Saturday, November 9, 2019

Movie Reviews: Midsommar

directed by Ari Aster
This is another trippy, generally intelligent horror movie directed by Ari Aster, who previously directed Hereditary. Aster leaves bread crumbs throughout the movie in the forms of stylized murals, drawings, and blunt comments that hint at future events. 

Like Hereditary, Midsommar isn't the typical American horror film with jump scares, nubile young students who are murdered during sex, or people who do utterly stupid things just to move the plot forward, though some might disagree with that last point. 

Midsommar is similar to the original film version of The Wicker Man, but as the director has confirmed, much of his film's unease stems not from mayhem but rather from the mutual knowledge that a relationship is dying. If you have lived long enough you've probably been both the relationship dumper and the dumpee.  Neither one is fun. Stuff happens.

Dani (Florence Pugh) is a college student with emotional and psychological problems. She is emotionally needy because of strained relationships with her sister and parents. Dani's phlegmatic grad student boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), is unsure about remaining Dani's special rider. 

Christian is weary of being Dani's security blanket for interminable whine sessions about her problems. Christian lacks the courage or ruthlessness to end things.

Christian's friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and even their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Bromgren) all think that the time has come for Christian to man up and leave Dani. Christian is neither sexually nor emotionally satisfied with Dani. The friends plan to go to Sweden for the Midsummer festival where Pelle's commune/extended family, a group vaguely described as isolated traditionalists, will host them. 

Christian's buddies are eager to go, not only to interact with what they assume will be stereotypically beautiful Swedish women, but also because as anthropology students they want first hand views of traditional Swedish cultures and beliefs. Christian hasn't mentioned this trip to Dani. Christian's friends urge him to use this trip as the perfect opportunity to drop droopy Dani. 

Sadly though, Dani's troubled sister kills her parents and herself in a murder-suicide. It's bad timing. Christian can't look himself in the mirror and break up with Dani right now. Dani is a raw suppurating wound of pain and grief. Feeling guilty, Christian invites Dani along on the Swedish trip even though his friends all are opposed.

Everyone in the Swedish commune is delighted to see the American group. They even speak English for their benefit, most of the time. They do not always translate when they speak Swedish.

Pelle's brother offers the group special mushrooms. The film's visual depiction of the impact of psychotropic drugs was inspired. 

Everyone seems happy. A young redheaded woman has her eyes on Christian. A different woman is checking out Mark. The elders cheerfully answer many of Josh's questions though they forbid him from taking pictures, using real names or entering certain off limits areas. 

But when the group witnesses an event that is shocking to American sensibilities, Dani wonders about the stability of all the tall smiling Swedes. It's one thing to read about pagan rituals. It's something else to witness them and deal with people with an utterly different approach to life than the average (ahem) Christian.

Because of the film's time and location there is almost no darkness, except at the beginning when the characters are in America. One might argue that this is meaningful on many different levels. I liked how given the right circumstances, a broad toothy smile and a full sun can be frightening. The film director identifies with Dani. YMMV on this.  

Many of the depicted superstitions, beliefs and practices were taken directly from Swedish or Nordic culture. The movie soundtrack is superb. Creepy stuff. I also like the upside down shots that were reminiscent of similar camera work from The Shining. The film has some violence, and full frontal nudity from both genders. The 150 minute running time was too long for me but that aside, if you're accepting of slow burns punctuated by shocks, this could be worthwhile viewing.

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