Ari Aster has, as the Swedish might say, bollar. Look it up and I suspect you’ll agree. His sophomore effort Midsommar is another cult movie. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of a picture outside the mainstream that has a devoted following, but that applies too. Aster makes stuff about actual cults and the rituals they participate in. He makes horror movies without the jump scares we’ve grown accustomed to. That applied to his debut Hereditary, which stuck with me more powerfully post credits than this did. Midsommar sometimes fails at the delicate line of laughing at it rather than being creeped out by it. I can’t help but be impressed at the filmmaker’s gusto for trying, however.
Just as in Hereditary, the storyline is focused on grief and a lead female character experiencing it. College student Dani (Florence Pugh) is dealing with a horrific tragedy involving her mentally unbalanced sister and a murder suicide that tears her world apart. Boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) seems ill equipped to console her. A mysterious trip to a remote commune in Sweden to decompress seems to be as viable a distraction as any. So off they go with Christian’s roommate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who grew up in the far off location. They’re joined by other flat mates Josh (William Jackson Harper), who is centering his thesis on the excursion and the constantly vaping Mark (Will Poulter), who seemingly just thinks he’s in for a fun summer getaway. Not even a little bit.
Bizarre sex, hallucinogenic drugs, and disturbing deaths involving rocks roll before our often unbelieving eyes over the next two and a half hours. That’s a lot of running time to spend with these demented country folk. Aster has no qualms about slowing things down and daring us to take it all in. The scenery is beautiful. This is a rare horror film that basks in the daylight. There’s no darkness to shroud the rather infrequent gore.
Midsommar is ultimately about Dani dealing with her stages of grief and stages of a relationship on the fritz. Pugh proves herself up to the task in displaying the range of emotions that the role requires. Reynor has to bare a lot as well, both literally and figuratively. No performance quite rises to the impeccable work of Toni Collette in Hereditary. There are sequences that do succeed in giving us a severe sense of the heebie jeebies. Perhaps the most garishly impressive is early when we witness Dani’s family disbandment.
I suspect Midsommar will find its cult of admirers who declare it brilliant. Others will refuse to buy into what it’s selling. There are stretches where it’s a challenge to accept Dani and Christian wouldn’t have just headed for the hills when they realized what they were getting themselves involved in. I’m more middle of the road when considering its overall impact and that’s at least a couple notches below where Aster’s first cult flick grabbed my attention.
*** (out of four)