Last year, Hereditary announced the arrival of a unique filmmaker in Ari Aster. Regardless of whether you loved or hated the movie, it was a distinctive vision, one that was impossible to ignore. Now, this week brings Aster’s sophomore outing in Midsummer, and he’s upped his game, both in terms of ambition and scale, as well as, in my humble opinion, execution as well. Though I was somewhat underwhelmed by Hereditary, Midsommar is one of the best films of 2019 so far. Bold and uncompromising, Aster has a voice that’s essential within the genre. This is an absolute must see to start July off with. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Things start off somewhat slowly, by design. Dani (Florence Pugh) is a grad student worried not just about her relationship with fellow student Christian (Jack Reynor), but also an ominous message from her sister. When that turns out to be far more devastating than she could imagine, with death in the family first and foremost, she turns to her boyfriend for support. Thing is, he’s been looking for the right time to break up with her, spurred on by his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). The boys were planning to spend two weeks during the summer in Sweden, studying a rare midsummer festival in Pelle’s rural town, something Christian never mentioned to Dani. Neither one wants to seem uncool, so almost by accident, she ends up accompanying them. When they arrive int he small village, it’s initially beautiful and idyllic. Dani can’t help shake her troubles though, and they’re about to grow. Once the ceremonies start, the villagers begin to resemble more of a pagan cult than simple townsfolk. Then, things really start to get weird. You’ll see, as the surprises here are best left for you to be stunned by. Aster writes and directs, with supporting cast members including Anna Åström, Isabelle Grill, Archie Madekwe, Liv Mjönes, Ellora Torchia, and more. Pawel Pogorzelski handles the luscious cinematography, while the hypnotic score comes from The Haxan Cloak.
It took a bit to warm up to, but I grew to love this movie. The first part, as mentioned, is rather deliberate and oddly hypnotic, but then there’s a turn, and my, what a turn it is. You’ll know it when you see it. From then on, this film becomes an insane experience, continuously mixing incredible beauty with sudden gore. If this is Ari Aster’s version of a breakup movie, I’m both fascinated and horrified by his life. From the score to the visuals, along with a fantastic Florence Pugh, it’s compelling and haunting in equal measure, far more than just a spiritual cinematic cousin to The Wicker Man. Without question, it will stick with anyone who sees it for quite some time. It builds and builds, continuously adding more dread and surprises along the way.
Midsommar is going to be divisive. Some will herald it, like myself, as an ambitious offering that showcases Aster as a voice in horror that’s becoming singular and potentially essential. Some, on the other hand, will find it off putting and pretentious, which isn’t a completely out of left field reading. On either side, it can be genuinely upsetting and hard to watch at times. Aster is doing things his own way with this flick, unapologetic about how you might feel about it. Without question, it zigs when others might have made it zag, and that will limit its commercial appeal, even if that’s part of what makes it the tremendous accomplishment that it ultimately is.
Starting today, emboldened audience members can see what Aster has in store this time around when Midsommar opens up. It’s truly a unique experience that will leave you buzzing and eager to talk to someone about it. Love it or hate it, this is a movie with a lot to mull over. Aster is a storyteller following the beat of his own drummer and it’s hard not to be fascinated about what he might do next. Two films in, he’s already distinguished himself as a bit of a visionary. Brace yourself for something out of the ordinary with this one. Not everyone will go for it, but it’s one fo the best things I’ve seen so far this year…
Be sure to check out Midsommar, in theaters everywhere now!