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MIDSOMMAR  *****

Directed by Ari Aster. Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter. Horror, 140mins, Cert 18.

In UK cinemas July 5th from Entertainment Film Distributors.

 

Barely a year has passed since HEREDITARY arrived on cinema screens too much discussion of whether it was a return to the glory days of horror cinema, earning descriptions that compared it to THE EXORCIST, or whether it was a case of over hyped fare that paraded through the genre with an entitled art house sensibility. While I can count myself as an admirer of HEREDITARY, I feel there were several severe flaws in its closing act where it tipped over into a near hysterical goofiness that over explained itself. MIDSOMMAR may not convert those who may be wary of this bright and sunny sophomore feature. Those who already count themselves as fans of writer and director Ari Aster will find much to enjoy and endure here in this tale of folk horror that also deals in grief, broken relationships and shocking scenes of violence and gore as well as sinister maypole dancing.

 

Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours Aster patiently tells the story of Dani, Florence Pugh, a young woman who is not only dealing with a fraught family situation but also with her boyfriend Christian, Jack Reynor, who has his doubts about their relationship. This latter situation is not exactly helped by his friends, particularly the obnoxious Mark, Will Poulter, and their planned holiday to a Swedish commune, the homeplace of fellow student Pelle, Vilhelm Blomgren. Dani’s presence on this holiday is not particularly welcomed, particularly by her boyfriend, a feeling she is all too aware of, and this unease is only heightened by the increasingly bizarre sequence of events that entail in the summer festival she has been welcomed to with open arms by the locals.

 

It is a premise that Eli Roth traded in, but where he delighted in the vicarious thrill of such a situation Aster doles out details and hints of the communes nature at a much gentler pace that ratchets up the tension and unease as each scene passes, effortlessly building on what has come before. Most unexpected, particularly after the emotionally brutal scenes of HEREDITARY, is the streak of deadpan humour that runs throughout MIDSOMMAR. The outlandish and often stomach-churningly violent nature of the commune is commented on in such a way that manages to keep the viewer laughing yet uncomfortable.

 

This balancing act is made to look and feel effortless with the help of an excellent cast who nail this tricky tone. Pugh’s performance is sympathetic, her plight of confusion and grief makes for an always sympathetic protagonist who is led further down a rabbit hole of madness and bewilderment. Mark could have been portrayed as a one-note ignoramus with a wandering eye, but Reynor’s performance somehow manages to keep the audience onside, further displaying the writing and directing skills of Aster. There is a sense of confidence on display here that recalls Kubrick, the camera glides alongside or behind the characters as events, no matter how outlandishly violent or surreal, unfold in an entirely believable manner. The climactic act of the film is an exercise in seemingly wanting to test how high an audience can raise its collective eyebrows in shock and surprise with conflicting feelings of wonder and terror.

 

Aster this time around declines to explain the exact nature of the story and it is a decision that will no doubt leave it open to multiple viewings and interpretations. That it was written in response to a break-up of his own will no doubt inspire several theories and think pieces in the years to come as well as being a source for meme fodder. Whether it will catch on with a general audience at this point in time is anyone’s guess, but it is an encouraging reminder that American horror cinema is still breaking out in new, increasingly fascinating and horrifying directions.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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