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3 ½ (out of 4)
Ari Aster effortlessly entered horror's ongoing revival with last year’s Hereditary but he swiftly secures his name as one worth remembering in his gonzo follow-up a mere thirteen months later. Swapping out demons and mental illness for culture shock, PTSD and ancient perversions, Midsommar is a real doozy.
Grandly composed yet atmospherically insular, Aster ignores the safeness of the supernatural to take a classically inspired look at the most macabre facets of human nature – grief, resentment, temptation and betrayal. The commitment to measured realism naturally informs the irresistible slasher setup with grace and patience while invoking copious genre thrills. Aster sows together break-up subject matter with once-a-generation Swedish folk festivals, finding advantageous ways to thread together the setting, mythos and themes without sacrificing verisimilitude at the altar.
With strong subtext coursing through its scarce plot, the narrative overambition noted in Hereditary is channeled into a discreetly organized summer vacation from hell, packing its own punch of internal panic while justifying the evolution of its enticingly psychotic premise every creeping step through. Reminiscent of seminal excerpts in film history (the sinuous trickery of The Shining, the patient escalation of Rosemary’s Baby and of course the cult crazies of The Wicker Man), Aster reverts today's tastes craving more spookhouse hogwash to create a vivid psychological horror epic abundant in dauntlessness.
Tonally Aster has achieved something so delicately bizarre it becomes difficult to resist laughing along with the absurdity just as surely as we wince at the freakiest turns. Midsommar is so strangely funny – thanks Will Poulter – even its most jaw-droppingly grotesque moments may have you guffawing simultaneously. It’s a risky spatial and emotional balance to strike – this could have so plainly been parody in lesser hands.
Though the band of characters are function-only, they're developed enough that the typical frustration as a powerless horror movie audience member doesn't impede captivation. Partaking in the Kool-Aid and going with the flow bring you two tripping sequences so eerie in their own subtlety and thematic employment they stand apart as their own separate bookends of scariness. The lure of spiritual rebirth only to find death awaiting you with a warm smile on its face is its own warped brand of creepy.
Like anything so initially inviting, Midsommar doesn’t entirely deliver on every promise of its foregone potential but it arrives damn close. Hereditary had something special going until it wet the bed in the home stretch. Aster aims past the risers here and comes out far more unscathed than his debut.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Current War,
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice