntly unsettling. In other words, not something to watch when suffering from a hangover. This could easily have been Hostel for hipsters, but Aster has more restraint than Eli Roth, even if Midsommar does have moments which play like a psychopath's fever dream. It's tempting to think of this as experimental, but Aster knows exactly what he's doing here, and precisely what the outcome will be.

With Pugh, Reynor and Poulter onboard, there was always going to be an expectation regarding the performances, and the cast do not disappoint. True to the longstanding tradition of teen 20-something roadtrip flicks, the group basically spend the movie off their collective box on either over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, or a range of home-formulated psychotropics. There's an interesting contrast and crossover between the two, as American and European cultures clash.


Once our travellers arrive in the village and start exploring, an array of overtly placed pictograms illustrates forthcoming plot-points, underlining the sense of inevitable ritual with the heroes eventually accepting their roles in a play they know can't be re-written. Although this determinism proves to be the film's only real downside, and ends up running like it's on rails. Beautifully shot and scored, hallucinogenically bleak rails, but still. Symbolism, foreboding and fatalism are plaited together until each becomes indistinguishable from the others, and the whole thing is stronger than the sum of its parts.

There's enough here for fans of mainstream horror (providing they can sit out the steadily paced two and a half hour runtime), but there's more to Midsommar than a straight A-to-B shockfest. And while there are spikes of flat-out scare-tactics during the first two acts, these are more akin to dramatic punctuation, a release valve for the escalating unease.


Aster takes his time almost to the point of self-indulgence, but when the shit finally hits the fan it's been well earned. Much like its A24 stablemate, A Ghost Story, this feels designed to test both the patience and resolve of its audience*1, with no promise of reward other than the first-hand experience of intricate art. It is a thing of terrible beauty.

Midsommar is great and definitely not for everyone, which only makes it greater. I can't wait to see what Aster does with his next adaptation, Bergüraac*2.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Ritual, mother!, Suspiria, The VVitch, Mandy.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's a possibility.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well we almost had Han Solo in this, but Florence Pugh was in The Commuter alongside Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The patron next to me had a particularly hard time with some of the more graphic scenes, especially the jump-cuts that switch to close-up gory shots. If you're squeamish, this film is not for you and carries its 18-rating for a reason. [ BACK ]

*2 Sorry, obvious John Nettles joke, couldn't resist, no you shut up. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment