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With: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe
Written by: Ari Aster
Directed by: Ari Aster
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Running Time: 147
Date: 07/03/2019

Midsommar (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cruel 'Sommar'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ari Aster's Midsommar is the kind of horror movie that gives horror movies a good name.

Most horror movies are content with giving a good shock or making the skin crawl, and most don't bother to rise above their "B" movie origins.

But when a real artist gets ahold of the genre, like say, Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) or Robert Eggers (The Witch, the upcoming The Lighthouse) and now Aster, horror can be generated into something farther-reaching.

Midsommar doesn't even have any ghosts or monsters or supernatural forces. It's all about the evil within, and the question of which matters more: the group, or the self?

The story centers on the anxiety-ridden Dani (Florence Pugh), who loses her sister and her parents in one tragic swoop. She wants to confide in her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), but senses that her neediness is pushing him away.

She's right. Before hearing of the tragedy, Christian had been thinking of breaking up with her, but now...? Now he decides he must invite her along on his upcoming trip to Sweden, along with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter), both of whom are nonplussed by this inclusion.

The trip has been suggested by their other friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who wishes to take them to his village, and a special celebration that occurs only once every 90 years.

Things begin with a stop in a field, where the group eats mushrooms and watches the trees "breathe." It's also the time of the midnight sun, and the never-ending brightness begins to feel weird.

Then there are creepy paintings on all the walls, a little seemingly innocent flirting, and more drugs pressed upon the guests. The first ritual of the festival ends in shock and disbelief. And things only grow stranger as the nine-day celebrations go on.

Many horror movies depend upon heroes that are likable and mostly innocent that blunder into scary situations. But Aster suggests that his heroes are not necessarily perfect, that they are flawed, selfish, entitled, and inflexible. Yet they are also human enough to ensnare viewers and carry them along.

Likewise, the villagers, clad in their long, white robes adorned with flower patterns and crowns made of leaves, don't seem intrinsically evil. They provide perfectly logical explanations for things, and, after all, they do these things together, as a family.

When it all comes down to a choice that Dani must make, it's a genuinely interesting, disturbing one, and it could go either way, for many reasons.

Aster, who also made last year's superb Hereditary, seems to draw on earlier, first-class horror films like Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man, and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

He sets up his daylight spaces with plenty of emptiness and open grass between the buildings, and nowhere to hide, nowhere to be alone. It's as if there were safety in light and numbers, no place to be caught off guard. But such an idea is deceptive.

He moves through the film carefully, deliberately, as if lost in thought. He manages to make a whopping 147 minutes breeze by as if we were merely lying on a hillside, listening to the rhythms of the earth, a little alarmed.

One moment in Midsommar, with Dani adorned from head to foot in a bulky, bobbing dress made of flowers, running in slow-motion in front of a burning building, will no doubt go down as one of the most indelible images of our time.

This scene, and the movie as a whole, evoke a basic theme that horror has been grappling with for a century, one it even shares with Frankenstein. We go about our lives thinking that other things are monstrous, but what if we, ourselves, are the monsters?

The Blu-ray release from Lionsgate contains a wonderfully bright, sun-baked transfer, and a crisp, spooky 5.1 DTS audio track. It includes a 24-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and a funny "bear in a cage" promo for the film (which plays like an old TV commercial for a toy), and trailers at startup. I had been under the impression that this release might also include Aster's 171-minute director's cut, but it is sadly absent. (I'm told the director's cut is actually better, even though this cut is still immensely satisfying.)

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