By Kevin Muller
What made Ari Astar’s 2018 film, Hereditary, so chilling was the skilled build up to each scene. Most horror films have no subtlety whatsoever that rely on constant jump scares and the sudden heightening of audio effects. Astar’s movies may move at a snail’s pace, but once the scares kick in, he let’s you sit in the fear, paranoia, and any other negative feeling that conjures up in any given scene. Where his first feature lured in darkness, his new film basks in the sunlight. Does he give us a worthy follow up or fall into a Sophomore slump?
Relative newcomer Florence Pugh, plays Dani, a young woman who experiences such a horrific event in the opening minutes of the movie. On top of that, her relationship with her boyfriend Christian is on its last leg. Christian’s friends beg him to break it off with her, but the tragedy gives the relationship a little bit more time to breathe, even though it should’ve ended many moons ago. Him and his friends are on their way to Sweden to partake in “Midsommar.” It is an event that only takes place every 90 years, to which Christian is researching for his college thesis. At the last minute, against his friends wishes, he invites Dani to tag along. From there the movie slowly dips into the weird, violent, and sadistic rituals of the Pagan cult. Unfortunately, those practices involve the deaths of some of these characters.
Unlike most horror movies, the movie is almost two and half hours long. You feel the run time, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As stated, Astar likes to take his time for his audience to get used to their surroundings. The production design sells Astar’s vision. Of course, the ceremony is located in the middle of nowhere, only accessed through a long hike. In the light, everything looks too clean and overly tidy. It seems like heaven on Earth, but is far from it. The walls of the buildings contain paintings of the history of this place. The drawings range from downright strange to questionably violent. For the majority of the run time, the film builds the relationships between the characters, so when the bodies start to pile up, you feel it a bit more than a normal horror film.
Pugh, who also starred in this year’s Fighting with my Family, is a real find for Aster. Unlike most female horror characters, she has depth and Pugh performs all those complicated emotions perfectly. While the tragedy does give you sympathy for Dani, you can see her insecurities and flaws displayed through the movie. She is needy and slightly annoying. Jack Reynor, who plays Christian, dials up the passive aggressive asshole nature of the character. He is the worst kind of boyfriend: clueless and without a spine. Dani and Christian are the couple you never want to be in the same room with due to the boiling tension and awkwardness that give off. While most people don’t go to a horror film for character development, that is what Aster does so well. Will Poulter, who usually plays roles of a weirder nature, is fantastic as Mark, the comic relief. He is just there for the hot Swedish women and is the biggest supporter of Christian leaving Dani. Aster gives him all the great comedic lines that are both observational and snarky. The writing and acting are enough to keep the movie moving until the horror starts. Aster constructs some memorable set pieces that won’t escape your mind. Again, the fact that it is all done in light makes it feel more unnerving. The cinematography makes you feel like its main character, full of paranoia and slightly claustrophobic. It is more an art house horror film than something that would appeal to the mass audience.
If you weren’t won over by the nature of Hereditary, Midsommar won’t change your mind. It is full of the weirdness that most film studios, outside of the film’s supporter, A24, that won’t be seen in most Hollywood movies this year. For those who appreciate the boldness, risk taking, and uncomfortableness of film making, take this journey into the light.
I am giving Midsommar a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!