This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Self-indulgent for sure, but sometimes that is the only way a person's genius is allowed to come out. Is Ken Russell's The Devils self-indulgent?
I'm not going as far as to say that this whole film is a work of genius, but I do there there are moments of pure inspiration in the film.
Let's start from the beginning. Florence Pugh plays Dani, a college student with some serious family issues. Her sister is bi-polar, and constantly needing attention. Early in the film, it is reveled that the sister killed herself, and the mother and father. Dani is understandably distraught and emotionally wrecked.
Jack Reynor is Christian, Dani's boyfriend. That is to say her emotionally distant boyfriend who was considering dumping her before the murder suicide. He had plans to go to Sweden over the summer with his buddies. He hadn't even told her. So, he feels guilty and invites her to come. Not exactly a romantic gesture.
Once they get to Sweden the convene at a friends "commune" for the mid-summer solstice celebration. It is a festivity that has been going on for generations. Things seem cool at first, but then they start getting weird. It is little things at first, then a few big things, the shit gets bonkers.
Dani is trying to experience all of this, while still grieving the loss of her family. Plus they are casually taking psychotropic drugs, which of course have an unpredictable effect on her. And her support person is distant and non-attentive.
The group of friends include the Swede who brought them here. A black guy, and a nerdy a-hole. They also meet two other Americans that were brought there by a different member of the commune.
We get glimpses of the fucked-up-ness of the rituals early on. There is a grizzly bear in a cage that is totally out of place, and it goes unexplained. There is a scroll with bizarre paintings on it, including a woman cutting her pubic hair off, menstruating into a cup, and a close up image of her vagina. In the public sleeping center, there are paintings all over the wall and several of them are disturbing.
Everyone tries to play it cool and except all this weird stuff as "cultural differences". This idea gets pushed to the edge when the village elders chose to jump off a cliff and plummet to their deaths, in a ceremony where the whole village (and the American tourists) watches. This of course triggers Dani's PTSD.
The movie is a slow burn, and I would understand a person that thought the film needed to be edited down to make it tighter. But I disagree. I think all the time and patience spent watching the film allows you time to acclimate and think about things. If this were more breezy, then I don't think the viewer would have time to be on the wave length of the film.
I also liked that this is a bright summer day horror film. You don't get many of those. I watched the first half of this during the daytime, in a well sun lit room, and it was still terrifying. Plus, the constant bright light is disorienting and makes the long run time feel like one very long day.
There are some serious Wicker Man vibes going on here. Plus some Exorcist stuff as well. Director Ari Aster knows what he is doing.
There is plenty to take away from this film. There is the shitty boyfriend angle. There is the family scars and dealing with family trauma. There is the arrogant and disrespectful American tourist angle. There is a cultural appropriation angle as well. Cults, ideology, mysticism, drugs, all of these things are woven into the fabric of the film. I don't think it is specifically about any one of these issues, but I do think that it is easy to recognize them and process them during the seemingly never ending takes of people walking or waiting to eat.