After leaving an eerie impression with family horror hit Hereditary, Director Ari Aster returns a year later with Midsommar. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, it is broken relationships that sits at the heart of this folk-festival nightmare. Dani, our grief-stricken protagonist accompanies her boyfriend and his friends on an academic expedition to Sweden for the mid-summer festival. Welcomed with open arms into a rural commune, the group set about immersing themselves in the traditions of the festival. As relationships unravel and unusual customs emerge, the group attempt to keep a grip on their sanity and come to terms with both the horrors of the present and their past. With 90% of the film shot during the day, the film uses a combination of elements to shock and disturb. The characters’ enigmatic surroundings are captured beautifully by cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, who continues to give Aster’s films a visual intensity and crispness. British musician The Haxan Cloak (Bobby Krlic) provides the film with its striking original score, one rich in inspiration from horror classics but rooted enough in originality to give the film its own character. It’s a startling and complex sound, just one of the many working parts that makes Midsommar the most powerful horror films of the year so far. Aster has taken the success of Hereditary and jumped head first into Midsommar, continuing to exude a confidence we rarely see in new directors but that is necessary for working within the genre.
The film’s central cast is made up of a range of British talent including Will Poulter (BAFTA Rising Star 2014), who continues to be a joy on screen, and Jack Reynor who I came to love in Sing Street and who has continued to make versatile and smart role choices since. At the heart of the film, and often at the centre of the frame, is the astounding Florence Pugh. A young British talent, Pugh rose to notoriety in Carol Morley’s indie favourite The Falling and more recently in Lady Macbeth. At more that two and a half hours in length, Midsommar gives Pugh plenty of time and space to explore Dani’s inner turmoil and trauma. Her large eyes constantly sweep around her surroundings, her eyes are often our eyes. Although in the company of friends, she is vulnerable. More alone than ever, Dani is clinging to a dying relationship whilst trying to adjust to a huge recent loss in her life. This painful loss opens the film brilliantly, framing her character and defining what will follow. I struggled with Hereditary more than most, finding it to be a little long-winded despite respecting its ambition. I feel more strongly about the excellence at the centre of Midsommar but once again found it to be just a mere twenty minutes too long. That said, the first two hours sailed by in all its horror and beauty. Pugh’s performance is enough to hold one’s attention whilst the sinister plot develops at a steady pace and with a constant confusion not dissimilar to its obvious inspiration The Wicker Man. Gorey yet gorgeous, evil yet enchanting, Midsommar is highly impressive filmmaking and a welcome addition to the folk-horror canon. It is Florence Pugh who steals the show, closely followed by the film’s original score and its overall aesthetic.
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