Midsommar ★★★★

Anthon St. Maarten once said that "There are only two kinds of people who can drain your energy: those you love and those you fear." However, sometimes those two sources of pain can come from the same person. Ari Aster's sophomore directorial outing Midsommar is, more than anything, an exercise in why not to put up with unhealthy and toxic relationships. Utilizing the same slow-burn style and uneasy dread that was seen in last year's Hereditary, this film tackles a whole other form of horror in a bright, folk setting. With some incredible performances and a score that will make you shudder, this film is not without its problems but will undoubtedly make you sick to your stomach. And despite the film's mildly disappointing ending, there is no arguing that Aster is one of the most talented and knowledgable horror filmmakers of today.

Dani (Florence Pugh) and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) have been together for almost four years, but even when things get rough in their relationship and Dani suffers through a horrendous personal tragedy, they decide to stay together. In order to make her boyfriend happy and hopefully give herself a break, Dani tags along with Christian and his friends on a trip to rural Sweden for a pagan, mid-summer festival. However, the festival is (somewhat obviously) not what it seems as the group of friends' trip begins to descend into gruesome and existential madness. At this point in time, Aster has absolutely proven himself a connoisseur when it comes to style in his horror films. He brings along the same slow and eerie tone to Midsommar that he did with last year's Hereditary and while there are many comparisons to be made, they each stand out in their own, unique ways. The best aspect of this film is unquestionably its script, also written by Aster. This film combines horror and humor in the smoothest ways possible. While the incoming dread of the evil village in which they're staying creeps up on these characters, the comedy that is utilized throughout is fantastic. What I enjoyed about it most was that it was not the typically written comedy that is meant to ease the audience's tension. The humor throughout Midsommar is merely conversational and purely comes from the characters' unease rather than our own. Thankfully, all of their interactions felt natural, which is what brought more authenticity to its characters and their development.

Reality can often be much scarier than any nightmare we could dream up and this proves itself as the main theme of Aster's new film. Whereas Hereditary focused on the horror of family, Midsommar attempts to break down the dynamic between friends and romances. The majority of this script focuses on the relationship between Dani and Christian and how horribly, emotionally manipulative that he was towards her. Even though his actions were subtle as he pretends to be the nice guy, he is sneaky in the ways that he gets Dani to stay on his side. This dynamic made for the most interesting aspect of the script, as Aster focuses on telling the terrifying story of how a couple's relationship crumbles. Even though he still masters the pagan, ritualistic horror that was occurring in the village, the scariest part of this story is its reality. This movie is an exercise in toxic relationships and honestly reveals itself as a cry to people who are questioning whether to stay with their shitty boyfriends. The scene that I adored the most was towards the end after Dani had discovered Christian's infidelity with one of the village girls and she sat in a circle with the other women, all bowing down to her power as the new queen. This scene absolutely radiated catharsis and was the best way for this story to come to its climax as Dani finally purged her emotions and rid herself of Christian. Even though Aster's script is fantastic and blends this brightly-lit horror with clever humor, I still had some issues with the ending of this film. While it is indeed horrifying and slowly but tensely built to, I could not feel the same impact that Hereditary had on me. Aster's first feature brought together all of the film's twists and details together in such a powerful way that had me completely shook. Midsommar, however, has a very predictable ending that suits the character choices perfectly but does not feel nearly as satisfying; the entire 2 hour and 27-minute runtime leads exactly where you would expect.

Midsommar, similar to its directorial predecessor, stands out so vividly against the slew of horror films, which is also in part due to its incredible performances, cinematography, and score. The overall production design behind this film is stupendous and it is obvious that Aster's budget had gone up after the cult success of last year's hit. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor are the absolute standouts throughout this movie as their acting truly shows the incompatible differences between them and their relationship. Pugh was particularly fantastic in this film, nailing every little detail of her character and how a genuine person would respond in that kind of situation. Her slow descent into madness because of her relationship and the village shows how well-written she was and how by the end of the film she was done putting up with everything. The supporting cast was fantastic as well, including William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, and Vilhelm Blomgren, who were all great in their roles. Their characters may not have had the most supportive outlook on Dani and Christian's relationship, but their interactions made their respective characters stand out so well. Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography in this film was absolutely gorgeous. As he went from the darkness of a family's house to the blinding white of a Swedish village, he was still able to incorporate so much fantastic camerawork to make every shot beautiful. The most haunting technical aspect, however, was The Haxan Cloak's score. His music choices were terrifying and although they may have been subtle, are paired along with the direction so fluidly. The spectacle that is the last ten minutes of this film would not have been nearly as shuddering if not for the chilling finale's score.

Ari Aster's Midsommar may have slightly let me down due to its straightforward, uneventful ending, but the creeping tension and atmosphere of this film is a horror lover's dream (or nightmare). I absolutely loved the themes throughout this movie and how they were disguised as a folk horror film. I can not wait to see what subgenre of horror Aster decides to tackle next, as I'm sure he will accomplish it with existential style and fantastic terror.

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