We're currently in something of a golden age for horror. It's coming in all shapes and sizes at the moment. With that having been said, there are a few filmmakers leading the way, and one of those filmmakers is Ari Aster. He made a name for himself in a big way with 2018's Hereditary. Now, he's cemented himself with a very different, yet no less compelling follow-up in Midsommar. This isn't going to be for everyone, but for those who find this odd cult-driven horror tale to be up their valley, it's sure to be something of a remarkable experience.
Midsommar centers on a couple whose relationship is in trouble. This is exacerbated in the wake of an unexpected tragedy. In the aftermath, the couple travels, along with some friends from college, to a fabled Swedish midsummer festival, on the invitation of a friend who grew up there. It's, at first, a seemingly utopian paradise. But as the days roll on, it quickly evolves into a complete and utter nightmare as the locals who inhabit this commune are not who they seem to be on the surface.
For starters, let's set some expectation setting. This is absolutely not a traditional horror movie. It's not a slasher. It's not loaded down with cheap and easy jump scares. It's not some sort of haunted house flick. It's a folklore driven horror tale that lures the viewer, slowly but surely, into its unsettling world. It's a slow burn for the most part. Think of a bundle of dynamite with a very long fuse. There's an impending sense of dread looming over the whole thing. It's deeply unsettling. It tests the viewers' endurance, at times.
Potential moviegoers should know there are some deeply graphic and gruesome images in this movie. That's not inherently good or bad, but it's not everyone's bag. On the flip side, there are some deeply gorgeous images. Truly stunning. It makes the horrors that unfold all the more affecting. The movie is also much more atmospheric and thematic than it is anything else. To that point, I've rarely been so unsettled before a title card even comes up. Thematically, it very much plays on the horrors that can exist within human relationships. Much like Hereditary, grief is a major theme. However, this movie really deals in emotional manipulation. Sure, this examines its themes and brings them to an extreme conclusion, but they're present nonetheless. Also, for what it's worth, Ari Aster truly asserts himself as a master of pitch-black humor. It's shockingly (in every sense of the word) funny.
Casting, top to bottom, couldn't be better, Jack Reynor has quietly been making fascinating choices as an actor and has proved he's someone to pay attention to and is far more than just the dude from that one Transformers movie. Equally eye-catching is Will Poulter who puts his comedy chops on display, but also delivers a performance that makes one wonder what it might have been like had he remained Pennywise in IT before the role was recast. But the bulk of the praise belongs to Florence Pugh. This is a transformative, defining performance for her. She's asked to do a lot. To go to some really dark places, and she absolutely delivers on every level, in every frame and in every way.
This isn't the kind of movie I can recommend outright, but I think I can say this in confidence. Whether one feels good, bad or, unlikely as it may be, Indifferent, to this movie, and Hereditary for that matter, these are movies that the horror loving community will be talking about for years and years to come. Does that alone make Midsommar a classic? I don't know, but it's certainly one heck of a start. Midsommar arrives in theaters on July 3 from A24.