R – Drama, Horror, Mystery
2 h 20min
Horror is having a renaissance. With exceptional fare like “Get Out (2017),” “Us (2018),” “A Quiet Place (2018),” “The Babadook (2014),” “The Witch (2015),” and “Hereditary (2018),” the genre has had a plethora of original, quality flicks to get your heartbeat racing and your metabolism moving. It’s one of the few genres that hasn’t been reliant on sequels and remakes this decade. There’s plenty of those to be sure, but there’s more of the original content like those listed above to get fans of the macabre excited.
There is no better example of the resilience of the horror genre than Fangoria Magazine. Thought dead when it ceased publication in 2015 due to lack of ad revenue, the journal made famous for chronicling “Monsters, Aliens and Bizzare Creatures” rose up from the dead in 2018, better than ever. This year marks the publications 40th anniversary, which they celebrated by featuring the very film I am reviewing on their cover.
“Midsommar” is directed by Ari Aster, who directed the aforementioned and critically acclaimed horror/drama “Hereditary,” which was Mr. Aster’s feature film debut. Needless to say, he hasn’t missed a beat with his sophomore effort, delivering a bizarre, original, and disorientating social horror movie. The film treats the audience with respect while delivering some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen this decade.
There are a million horror films that drop the main character into a remote location, but this film gives that old wheel a fresh spin: In this story, a couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. No WIFI. No cell phones. The perfect setup for a movie like this.
What stands out about this screenplay (written by Aster) is that death means something in this film. The characters aren’t expendable cliches like so many were in the 1980s and ’90s horror films. The gore is sporadic, but shocking when it happens. You feel the character’s pain, especially in the films opening sequence. The movie is shot almost entirely in the daytime, which to me is absolutely frightening. 90% of scary movies take place in the dark. That can be effective when the filmmakers allow the audience to use their imaginations and create the most horrible outcome possible in their minds, but when has Hollywood ever let the audience write what happens offscreen? Studios are pushing popcorn and soda so they expect the audience to want to see everything, and by golly, they are going to deliver!
I always thought a scary movie in the daytime can be quite unnerving, but I come from the school of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974),” which if memory serves took place mostly in a scorching Texas Summer day. This film isn’t nearly as disturbing or gory, but it’s just as uneasy. Even the sound effects (or lack thereof) had me engrossed. It’s also shot beautifully, with cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski giving the Swedish village an almost dreamlike quality which, believe me, the story takes full advantage of.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful performance by Florence Pugh (“Malevolent”). Ari Aster is two-for-two with delivering great performances out of his leads (many believe Toni Collette was robbed of an Oscar nomination for “Heredity”), with Pugh delivering a layered, grief-stricken and manic performance as the leading lady. Pugh is our eyes and ears in this film, and the first hour’s sense of impending doom is greatly due to her delivery.
“Midsommar” is stylized, exceptional filmmaking by one of the newer artists to break out onto the scene. It has some bizarre, shocking aspects about it and won’t be everybody’s cup of bloody tea, but if I can tell you it’s “Eyes Wide Shut” meets “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and you are still excited to give it a try, you will be handsomely rewarded.
Photo credit: screenshot from video