There is an uneasy tension in the air with Ari Aster's latest horror. In his follow-up to last year's harrowing and unsettling Hereditary, the brooding film-maker has extended his cold touch into the warm reaches of a Scandinavian summer.
Midsommar follows a group of American students into the Swedish hinterland where a closed-off Druidic community has lived for hundreds of years. The community provides anthropology student Christian (Jack Reynor) the opportunity to study their pagan rites and rituals. But when one ritual turns from an innocuous flower-clad romp into an insidiously horrific death, the group start to doubt the community's principles.
Far from a diet of schlocky jump-scares and giggles, Midsommar is a slow burn, a ruminating and sinister film that ratchets tension with a vice-like grip. Aster maintains Hereditary's grief-stricken psychological brilliance but dispenses with the disappointingly supernatural literalness that plagued its ending. Instead, Midsommar, while flirting with the uncanny, roots itself in the real … and feels more creepy for it.
Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) plays the film's mainstay, Dani. Suffering from a tragic loss in her family she cuts a needy figure desperate for stability and security, something she hopes a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend, Christian, might provide. Pugh's skill, once again, proves why she is one of the most impressive actors working today, with a nuanced performance that masterfully distils the suffocating effects of anxiety.
It's an odd but refreshing experience to have horror in the sunshine. Rather than skulking around in the darkness offering opportunities for lazy production design, Aster has quite astutely put Sweden's perennial summer sunlight to good use. With a prowling camera that keeps the cast at arm's length, he has employed a bright canvas and ironically daubed darker themes of grief and shame with striking results.
Horror films should never outstay their welcome and if I had one reservation, it would concern the film's length, which becomes one pagan ceremony too many. Yet again, Aster can't quite nail an ending down and almost overcooks what is otherwise a superbly crafted film.
Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
R18 (Graphic violence, sex scenes, drug use and suicide)
Revels in drawing horror out of the shadows.