Film review, by Jason Day, of Midsommar, the horror about a group of Americans who travel to a festival held by an isolated religious commune in Sweden. Starring Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor.
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Dani (Florence Pugh) doubts that her boyfriend of nearly four years Christian (Jack Reynor) loves her, but she struggles to confront him and deal with this. Likewise, Christian is unable to break things off with Dani. After the death of her entire family at the hands of her unbalanced sister who commits suicide, Dani is left distraught. Christian invites her to holiday with him and his friends in Sweden, where they will join a rarely held, fabled festival at the isolated commune home of Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
Held over nine days, the trip gets off to a heady start with copious amounts of alcohol and psychedelic drugs, but soon descends into an increasingly bizarre, shocking and violent competition as the festival reaches its end.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
!!! SPOILERS ALERT !!!
I love a horror movie that makes you squirm in your seat.
I’ve been reviewing films for about 20 years now, in various capacities and for various media outlets, so it’s fair to see that, to paraphrase the immortal words of Mae Wast, I’ve seen strange things and been to even stranger places. Midsommar just about forms the peak of those strange, cinematic climes.
Paganism has always had a bad rep in cinema. I won’t bore you with the whole list, but suffice to say a lot of them reside in the horror genre, with Hammer Studios being particularly interested in looking into the more prurient, sexual aspects of the pre-Christian religion.
Paganism as a ‘religion’ is problematic to define, which is perhaps why the cinema, which can struggle with pinning down clear-cut explanations of complex matters and issues, hasn’t always got a grasp on this more fluid and ephemeral of belief systems.
That said, The Wicker Man (1973), with its haunting, eerie, rural mysticism is generally regarded as the more intelligent of horror films and definitely the greatest Hammer film produced. But horror it is. Not romance or drama, but full-on, sacrificial blood lust horror.
Midsommar follows Wicker Man down a similar, petal-strewn, sun-baked path toward flowers, festivals and fucking.
I’ve written previously about how I love a good horror movie that makes you squirm in your seat or results in some sort of physical reaction to the events depicted on screen.
Midsommer bimbles along fairly routinely, as young Dani and Jack navigate their awful, draining relationship. He is a nasty piece of work, treating Dani like sh*t, forgetting her birthday, not telling her is about to go on a weeks long vacation to Europe. He’s the type of man who will happily steal his best friends life-long work because he hasn’t the imagination to have his own PhD research interests.
Dani is emotionally brittle, something that is a family trait as her sister is depressive and routinely messages her with open-ended messages with the threat of suicide, something she is eventually very successful at achieving. She is needy and frequently dumps her troubles onto a young man who clearly isn’t able to deal with them and help her. Her friends advise her to broom him, but she can’t bring herself to do it. Neither can he, so they have been trapped for four years in a toxic relationship that is unhealthy for both of them.
The Hagar – the commune they visit – is a disarming place. The people are dressed as if for an ancient, European festival and despite their odd ways of greeting each other, they are friendly and recognisably ‘normal’. They are a bit like those men and women who re-enact old battles – the usual people you work with in the office, but definitely one sandwich short when it comes to the staging of big, historical moments.
But aside from the lashings of beer and drugs the group are plied with, we are left with the impression that stranger things are yet to come.
And we don’t have to wait long before they appear. In the film’s most shocking and talked-about scene, an older couple chuck themselves off a cliff when they reach the fabled top-limit age allowed in the Hagar, their bodies and heads ending up as a pile of blood, bone and gristle on the ground below.
You would think that Dani would be screeching from the top of the Hagar temple, but she keeps her cool. She is moved, naturally, but is easily calmed by Pelle who makes it clear he is interested in her. But despite her misplaced love for Christian, she is relatively comfortable with this. Dani is getting her feet under the Hagar’s massive dinner table.
Midsommar is not your typical Hollywood fright-flick because it works by a creepy, stealthy manner, working up the levels of wasted and weird in an exceptionally unsettling way.
Writer/director Ari Aster, who helmed Hereditary (2018), knows how to manipulate his audience, none more so than with his leading character. Dani is outwardly an annoying, demanding, passive aggressive shrew who cannot communicate effectively with her boorish boyfriend.
And annoy us she does, even after the multiple-fatality of her parents death and her sister’s suicide. Dani wails in an inhumane manner, a scream that is one if the most unsettling noises in modern cinema. The sort of primal, inner-gut cry that no human on earth could console.
Reynor cradles Pugh on his lap. No human could hold her close to them, the sound would shatter ear drums from across the street. You should sympathise with this poor young woman, whose emotions have been shredded with one phone call, but you end up wriggling in your cinema seat and wishing her to shut up.
Pugh is a good actress to make an impact with this role and gradually, as events get stranger, you start to warm to her. Dani opens up to this strange, murderous world, finding acceptance and family with this adoptive community.
Aster gives us a big, visual moment to herald this shift. As the group drive toward the Hagar, the camera spins upside down and stays there, only righting itself again when they drive into Halsingland, where the Hagar is located. Rather obviously, we have been transported into a new, topsy-turvy world.
Amidst the crazy, drug-fuelled deaths and tortures, there is a sex scene that out-weirds anything in TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale. As Reynor gets busy with the flame-haired Maja (Isabelle Grille), he is surrounded by naked women from the commune. One, then gets behind him and pushes his arse to get his stroke-ratio up. His thrusting is accompanied by discordant, eerie singing from the women. And yes, he goes on to have a full-frontal trot around the commune afterwards.
Cast & credits
Director: Ari Aster. 2hrs 27 mins/147 mins. B-Reel Films/Square Peg. (15)
Producers: Patrik Andersson, Lars Knudsen,
Writer: Ari Aster.
Camera: Pawel Pogorzelski.
Music: The Haxan Cloak.
Sets: Henrik Svensson.
Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchier, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlen, Gunnel Fred.