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Midsommar (dir. Aster)

Image: Florence Pugh and Vilhelm Blomgren in Midsommar © Photo by Gabor Kotschy. Property of A24 [Source: IMDB]

★★★★★

After a world-changing and utterly tragic event disrupts the life of Dani (Florence Pugh), her emotional turmoil leads to her distance boyfriend begrudgingly inviting her to the trip him and his friends have arranged. Travelling to the commune in Sweden that one of the friends is from the group prepare to celebrate a mysterious festival the family hosts every 90 years.

Director: Ari Aster. Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter [18]

Off the back of his acclaimed direction debut Hereditary. Director Ari Aster returns again to the horror genre but this time in the bright, glorious sunshine of Swedish summer. It’s not the first time horror has been done in all daylight and certainly not the first time its been done to this degree of excellence. But it does bare merit. As not only does it show how Aster is completely capable of engaging horrific atmospheres by not having to resort to the dark rooms, jump scares and equally not the supernatural.

This time around the threat is all too real and all too human. Based around real ancient traditions. Aster imagines a cult community that doesn’t want to let go of its traditions. This is played off wonderfully in the Swedish stereotyping by the rest of the world, in their flamboyant, positive and all-round friendliness. As those characteristics are mockingly used to the effect of great ambiguous tension. What might be taken at first as hyper friendly attitudes increasingly becomes sinister and utterly isolating for the audience. A brilliant technique reinforced by Aster’s direction as the audience are made to feel like an outsider learning about the culture themselves and crucially, that they are in as much danger.

This is reinforced through the lack of a real connection with the characters, each of the main group fulfils a trope horror convention of the backpacking nightmare horror stories. There’s the one that wants to meet women, the one who is smart and wants to learn, the one who is secretly against them and of course the one that brings his girlfriend. This does mean that the characters lack depth however and for the most part they are there to serve a role prefixed in the plot rather than taking on a life of their own. More character is given thankfully to the main character Dani and the arc she ventures on through the narrative. While that narrative is engaging, utterly interesting and full of things to unpack that begs rewatches. It does, however, highlight an issue with Aster’s directing. He spends a great deal of time building atmosphere and while with Hereditary it felt like we were understanding more about the story as we went. Here we learn more about the commune (Aster does a fantastic job in his world-building) but it fails to move the plot forward for a great deal of time. Equally however while it is slow-moving in the plot the atmosphere becomes dense with horrific tension.

Thankfully Aster knows how to capitalise on that atmosphere as he does excellently here. With the most surprising of techniques; Comedy. Yes, you might not believe it yourself but this is a strangely hilarious film. Yet so unnervingly so, oftentimes you want to laugh but not quite sure if you should and sometimes going from laughing to the most bizarre lines of dialogue to being completely paused by the intensity of what you are seeing.

The violent horrific scenes are used to great effect, playing off the slow-burning plot and dense atmosphere the violence and horror you do take witness to as an audience are used sparingly and with bone tingling, frightful gravity. Midsommar is typical in some ways and much like the summer, it depicts, utterly refreshing in many other ways. Beautiful yet sickening camera shots and movements, some powerful and some tropey performances, horrific yet not ‘scary’. It’s a film that will leave you ambiguous in your feelings and yet completely strangely amused and horrified at the same time.

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