Midsommar ★★★★★

On only his second feature film, Ari Aster's Midsommar feels like the work of a filmmaker with complete control and confidence in his craft. Following up last year's *oustanding* Hereditary, a devastating portrayal of grief and anxiety that left me truly shaken when it was over (even when I watched it for a third and fourth time), Midsommar smashes the entire concept of a sophomore slump by delivering a truly weird and mesmerising horror experience that drilled right under my skin and hasn't left since.

Right off the bat, you're introduced to the central relationship that sets the thematic foundations for the film, Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Instantly you understand the dynamic of their relationship: Dani is struggling through an extremely traumatic experience in her family life, while Christian is emotionally unavailable, apathetic and self-obsessed. You see him manipulate her into apologising to him for his shitty behaviour, and making her blame herself for her - completely justified - emotional distress. He's the absolute worst, basically, and the depiction of his character is brutally accurate, I imagine most people will have known someone like him in their life. When Dani finds out that Christian and his friends have been invited to Sweden to attend a midsummer celebration by their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), Christian reluctantly invites her to tag along.

The most impressive element of the film's construction is the willingness to take it's time. It lets the strangeness of the entire situation really sit with you, slowly creeping under your skin as it develops so when the few moments of catharsis come, they hit that much harder. Where Hereditary was playing with tropes from mainstream horror cinema, Midsommar feels decidedly more singular. You get the traditional horror conceit of the pagan cult, but a film that features no jump-scares and takes place in a almost entirely broad daylight is a refreshing change of pace in a modern horror landscape.

Ultimately, Midsommar is a film about, on one hand, a toxic, unstable relationship with someone that drags you down with their self-obsessed ways, and by extension a film about dealing with trauma and how the people and support-systems around you can help or hinder. Dani gets no support from Christian, and his equally toxic friends catalyse his behaviour. The film uses the pagan cult scenario as an avenue to explore these ideas, and does so masterfully. In a similar way to Hereditary using it's supernatural horror construction in order to examine anxieties and mental health problems passed down through generations, it's a film that works so well on multiple levels.

It's pretty wild that this has been marketed pretty heavily to a mainstream audience, when it's appeal is going to be fairly niche. I can see it being far more alienating than Hereditary which also failed to really connect with audiences. Either way, Ari Aster continues to announce himself as one hell of a talent. I was worried to an extent that he'd struggle to follow up a debut as strong as Hereditary, but it's nice that those fears were totally unjustified. This is a truly exciting film from a truly exciting filmmaker and I can't wait to see what he does next.

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