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There’s nothing cosy about these midsummer murders, and Midsommar could turn out to be folk-horror for the Fyre festival age. Ari Aster is the film-maker who made his feature debut just last year with the chiller Hereditary, and now presents us with this fantastically sinister and self-aware Euro-bacchanal, clearly inspired by the 1973 classic The Wicker Man. And that is not the only riff. When Hereditary came out, I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that the director was thinking about Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. I’m now going to bet 20p that before shooting Midsommar, Aster took another look at Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice.
Midsommar is an outrageous black-comic carnival of agony, starring charismatic Florence Pugh in a comely robe and floral headdress. It features funny-tasting pies and chorally assisted ritual sex, with pagan celebrants gazing into the middle distance and warbling as solemnly as the young dudes in the Coca-Cola TV ad about teaching the world to sing. It’s all set in an eerily beautiful sunlit plain, bounded by forests and lakes. This is supposed to be somewhere in northern Sweden, but was filmed in Hungary, and Aster, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and production designer Henrik Svensson have collaborated on what are surely digitally assisted images: the sky and fields becoming a bouquet of vivid and beautiful blues and greens. The music from British composer Bobby Krlic (AKA the Haxan Cloak) is sensually creepy.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, a crescendo of paranoid trippiness building to an uproarious grossout in its final moments – of which the poster image, incidentally, gives you no clue. Once we are in that weirdly unreal Swedish clearing, the narrative turbulence clears and things appear initially as calm as a millpond. Yet there is a point to that becalmedness. It helps create the ambient disquiet.
Pugh is very good as Dani, a young woman in a failing, clingy relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor), and when a family tragedy plunges her into a terrible depression, Christian realises that he can hardly now take the course that some of his friends had been urging: that is – dump her. So, with a heavy heart, and to his friends’ dismay, Christian asks her along on the summer trip he and the guys had been planning: a visit to a remote rural Swedish community for the “Midsommar” festival that happens only every 90 years and is a huge secret from the rest of the world.
They only know about it because Christian’s sweet-faced friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) comes from this community and they all are to be his guests. He is very attentive to Dani and is the model of gentlemanly graciousness. This is in contrast to Christian and his boorish buddies, some of whom are would-be graduate students, planning to write doctoral theses on pagan rituals and hoping that the “midsommar” event will provide gloriously undiscovered primary research material. And in a way it will.
When they all arrive, Dani’s mood miraculously begins to lift: the strange traditions and quaint white robes are enchanting. It seems like a heaven-sent cure. But wait. The shrooms she is invited to take induce weird feelings and the village elders are a bit evasive about what precise form the ceremonies will take. It’s kind of strange that, as she dances round the maypole with the other womenfolk, Dani discovers that she can speak Swedish. And the central plain is dominated by what looks like a florally decorated crucifix with wrist-sized loops on either side of the crossbeam. Uh oh.
Midsommar combines mischief with a sensual surrender to fear and a dreamlike loosening of your grasp on reality. The Scandinavian setting gives hints of the various sacrificial moments in Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor (2000) or maybe even Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943).
The juxtaposition of the bright sunshine of the film’s main event with the dreary winter snow of its opening scenes is nicely managed. It’s a clever cut when Dani runs sobbing to the bathroom, the door slams shut and you realise you’re not where you thought you were. This solstice of savagery is its own reward. It would be great if the trailer gave us some hints of the yuckiest moments, together with a booming bass voiceover: “This sommar…”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Midsommar review – outrageous black-comic carnival of agony | Peter Bradshaw’s film of the week | Film