Midsommar ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I think that was a happy ending? Much like the final minutes of Hereditary, I'm not convinced the endings of either movie are truly earned, yet I can admire Ari Aster's craft. Midsommar is certainly a sight to behold, with its pulsating colourful floral patterns that seem to have a life of their own, the angelic, unsettling glow of the clothing worn by the villagers, and the rituals that are choreographed with synchronized precision. From the beginning of the film, Aster literally lays out the entirety of the story in one mural, so much like the opening shot of Hereditary, we expect that our characters are mere pawns in Aster's story whose tragic fates have been predetermined. Dani Ardor, the film's central character, has a last name that literally means "to burn." The terror in Midsommar does not come from witnessing increasingly shocking and absurd pagan rituals, but the dread of their looming inevitability, realizing that there is nothing the characters can do to stop them.

Drawing heavily from the folk horror classic The Wicker Man, Midsommar almost retreads a bit too much, for if you know anything about the outline of the plot of the 1973 film, you will not find any genuine surprises here. In both we see a "Christian" character who gets played for a fool when he visits a commune of a pagan cult, experiencing increasingly bizarre rituals, eventually culminating in the character's immolation at the hands of the cult. Where The Wicker Man had themes of conflicting religious beliefs, in Midsommar, Aster continues exploring complex themes of family, effects of trauma, and agency that were artfully constructed in Hereditary.

The opening sequence is arguably the most effective in the entire film, reminiscent of the party scene from Hereditary, and Florence Pugh's agonizing, sustained wailing echo Toni Colette's character's reaction to the loss of her loved one. Unfortunately from there, the film wavers between genuine dread and camp, as characters become thinly written auxiliary pawns (literally) offered as sacrifices to serve the narrative, and the rituals played for shock value culminate in an absurdly ritual comic mating ritual that will leave you questioning whether you are laughing out of discomfort or at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

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