MIDSOMMAR movie poster | ©2019 A24

MIDSOMMAR movie poster | ©2019 A24

Rating: R
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe
Writer: Ari Aster
Director: Ari Aster
Distributor: A24
Release Date: July 3, 2019

MIDSOMMAR is one of those rare films that is so physically beautiful and so consistent in its folklore that these elements elevate it throughout. Production designer Henrik Svensson deserves Oscar consideration, as do cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and art directors Richard T. Olson, Nille Svensson and Eszter Takacs.

Writer/director Ari Aster, whose previous film was last year’s HEREDITARY, introduces us to Dani (Florence Pugh), who worries that she’s leaning on her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) too much. She’s right to worry, since Christian is about read to give up on the whole relationship. Then again, Dani has family problems that would make anybody reach out for support. When something truly awful happens, Christian relents and suggests that Dani accompany him and his college friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) to a small Swedish village. Their school chum Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has invited them all to attend the unique midsummer festival in his birthplace. Josh, whose thesis is on midsummer rituals, has a scholarly interest in the trip. Mark just thinks going to Europe sounds cool. It’s unclear whether Christian has any kind of agenda, but Dani feels the need to be wherever he is, so off they all go.

The village is isolated, sunny and (not to belabor the point) gorgeous. The villagers are welcoming. An engaged British couple, Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekwe), are also there, having been invited by another local.

Most viewers will be able to guess where all of this is heading. The surprises are in the specifics. Unfortunately, the first time something happens, it’s so major that it strains credulity that all of the characters, except the studious Josh, don’t immediately leave town. MIDSOMMAR also has a leisurely pace, which will be welcome to those who want a better look at the amazing, atmospheric visuals, and less welcome to those who’d like the story to get on with it. The pacing winds up interfering with the scares; things are telegraphed to a degree that by the time things happen, they’re more or less expected.

One exception to this is the weirdest sex sequence of the year so far. Another one may yet top it, but such a scene will really have to eat its Bizarro Wheaties to outdo MIDSOMMAR in this respect. On one hand, the scene risks looking ridiculous; on the other hand, it seems like something that could actually happen in this context. Either way, it’s memorable.

The acting is good across the board, but the characters are underwritten, especially the amorphous Christian. Since we spend two hours and twenty minutes with some of these people, a little more depth seems in order. Even so, Blomgren has winning sincerity, and Harper’s fascinated Josh has charm.

MIDSOMMAR will work best for those who are fans of fairytale art, folklore and horror altogether. Those who like the former but not the latter may be put off by the extreme gore; those who are into the latter but not the former may well get impatient. For those who can appreciate all of these elements simultaneously, MIDSOMMAR is an odd gift.

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