After filling audiences with dread with Hereditary, director Ari Aster has decided to make…a comedy? Aster’s latest, the folk-horror extravaganza Midsommar, is unquestionably a scary movie. And yet, it’s also surprisingly hilarious. For 2 hours and 20 minutes, Aster takes audiences on a journey through a shockingly crowd-pleasing story that blends both laugh-out-loud humor and mind-blowing weirdness. The end result is one of the year’s best films.
A year after Hereditary, all eyes are on writer-director Ari Aster. How would the filmmaker follow-up the dread-soaked nightmare of his debut feature? Aster’s sophomore effort, Midsommar, is unquestionably a horror film. Yet, it’s cut from an entirely different cloth than Hereditary. While that debut feature was soaked in darkness and dread, Midsommar is a shockingly sunny and chipper freakshow.
Kicking-off with a horrifying tragedy set against a dark, snowy backdrop, Midsommar promptly sends a group of Americans to the sun-drenched world of a secluded Swedish village. The group consists of Dani (Florence Pugh) and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), along with William Jackson Harper as the studious Mark, and Will Poulter as the laugh-out-loud funny Josh. Dani and Christian’s relationship is strained, to say the least. In fact, Christian has toyed with the idea of dumping Dani, but has yet to go through with it. Their guide for this entire trip is Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who hails from the tiny, remote village, and has brought his friends home to celebrate a rare midsommar festival.
Dani’s own personal grief, and her strained relationship with Christian, make this trip immediately awkward – and the awkwardness only increases as the days unfold. The festivities that Pelle’s friends have planned are questionable, to say the least. And what starts as a sun-dappled party, complete with magic mushrooms, soon descends into something far more gory.
Aster is clearly drawing on folk-horror titles like The Wicker Man for his second feature, and yet, Midsommar is entirely unique. What makes it stand out is its surprising humor. Yes, this film is shocking, and features moments of disturbing violence. But it’s also consistently funny, with Poulter stealing a large chunk of the proceedings as the hilarious, clueless Josh.
Pugh, who goes through hell here, anchors the story as the troubled Dani, who is consistently gaslit by Christian. Aster has described Midsommar as a break-up movie, and the strained, painful relationship between Dani and Christian takes center-stage from the start. It’s clear Christian doesn’t love Dani very much, just as it’s clear that Dani has a hard time seeing this, and remains dependent on Christian. After the film’s prologue, the troubles of their relationship aren’t spelled out. Instead, Aster relies on subtle hints, along with his actor’s performances, to highlight how damaged, and doomed, this relationship is.
As the story unfolds, things in the village grow more and more dire, and deadly. And yet, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski showcases it all in bright sunshine. It’s a complete contrast to the impenetrable shadows of Aster’s Hereditary, and makes for an overall surreal experience. Audiences are so used to horror being drenched in darkness that they’re likely to be caught completely off-guard by Midsommar‘s bright and sunny horror.
The runtime might also surprise some. The film clocks in at 140 minutes, and yet it flies by. Aster is not only a master of horror, he’s also a master of pacing, managing to make his lengthy film unfold at a clipped pace that never once drags. It’s remarkable. I’ve seen films shorter than this that actually seem twice as long. Other filmmakers would be wise to sit down and study Aster’s work to figure out how to pace their movies.
Aster has said in past interviews that after Midsommar, he’s likely done with the horror genre for a while. Maybe forever. I sincerely hope this isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that the horror genre needs Ari Aster. With two films in quick succession, the director has proven he understands the genre more than most, and that he has unique, game-changing stories to tell. Aster draws on past films to tell his horror stories, but ends up crafting movies that stand entirely, and distinctively, on their own. As Midsommar draws to an alarming, eye-popping conclusion, you’ll be left stunned. The term “masterpiece” gets tossed around far too often these days, but the description is apt for Midsommar. It’s terrifying. It’s hilarious. It’s one of the year’s best films.
/Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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