June 26, 2019

GENRE | Breaking Up – 'Midsommar' Shines A Light on Folk Horror

"Is it tomorrow?"
Florence Pugh Jack Reynor Ari Aster | Midsommar

Needless to say, Hereditary filmmaker Ari Aster's second genre feature is another unsettling piece of truly disturbing folk horror. Midsommar is also, however, shockingly hilarious. Set mostly in a remote northern Sweden village during a pagan festival, the film uses the guise of (what I'm hoping are highly fictionalized) escalating cultural midsummer traditions to dissect the nature of broken relationships and grief.

Rising star Florence Pugh as Dani further cements her dynamic range with a somehow simultaneous universal and specific everywoman performance to ground the slowly rising dread of the story. Around her, Jack Reynor expertly portrays the clearly checked out, bad boyfriend, Christian, with a kind of polite dirtbag grace. Their very destructive relationship is perfect fodder for the dry humour Aster expertly dramatizes.

Christian's grad student friends played William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, and native Swede Vilhelm Blomgren are the ones who bring the pair to the eerie commune where crazier and crazier stuff starts to happen. Each play a key role in the slowly more disturbing events of the seemingly nice people and their bizarre celebratory practices under the neverending sun.

Florence Pugh Ari Aster | Midsommar

Aster seems obsessed with the passing down of trauma and cycling of time. Midsommar uses seasonal changes and an abundance of sunlight to dramatize depression and inherited mental illness. His and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski's use of brightly lit summer landscapes amidst explicit horror is effectively terrifying. The camera lingers and you see every detail of the violence.

The fine performances and shockingly pristine imagery make Midsommar such a beautifully harrowing delight. Everything about it seems inspired by the kind of bad relationships we can't seem to escape in our twenties. Those themes reverberate in the American characters' reluctance to leave the superficially idyllic community despite clear signs something is very wrong with their disturbing traditions.

Midsommar is a truly impressive achievement for a filmmaker still very much on the rise. Aster's control, confidence, and mastery of putting his operatic, deeply psychological view of broken relationships on screen is astounding. It's a bleak but beautiful expression of existential dread.

Update: The longer 171-minute Director's Cut of Midsommar opens in theatres for one weekend only starting August 29th.

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