The Reel Review
Florence Pugh stars in this horror/mystery about a distraught young woman mourning the tragic murder/suicide of her parents and sister, who decides to join her boyfriend and his friends on a nine-day trip to an idyllic midsummer nature retreat in rural Sweden. There, under northern Scandinavia’s summer solstice of perpetual sun, they learn they are about to experience a once in a lifetime pagan ritual – for them, a nightmare in broad daylight.
Writer/director Ari Aster, on the heels of his 2018 creeper Hereditary, gives us another wonderfully disturbing, thought-provoking story – this time, the ultimate relationship break-up movie under the guise of ancient Scandinavian folklore – its horror made even more disturbing amidst the ridiculously cheerful costumes, flower wreaths, maypoles and wholesome-looking Swedes downing mind-altering drugs. It is loaded with symbolism – about grief, desire, betrayal, and abandonment.
But unlike Hereditary, a terrific, dread-filled film that sadly went off the rails in its final 20 minutes, Midsommar maintains a mesmerizing level of suspense throughout, reminding us that one culture’s horror is simply another’s traditions, and that the line between cult and religion is a highly subjective one. The film’s only real weakness is a somewhat thin, contrived premise reminiscent of 1973’s The Wicker Man and some oddly-timed humor.
Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Fighting With My Family) is absolutely fantastic – you feel her pain and isolation as her own personal horror unfolds – her realization that the only person left in her life is a total lout. And Jack Reynor (On The Basis of Sex, Sing Street) is spot on as that lout, channeling all the human frailties of the ultimate bad boyfriend (not to mention a totally bonkers sex scene). Aster deftly blends the real and the ridiculous, incorporating gore and nudity in such a matter of fact way that it is mind-blowing and for many, unsettling. There’s no doubt this a divisive movie – viewers expecting a traditional horror film will be very disappointed. It is not scary. But those who can appreciate Aster’s underlying psychological message about the death of a relationship will be in for quite a trip, as it creeps into your psyche long after you see it.
• Writer/director Ari Aster says he wrote Midsommar while going through a break-up and wanted to capture the personally cataclysmic feeling associated with the experience.
• Curious to sort out the fact from fiction in the pagan rituals in Midsommar? Come back and check out this spoiler-filled Esquire article AFTER you see the film.
• Florence Pugh will be co-starring with Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Marvel film Black Widow.