Midsommer dials up the tension in a folk-horror setting
Midsommer dials up the tension in a folk-horror setting

 MIDSOMMAR. Directed by Ari Aster, with Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Pouter.

THERESA SMITH reviews

Midsommar is an unsettling, disturbing film about a couple who visit Sweden to witness a midsummer festival.

Half relationship-turned-sour, half slasher flick, the film is the work of American director Ari Aster, who made the tense, complex horror movie Hereditary.

Midsommar’s horror is a much more in your face, visceral spilling of guts and gore kind of film than Hereditary, but Aster does start off his film with a palpable tension greatly spurred on by Bobby Krlic’s (aka the Haxan Cloak) score.

Dani (Pugh) and Christian (Reynor) travel with friends to the home of one of their fellow students who comes from a commune heavily rooted in pagan traditions. There’s curious Josh (Harper) who wants to write a thesis on midsummer practices and horny Mark (Poulter) who really wants to get to know a Swedish milkmaid in the biblical sense.

Then there’s Pelle (Blomgren) who invited them to his home, who may or may not have ulterior motives.

Anxious Dani is emotionally distraught after the recent death of her family and like Christian just going with the flow. The family tragedy is basically what is keeping the two connected and their deteriorating relationship informs the emotional drama of the film.

People disappear, obscure rituals are observed, blood flows and the level of crazy is ratcheted up. However, considering the relationship is what ostensibly drives the film, neither of the Dani or Christian characters really get much development and their relationship remains unexplored beyond anxious-girl versus confused-boy level.

Where the film totally dials it up to 11 though, is its folk-horror setting. Beautifully embroidered traditional clothing and crowns of flowers will never come across as innocent again once you have witnessed ritual senicide and all the other scary acts that follow.

There is an element of female religious awakening to the story (as in Dani discovering her power through the pagan rituals of the commune), but it is very much experienced through the male gaze in that it all goes so horribly wrong and it’s not so much about empowerment as emasculation.

So, that doesn’t work quite so well. But, the imagery and tension will freak you out, so it works on a horror level.

The pace is slow-burn, the mood is ominous and the hallucinatory imagery will give you nightmares. The no persons under 18 age restriction is because its hits pretty much every button the Film Publication Board takes issue with.

What: Midsommar review
South African release date: 26 July 2019
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller
Running time: 147 minutes
Rating: 18 DHLNSV
WS