Midsommar

Midsommar ★★★½

Ari Aster must have had a messed up childhood or something. In "Midsommar", Aster again explores the dynamics of family trauma, pagan rituals, and grief through a very distorted and magnified lens. He has created another film probably unpalatable to the average moviegoer (though more palatable than his "Hereditary").

"Midsommar" takes a very slow burn approach, not revealing its horror until the very end but heavily hinting at it throughout. Though it contains horror, I would be hard pressed to describe it as a horror film. Where "Hereditary" was undoubtedly a gruesome horror pic, "Midsommar" is more of a psychological mind trip with a lot of gore.

Even though it takes its sweet time, when the horrifying moments come, and they do, Aster is likely to make most of his audience squirm. A number of taboo subjects appear head on, and the auteur doesn't blink. Sometimes, the film's grotesqueness can be grotesque just for the sake of it. And the weird things that go on at this Swedish summer festival definitely feel like they were concocted to make a squeamish viewer turn away. In short, some of these things are pointless.

In that way, and others, Aster can be compared to one of his own characters: Josh, the college student doing his thesis on European midsummer traditions. Aster's film is almost like a college student's thesis itself: an outsider's look at a very foreign tradition that is more or less objective with flourishes in language.

Those flourishes are what make "Midsommar" special. They are the filmmaking behind the movie. Whatever you may think of its occurrences, it is indisputable that Aster is an artist, at least visually. His camera moves freely, twisting itself into positions nearly as grotesque as the events we see on screen. And the editing is the cherry on top. The sequence at the beginning of the movie that covers the inciting incident and leads to the opening credits is nothing short of brilliant filmmaking. Aster can get under your skin, and it isn't only because he has a good makeup team.

Given his pedigree and the above paragraphs, it is quite surprising that "Midsommar" is hilarious. Will Poulter supplies plenty of wisecracks with glee, but a much darker and subtle comedy exists in many of the most outlandish scenes. Perhaps because of their overtly horrifying nature, you have to laugh at the simple absurdity of the images before you. What else would you do? Cower and cry? It's unclear which option Aster prefers for you to do. His movie hangs in the balance between terror and pitch black comedy, and neither is quite fully achieved.

There is something special about "Midsommar" if not entirely satisfying, and the last piece of that esoteric puzzle is Florence Pugh. She gives an electrifying performance that is the scariest part of the movie. There is something about her expression of grief that struck a nerve with me. Maybe it was the music, or the framing, or my wimpy nature, but whenever she began to scream, cry, and moan all at once in agony, I was completely unnerved.

"Midsommar" is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. It isn't quite scary but it is always interesting. Because no matter how many questions it brings up that it never cares to answer, you are still intrigued enough to stay until the end.

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