VOD film review: Midsommar
Ivan Radford | On 18, Nov 2019Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
Watch Midsommar online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
You can often spot a good horror movies these days by the number of people questioning whether it classes as a horror movie or not. You can tell that Midsommar, Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary, is a good horror movie because everyone’s too messed up to even begin to discuss what they’ve just watched.
Aster’s debut marked him out as a storyteller to watch, from its clinical control of tone and shocks to its weighty exploration of family grief, guilt and the wounds that fester without communication. Midsommar dives back into similarly dark waters, beginning with a horrific tragedy that leaves student Dani (Florence Pugh) just about holding things together. When she discovers her boyfriend, Christian (a brilliantly unlikeable Jack Reynor), is planning a vacay to witness the celebrations of the Harga tribe in Hälsingland, at the behest of his Swedish friend, Pelle (the eerily smiley Vilhelm Blomgren), she tags along for the change of scenery.
But there’s something rotten underneath the day-glo landscapes and colourful flowers. The Wicker Man teaches us it will be the fault of the sinister, remote tribe, but Aster enjoys messing with our expectations, and the problem is just as much to do with the rot at the heart of Dani and Christian’s relationship. He’s itching to break it off just when she needs him most, originally envisaging his holiday as an escape alongside anthropology student Josh (William Jackson Harper) and immature joker Mark (a hilarious Will Poulter). And faster than you can say “magic mushrooms”, their excursion goes from bad trip to something even more twisted, as paranoia, resentment, jealousy, distrust and other urges all intertwine.
It’s a giddily, dizzyingly infectious vibe, with Dani’s uncertainty making sure that we never sure about anything we see or hear. Florence Pugh, who has wowed time and again in Lady Macbeth, The Falling and The Little Drummer Girl, delivers a remarkably intense turn here, bringing to life the harrowing trauma haunting her, and taking it with her into an even more traumatic environment; she spends the whole runtime gasping for breath barely above an invisible surface, yet that also makes her the only one prepared with the correct emotional response to what’s going on: panic.
The result is a break-up movie, but one that’s equally about the break-up between sanity and the unthinkable, and Aster toys with the boundaries and gaps that open up and contort throughout his almost unbearable runtime. His jaw-dropping visuals, which start with floral tranquility before descending into folk horror-tinged absurdity, recall the mind-bending viscera of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England – and, like that discombobulating experience, there’s plenty of surreal humour and uncomfortable laughs to go with the ride. By the time animal heads, naked rituals and yellow pyramids have emerged from the painstakingly crafted background and taken over the foreground, you won’t know whether to marry Midsommar or never speak to it again. If that isn’t the sign of a good horror movie, we don’t what is.