“Midsommar” is uncomfortable, horrific, bizarre… and near perfection

midsommar 1

“Midsommar” was written and directed by Ari Aster and stars Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter and Vilhelm Blomgren. The film is about a group of friends who travel to Sweden to visit a small town’s mid-summer festival which at first seems gorgeous, but quickly turns into nightmare fuel.

Aster set the horror genre on fire with his debut last year, “Hereditary.” This film was near perfection, with Aster’s unique, slow-build methods and grasp on trauma helping to make the movie stand out. With “Midsommar” all the trailers led me to believe he would absolutely be able to pull it off again, and prove that his debut was certainly no fluke.

The Good

Florence. Pugh. Toni Collette was robbed of recognition last year for her “Hereditary” performance, and if the same thing happens to Pugh, it would be an absolute shame. Pugh, like Collette, gets the concept of grief perfectly right in this film, showing so much deeply-rooted sadness and hatred for the world in a very nuanced fashion.

Pugh is an absolute revelation in this movie, and portrays such a brilliant arc in her character in a way that no one else would possibly be able to top.

Ari Aster may need psychiatric help, but damn, does he direct masterfully. Hereditary is dark and graphic, but it looks like a Pixar movie next to “Midsommar.” But Aster is smart and crafty enough to use all of this awful, awful imagery into brilliant storytelling methods, and he again makes a fantastic script to go along with it.

Aster’s script specifically impressed me here with its uses of comedy, something not to be expected with all this awful trauma around it. Sometimes it’s just by something being so weird, but often it is a well-written joke or pause that manages to find more than a fair share of laughs throughout.

Pugh may steal the show, but her supporting cast is very strong as well. Reynor is terrific at being an awful boyfriend, but doing it in a way that felt legitimate and subtle. Poulter is great at just being an awful person, always bringing the comedy in places that otherwise would never have had it. I also thought Harper and Blomgren found moments to shine, and each brought an important component to the plot that would feel absent without them.

“Midsommar,” on a pure auditory and visual experience, is one of the best films of the year. The Haxan Cloak, aka Bobby Krlic, delivers a heart-racing, truly insane score that brings all the insanity to the forefront. Only a musical composition this visceral and this crazy would work for a film like “Midsommar,” and Krlic was more than up to the task.

Pawel Pogorzelski collabs with Aster for a second time, and again the pair strike gold with the cinematography. Unlike “Hereditary,” this movie is incredibly bright and lively with its color composition and backdrop, and yet Pogorzelski uses this fairy tale setting and crafts some truly horrific set pieces with the camerawork. His slow pans are tremendous, and the uses of symmetry and funky camera movement all went over without any issues.

“Midsommar,” above all else, is messed up, but in the best way possible. Aster makes everything going on just feel so unsettling, helped out tremendously by Pogorzelski and Krlic. Nothing feels right, even the most “normal” scenes will draw out new, insane elements, and how each of these perturbed feelings amount to phenomenal character development is what makes a movie like this so special.

The Bad

This is more of a thing to say as much of a flaw: a lot of people will hate this movie. This is a slow-building, psychopathic 147 minutes that is not for everyone, and surely had people in my theater leaving with sighs.

The final 40 minutes or so are not so much a horror movie as much as it is wild and absurd, and it was a shift I needed to get accustomed to. Immediately after leaving the theater, I was unsure how to feel, and how much some things were just there to make the audience shocked.

I think Aster made this movie doing what he does best, but that still makes this film feel occasionally too similar to “Hereditary.” Both have lead characters coping with a traumatic experience, both have a lot of culty ideals and both have similar-ish ending styles that only Aster would do. It’s hard to be mad when both are so terrific, so I’m not, but I do hope Aster expands from his comfort zone a bit in his next effort.

Conclusion

“Midsommar” is crazy, it is bizarre, it is hard to watch, it is long, and damn it, I loved nearly every second of it. Aster is officially one of the top names to look out for, proving “Hereditary” was just the start for him. Give Florence Pugh all the awards for her masterpiece of a performance, and for those willing to spend nearly 2 ½ hours with a brutal sense of uneasiness, there is no better film out there for it.

Badge-9.5


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