Midsommar ★★★

I guess it's unfair just comparing this film to Hereditary, but it's unlikely this would be such a sensation if it wasn't for Ari Aster's much hyped breakthrough of last year. Once again the movie is full of conspicuous visual tricks, but it feels less meticulous than the pitch perfect editing and dollhouse cinematography of Hereditary. It also lacks the thrilling nerve of the psychological horror, since this is more of a straight forward folk horror slasher.

What Aster gets right again is the central performance from Florence Pugh who matches Toni Collette's tour de force from last year, including a gut-wrenching expression of immediate unbridled grief. The primal bawling is amazing, both to put you in a terrible mood but also as a counterpart to the cult's pageantry of emotions which stifles the primal connection.

That pre-title opening section is unfortunately the best part of the movie, with cinematic shorthand establishing both sides of a relationship that may have run its course. When the main plot kicks in the perspective shifts and becomes increasingly imbalanced. This overreaching desire to juggle multiple perspectives seems to be a problem for Aster so far, and it becomes more troubling here the way the story works within the Zeitgeist.

It may also get worse from Aster seeming more interested in the actual ins and outs of cult life than the emotional arc of the characters. As a Swede I am quite impressed and amused by the perversion of pagan traditions that feel completely real. It very much feels like Aster collected a bunch of real games and superstitions and just applied them in disturbing ways. It's a bit like a Grimm tale where people grow up on the Disney version. What sounds like a romantic love potion fantasy you tell to kids turns out to be a sinister rape spell, much like the blown-out idyllic caring pseudo-family is a self-erasing dead end.

There is some discussion whether this is even a horror movie, which is usually a silly distinction but feels more useful here. Aster builds characters with some complexity, with a boyfriend's immaturity and misguided good intentions mixed with insensitivity and emotional fatigue clashing with a vulnerable and understandably needy girlfriend. This could be the foundation for a relationship tragedy, but the longer the movie runs (and it runs for a very long time) the more darkly comedic elements are thrown in and it escalates with a rape scene playing out as a Roy Andersson absurd gigglefest (or knee-slapping laugh-out-loud to some in my audience). That's no doubt a staple of nihilistic slashers, while it would be much more rough if Aster had other ambitions than making a stylish genre mash-up.

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