James’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ari, are you ok? Are you ok, Ari?
Just a year after his terrifying feature debut Hereditary, Ari Aster is back with a vengeance and as far as the general consensus is concerned, is now two for two, proving he is a writer-director to watch with great anticipation. Despite being unquestionably disturbing on an unprecedented visceral level, Midsommar doesn't fit quite as snugly into the horror genre however, biting off ambitious thematic chunks that sees our protagonist deal with PTSD, grief, psychedelic catharsis and the gradual breakdown of a relationship—oh but it's a comedy too; Aster may be a merchant of pain and the opening prelude sets the tone as such but he isn't above making us giggle at the absurdity of his vision. Whether these themes coalesce into a meaningful, coherent whole has been debated and the film is decidedly more difficult to decipher in terms of substance—at times it does feel like Aster is relying a little too much on the unique aesthetic premise and audacious cinematic techniques to pull it off, though the end result is undeniably satisfying all the same.
The obvious benchmark for this pagan freak-fest is of course The Wicker Man, whilst Aster's love for Bergman and arthouse cinema seeps into this ambitiously staged and visually gorgeous tableaux of endless sunlight, flowers and menacing serenity—there are no cheap scares and in fact it has long periods of relative tedium which I imagine are even more evident in the longer cut, taking its time to get under your skin, but once it does it burrows deep and the last act is nothing short of entrancing. Florence Pugh's performance as Dani here has been heavily praised and rightly so—her range and ability to express such a complex variety of intense emotions is awards worthy, contrast that with her purposefully detached, self-absorbed boyfriend and his equally detestable friends and she becomes the heart and soul in this journey of self-discovery and purgative immolation.