So, what’s the film about?
Dani and Christian are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. Budding anthropologist Christian is about to end things – egged on by his fed-up frat-boy friends – when a family tragedy strikes. Feeling he can’t leave her when she needs him the most, the pair drag out their dying relationship into the summer. Following yet another fight, grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote northern Swedish village, much to the annoyance of the rest of the group.
What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in nine days of festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing. Through pulsing paeanistic rituals, freakish folk chants and an eerie exploration of human lifecycles, Ari Aster has created a modern masterpiece that will fill your head with fright the moment it hits the pillow.
Who stars in it?
The film’s lead is the brilliant Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth, Fighting With My Family) as the troubled, anxiety-afflicted Dani. As with everything else we’ve seen her in – from her debut in The Falling alongside Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, to last year’s BBC spy drama Little Drummer Girl – she steals every scene. In Midsommar, her facial expressions mirror those of the viewer’s reactions to the sinister actions unravelling around her – whether its anguish, terror or something more visceral. We won’t give anything away, but the final shot – a close-up of Pugh’s face – is the most intriguing of the whole film. Soon to appear in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (alongside Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan) for us Pugh’s astonishing performance in Midsommar cements her place as one of Britain’s brightest stars.
The awful Christian – and he really is a dud of a boyfriend – is played boldly by Jack Reynor, best know for Sing Street and What Richard Did. He might think he’s being noble by staying with Dani after the demise of her family, but once he’s in the village, his true side is there for all to see – particularly the members of the commune, who expose his desires in one of the film’s wildest, most perturbing scenes.
Christian’s frat-pack friends are made up of William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) as Josh, a fellow post-grad student who’s writing his thesis on European midsummer rituals, Will Poulter (Black Mirror, The Revenant) as vape-smoking misogynist Mark, and newcomer Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle. Pelle was raised in the commune, and is the one who sets up the trip. He’s the only person who seems mildly pleased at Dani’s encroachment on the holiday, gleefully telling her the festival comprises “special ceremonies and dressing up”. Given the horrors that go down, it wouldn’t be amiss to assume that the softly spoken Pelle knows exactly what the group is in for.
Will I like it?
If you’re anything like Jordan Peele, director of Us and Get Out, chances are - yes. “A film like this hasn’t existed yet… I look back at the final act like ‘Holy sh*t’,” the horror auteur said after watching the film. If you loved Hereditary – Aster’s debut film starring Toni Collette, which was released to high acclaim just last year – you’ll be familiar with the slow-burning tension (the film comes in at 147 minutes) and flashes of fright which permeate his work.
No doubt inspired by 1973 folk horrorThe Wickerman, Midsommar is truly disturbing. The cult’s rituals include face skinning, senicide and incest, and all of this is showcased in bright technicolour. This is the first horror film to be shot almost entirely during daylight. Rather than using darkness to induce fear by transforming the things we don’t see into danger, Midsommar exposes its viewers to every single peril. The result is a cliche-free film that feels totally modern.
Yes, this is a slasher flick at its core – one by one the cast is picked off in increasingly brutal circumstances. But this has brains and could be seen as a cautionary tale about bad breakups. Along with Jordan Peele, Aster really gets under the skin of what it is to be American right now, exploring race, rape, mental health and the process of ageing while taking us along this trippy, sun-soaked voyage. Put it this way: you’ll never view flower crowns the same way again.
Midsommar is in cinemas now.
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