7:00 am EDT, July 6, 2019

‘Midsommar’ review: A funny, freaky nightmare in broad daylight

Ari Aster’s flower crown horror show is an ambitious follow-up to Hereditary.

After making such a splash with last year’s Hereditary, the expectations for a follow-up from writer/director Ari Aster were quite high. From inside the nooks and crannies of familial trauma out into sun-soaked fields of a mysterious commune, he set his sights on a new target and manages to bring us something that feels both familiar to his work but entirely new.

We’re introduced to Dani (Florence Pugh) who experiences an extraordinary family tragedy and receives more than a lack of emotional support from her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). It’s a deeply sad and stunning pre-credits sequence set in the darkness and cold, a preamble of the deceiving blue skies to come. Christian plans to attend a mysterious Swedish festival with his friends and reluctantly invites and then allows Dani to come along.

The first day of their arrival is innocuous enough as they take some casual hallucinatory drugs and sit in the fields while the sun never goes down. We’re still forced to watch Dani make excuses for Christian’s complete lack of care or attention to her needs and place the blame on herself.

Aster says this movie was inspired by a breakup, and it’s no wonder. The script does a great job of capturing the nuances of a relationship that has been bad for a while but on the surface looks fine. It takes a trip out of the country to an insane festival to at last bring everything out in the open, into broad daylight.

Florence Pugh, if there’s any justice in this world, will finally have her breakout with this role. It should’ve already happened with the little seen Lady Macbeth in 2016, in which she’s absolutely sinister and brilliant. Here, however, she delivers an absolute powerhouse of a performance. She carries the emotional burden of the entire movie on her back and gives us a tour de force that rivals Toni Collette in Hereditary.

Jack Reynor as Christian is also great, and he could easily replace Chris Pratt now that he’s canceled. He gives us a sad sack who is such an oblivious nincompoop, it’s almost impressive how unaware he is. It’s a tricky tone to land, and Reynor does it with a level of humor. And speaking of, how hilarious this movie really is comes most unexpected. There are some one-liners that would feel right at home in Booksmart.

Hereditary definitely had moments of humor, but Midsommar could almost be considered a comedy if it weren’t for all the horrific things going on. It’s the way Dani, Christian and their band of friends (led by William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter) react to the festivities, the way the commune is dressed and the increasingly bizarre customs they become privy to, that’s where the comedy resides.

The two-and-a-half-hour running time definitely has that feeling to it. It’s not unnecessarily long because I think a lot of what you’re supposed to be feeling is the prolonged build-up of tension throughout, but you can still definitely feel this movie’s length. And there are moments where it’s certainly not flying by. The first big Moment with a capital M that I’ll try my best not to spoil probably doesn’t come until well after the hour mark.

It’s a scene so repulsive and shocking, it both feels inevitable and totally unexpected. It’s a ritual from this commune that finally clicks into focus for this American crew just how far from home they really are, and that this place exists far outside regular moral norms.

One couple justifiably freaks out and demands to leave, while Christian wants to stay and write his thesis on the commune, an idea which he, like a coward, stole from his friend. This anthropological observation of a community by Americans adds another layer of meaning here, which just shows you how rich Aster’s movies are, depending how deeply you want to look, similar to Jordan Peele and Us.

Midsommar is both sprawling and contained, extremely intimate and epic in scope, and while it might not be as wholly scary as Hereditary, it’s just as unnerving. It’s a slow build of nonstop anxiety and tension that never lets go of its grasp until those final credits roll.

Aster might lose focus or momentum as he builds toward his third act, and it definitely can be categorized as overlong, this is still a hilariously condemnation of weak, pathetic men and the strong women that lift them up, and that’s a message I’ll happily take in my horror movies in 2019. And it really cannot be overstated just how good Florence Pugh is.

If Hereditary was about familial trauma and grief, Midsommar is about the toxic relationships we find ourselves in, how there should be no shame in expressing pain, and that sometimes the best way to get out is to set it all aflame and start from scratch.

‘Midsommar’ is now in theaters

Official synopsis:

With their relationship in trouble, a young American couple travel to a fabled Swedish midsummer festival where a seemingly pastoral paradise transforms into a sinister, dread-soaked nightmare as the locals reveal their terrifying agenda.

Our Score

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