Review: 'Midsommar'

Shrooms, sunshine and terror await in 'Hereditary' director's sophomore effort
BRIGHT FRIGHT: 'Hereditary' director Ari Aster produces a worthy, and terrifying, encore with 'Midsommar.'

With his latest film Midsommar, director Ari Aster takes up an unsettling yarn and unravels it completely. Aster, whose critically acclaimed Hereditary hit theaters just last summer, sprinkles his latest twisted tale with ceremonial obscurities, hefty doses of psilocybin and plenty of moral delinquency—concocting a narrative about moving on and emotional rebirth.

Featuring eerie Swedish maidens clad in white, Midsommar's official trailer was misleading in the best kind of way, setting the scene and audience expectations long before the film hit theaters. Some anticipated the movie would be a slasher flick that wittingly paid homage to the 1975 cult horror flick, Wicker Man. But Aster being Aster, Midsommar isn't so much about the freaky Nordic festival where it is set as it is about the participants—specifically Dani and Christian.

In the style of Aster's previous female-fronted film, Dani (Florence Pugh) is a central focus of Midsommar. Pugh is a delight, whether she's dancing around the Maypole for hours or sobbing until she faints. Pugh makes Toni Collette's performance in Hereditary seem mild by comparison, conjuring a character so riddled by loss and pain that one can't help but become emotionally invested in her well being.

Midsommar is absolutely petrifying and definitely has the upper hand on Hereditary, with a faster pace and generally more explicit moments, including a rather efflorescent sex scene. Aster isn't concerned with censoring the graphic parts of his films, throwing viewers head first into the carnage. His films thrive off of shock factor; hence, the iconic gore scenes in Hereditary. In illustrating the heinous side of humanity, Aster exposed viewers to the characters' extensive range of emotions. Paralleling Hereditary, Midsommar fixates on the raw emotions associated with loss, particularly grief-induced hysteria.

The moments depicting drug use initially allude to Paddy Brethnach's Shrooms, with hallucinogens becoming the film's catalyst. But Aster's subtle, unnerving visions imitating a psychedelic trip are executed so the drugs don't play too big of a role or steal the show. If anything, the psilocybin trips provided a few lighter moments in this summer's most terrifying film.

Midsommar wouldn't be a true art-house horror film without montages of arcane imagery paired with an anxiety-inducing score, composed by Bobby Krilic—a.k.a. the Haxan Cloak. Coupled with Aster's talent for devising excruciatingly uncomfortable scenes full of undeniable tension, the duo crafted what some are saying is this year's creepiest film score. After riding this rollercoaster of liturgical sacrifice, you won't be able to get Krilic's composition or Pugh's heart-wrenching wails out of your head.

R; 147 Mins.

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