Review by Ray Schillaci
The Movie Guys

Awkward laughs, chilling visuals, and a sound design to make us cringe has writer/director Ari Aster continue to prove that he can be a mixed bag of surprises. He’s not exactly some people’s taste. Audiences were divided with his last film, Hereditary. They either loved or hated it. But, the one thing most could agree upon, he has a stunning visual sense and harbors a nasty capability of translating the worst of grief on the big screen. The trailer alone for his new film, Midsommar, echoes of ’73s The Wicker Man. But, Aster’s film delivers far (perhaps too much) more, portraying American friends attending a summer festival in Sweden with bizarre, terrifying, and dark comic results.

Aster delivers uncomfortable big laughs with his unsettling near fairy tale setting. But you’d never know this from the beginning, which delivers the kind of dread that happened midway through Hereditary after an unfortunate accident takes a young life. The scene alone from that film almost made this critic walkout of the theater. The portrayal of grief being far too realistic for me or anyone ever having experienced an untimely passing.

This time around, Aster centers his story around Dani (Florence Pugh), who suffers a tragic loss. The images alone are a punch to the gut. We instantly feel Dani’s pain. It doesn’t help that she was needy before, seeing a psychiatrist, and popping Ativan. Now, she becomes more clingy in her rocky relationship with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian needs space, but doesn’t have the heart to break it to her, and instead welcomes Dani’s intrusion, via his guilt, on his trip to Sweden with his friends to celebrate a festival at a commune.

The trip proves to be hard on Dani as she continues to ride an emotional rollercoaster over her loss with a less than sensitive boyfriend and his friends, Mark and Josh, who prefer her to not put a damper on their fun. The only person that appears sensitive to Dani’s plight is Pelle, the gentle Swedish student who has invited the friends to his “family” festival that is only celebrated once every ninety years.

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When they arrive at the small village, there is a serenity cloaked in mystery. Everything seems too perfect. It’s like watching every documentary you’ve ever seen on people who are brainwashed by their new age religion. But, this is not New Age, this is a pagan cult. And, if you know anything about paganism, you know this peaceful and enjoyable visit will eventually embark into a hellish journey.

Once again, Aster stuns us with his sound design and visual sense. But, it proves to be overbearing this time around. The picture is a slow burn oftwo hours and twenty minutes. There’s a term bandied about on the internet, cinematography porn, and this film definitely qualifies. Aster is so in love with his own imagery that he lingers on it far too long. The monotony tends to take away from the film and will make you eventually turn to our watche or iPhone, counting the minutes left.

This is not to say the film isn’t effective. It’s a very bizarre mix of oddball humor and thriller that does shock at times. Most impactful is Florence Pugh as Dani. Fresh off of the wrestling comedy, Fighting With My Family, Pugh delivers a knockout performance for Aster. Her Dani is so complex and heartfelt, we ache for her throughout the film. Everyone else is more like scenery to keep the story along. Not to undermine the rest of the cast, but they just do not stand out as Pugh does as Dani.

Ari Aster not only has a keen sense for grief, but he demonstrates one of the finest representations of a drug trip, and it is incredibly subtle. It’s the several trips that compliment the film, but do not overwhelm as do many of the other visuals. Some violent images are incredibly shocking and definitely not for the faint of heart. But, then he counters that with unsettling laughs that you can’t help wonder if you should be laughing.

Ari Aster’s latest is not a general audience film. This freakish little acid trip is a stoner art film that runs away with its artistry with little care for its audience. Midsommar is for lovers of Fellini, Ken Russell, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and film enthusiasts that revel in the indulgence of an artist gone wild.
Directed by: Ari Aster
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Run Time: 140 Minutes
Rated: R
Country: US
Distributor: A24

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