Midsommar ★★★★½

Midsommar is the feel-good break-up film of the year.

OK, writing that description of the film is about as strange as watching it. That's because I don't think I've ever seen a feel-good break-up film. I've seen the ones that fetishize the grief of lost love: Annie Hall, Revolutionary Road, Scenes From A Marriage and Blue Valentine immediately come to mind. And break-ups do suck. But I'm reminded of the funny line, "No good marriage has ended in a divorce" by that persona non grata (rhymes with Bluey PK).

It's hard to find humour in the awkward dissolution of a relationship. But Aster somehow does it in this new breed of a genre that I call "Anthropological-Horror" (I would fit Cannibal Holocaust in that category). His meticulous and careful examination of both the rituals of pagan beliefs (the macrocosm) gets whittled down to the minutiae of what breaks us all apart, for better of worse. In the most Freudian conclusion, it inevitably lies somewhere in the Ego taking control of the wheel for all of these characters: Josh's incessant desire for more information (needs a brain), Mark's lack of courage leads him to drunkenly piss on someone's ashes (needs courage), or Christian's sense of entitlement by betraying those he seemingly loves (needs a heart).

Are you catching a pattern?

There's a great subtle touch that Aster puts in Josh's apartment at the beginning, right above his fridge hangs a painting of the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. It's revealed when the beautiful Florence Pugh (who resembles an uncanny version of the young Judy Garland) walks through their door to embark on a journey to Oz- I mean Sweden with the three guys.

She takes some mushrooms and wakes up in a poppy-er I mean a green grassy knoll...she ain't in Kansas anymore. Just as Oz was Frank L. Baum's own cult-y exploration of the invalidity of religion in his children's tales (despite him being apart of the famous Theosophical Society), Aster takes a similar stance exploring the rituals and customs that at times seem shocking and unnecessary and other times, seem binding and permanent.

It's a paradoxical film in that way. Aster treats the details of this organization with a kind of holy reverence and simultaneously critiques them with cunning humour. His own sense of understanding the "truth" behind the cult, behind relationships, behind himself is expressed in these beautiful unbroken takes that are way beyond his years. I can't remember the last time a director had the confidence to allow a master shot to live for so long. It's a testament to both the actors to carry each scene and Aster as a visual storyteller.

There's this Lanthimos-esque tone that he achieves but without the unnatural hysterics. Rather, he dwells in the naturalism of his chief influence Ingmar Bergman (S/O to the character Ingmar who they first meet at the camp), the godfather of cinematic atheism. And where better to explore the facade of religion than in the Scandanavian countryside? No other region of the world is so self-professedly atheistic.

But where this film and Oz diverges is Dani goes through her own individuation not with the help of 3 lads, but rather their demise, a kind of neo-Feminist rebuke of the Victor Fleming classic. Her odyssey is one where she has to systematically destroy her ego and the pain and grief that follows with it. Not an easy task, given the ego tends to get wrapped up in things that identify you like "family", even harder when that family is dead.

And thus Aster creates this unexpected horror-comedy that has so much to say about the individual and the communal aspects that are constantly in battle with each other, but also the stages of relieving grief. The way he gets you deeper and deeper into this trip by sheer use of visuals and sound has you constantly questioning, doubting your own sense of who's right and who's wrong. There's this ambiguity around the whole thing that can numb those not engaged, but for me was an exercise in masterful compelling drama.

Florence Pugh should be nominated for an Oscar for her performance. It is a knockout. She brings so much depth and empathy to her character. It's astounding direction. She's not a mouthpiece for Aster, she's not a damsel in distress, she's not some repressed knit-wit, and she's not afraid of showing her emotional range. In fact, Christian's character takes on the dumb blonde boyfriend role quite well, with mouth agape half the picture. It's priceless.

What particularly impressed me though is that Aster doesn't pass judgement on the commune or her. And they don't exist as distance objects of anthropological study. He really humanizes every facet of his curated universe so that you can feel and understand the motives on all sides. This is extraordinary craft, especially for his second feature. I am blown away by it all.

I've read a few reviews calling it excessive. But I don't quite understand that complaint. It's sparse in its setting, it's sparse in its cuts (very few for a film its length), it's sparse in its theme. In fact, it laser focuses on its theme within the first ten minutes. Perhaps it's being conflated with big art direction and unabashed emotion? I saw it in a sold-out theatre and some bro behind me said "Damn, that escalated quickly."

How a 2 1/2 hour arthouse horror film under $10m can illicit that response? He took the words right out of my mouth. It's somehow a slow-burn flash-in-the-pan mind-fuck.

And this is his SECOND film? Goddamn. Leaps and bounds ahead of Hereditary. I can't wait to see what this guy does next.

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