Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
As this summer has scorched us with heat, it is only appropriate that the horror of the summer and even the year, is a sun-bleached and nightmarish stroll through fields and settlements...in Sweden.
Apparently spurred on by a messy break up, this latest effort from writer/director Ari Aster (the distressingly genius mind behind last year’s Hereditary - for my money one of the most effective horrors ever made) has been described by the phenomenal filmmaker as “The Wizard of Oz for perverts”, that’s one way of putting it, another is that it is a methodical escalator-style descent into daytime twisted cultish culture and the darkness of the human mind.
Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family) plays Dani, a young woman faced by insurmountable grief and not well comforted by her rather selfish boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates. However, when they are planning a trip to Sweden to experience the unorthodox Harga celebrations, Dani is unethusingly invited along by the guys but they all soon find that this festival and the ancestral commune hosting it masks some very disturbing events.
Truth be told, in the moment, it didn't leave me as genuinely full-frontally shaken as Hereditary but like Aster’s previous work it has slowly crept into my subconscious and spread its thorny arms out to take refuge there. Midsummer is an unforgettable horror experience, that immerses mind, body and soul in a shroud of darkness, despite being set mostly in the blinding light of the season (and seasons are but one important aspect of this story). It will leave so many reeling and will most certainly be a film that rewards going back and revisiting.
From the dread-laden beginning (that had me grasped immediately), backed by Bobby Krlic’s (known as The Haxan Cloak) constantly discomforting and crawling score, this film sets out its stall and leaves you breadcrumbs to follow, without leaving you the entire loaf to consume. It is like a mythical tapestry of horrors built upon discomfort as opposed to out-and-out scare tactics, and in this dark fantasy of viscera, nature, hallucinations and nudity, it is the human mind and our emotions that are the scariest things of all.
As we submerge into this ritualistic world, which is filled with twisted LSD-trip imagery (that evokes Texas Chainsaw Massacre at times) and hauntingly experimental construction, you find yourself rewarded by following the trails given, but also constantly uncomfortable as to where they lead. Midsommar takes its time, with a well over 2 hour running time but starting with the set-up, leading to the first ceremony and ending at a fiery climax, you never feel the heels dragging on Aster’s story, rather you feel to be sat around the table with everyone else, in a constant trance of discomfort, amazement and even confusion.
Florence Pugh is absolutely sensational and her character's arc is gripping, haunting, meaningful and shattering. This really has been such an impressive year for her and she gives a constantly compelling, raw and connective performance in this film. While Reynor boldly throws himself into his part (in more ways than one) and Will Poulter stands out as some much needed comic relief among a strong supporting cast, with a standout turn by Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle, a friend of the guys and someone who was raised in the commune as a boy.
Midsommar had me transfixed from beginning to end and I have been thinking about it back and forwards since I watched it weeks back. There really are so many intricacies to notice and the human psyche and emotions have rarely ever been this hauntingly realised on the big screen. There are sights here you will never forget and they are one of many reasons, that this work escapes the shadow of other iconic folk horror offerings (most notably The Wicker Man) to stand out as a new horror classic.
Ari Aster has fast established himself as a horror filmmaker whose work is not just a new release, it is a must-attend experience. Let the future festivities begin...
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren
Release Date: Out Now