If Ari Aster's 2018 horror movie Hereditary scared you away from doll's houses, his new movie Midsommar is poised to do the same for Swedish folk festivals.
The acclaimed director spins a Wicker Man-esque story of a young couple on holiday who are horribly waylaid by a pagan cult indulging in sinister practices. Fighting With My Family's Florence Pugh and Sing Street's Jack Reynor are the fractious twosome torn apart in a series of bone-chilling circumstances, and there's support from The Revenant's Will Poulter as another unlucky attendee of the festival.
Given Hereditary was acclaimed as one of 2018's finest horror movies, not to mention one of the most striking debut features in years, expectations are sky-high for Midsommar. And the first critical responses are in, praising the movie as an unsettling experience, plus one that is also, oddly enough, rather amusing. That's something we definitely didn't get from Hereditary.
"If Hereditary operated as a kind of gauntlet of external and psychological terrors, Midsommar modulates its intensity: It wants to creep under your skin, not constantly jangle your nerves," writes A.A. Dowd for The AV Club. "The film builds a whole world for the Hårga—a hodgepodge of European tradition, folklore, and mythology—and then slowly envelops us in its rituals, as surely as its characters are sucked into the clutches of the cult. Throughout, an element of culture-clash comedy persists, much of it built on the characters’ inability (or unwillingness) to read the warning signs around them."
"A savage yet evolved slice of Swedish folk horror, Ari Aster's hallucinatory follow-up to Hereditary proves him a scare master with no peer," raves Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf in his five-star review. He then praises Pugh's "world-class" performance as the troubled Dani, describing her as "exquisitely neurotic".
"Like the fretful violins that stagger raggedly over the soundtrack, the skin-pricking pleasures of Midsommar aren’t rational, they’re instinctive: a thrilling, seasick freefall into the light," writes Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly. She further describes the movie as "a cornea-searing, fantastically unnerving folk-horror reverie unfolds in the dazzling glare of June-bright sunlight — a waking nightmare nestled cozily within the clapboard barns and verdant valleys of the Swedish countryside (though actually, it was shot in Hungary)".
Indiewire's Eric Kohn says the movie, although flawed, is a fine showcase for Aster's ambition: "This is the kind of mad science filmmaking worth rooting for: Aster refashions The Wicker Man as a perverse breakup movie, douses Swedish mythology in Bergmanesque despair, and sets the epic collage ablaze. He may not land every big swing, but the underlying vision is hard to shake even when it falters".
"Despite a problematic ending, Midsommar is an emotionally harrowing and slowly insidious journey," says IGN's Witney Siebold, "languidly forcing dread on the viewer, wrapping them in a weird nightmare summer camp of sunlight and cheer. With his previous film Hereditary and now Midsommar, the horror genre has found a new master in filmmaker Ari Aster."
Even when the response is somewhat mixed, reviewers find plenty in the film to admire. Variety's Andrew Barker outlines the movie thusly: "Never as impactful, as emotional, or as frightening as the director’s debut — nor nearly as much of a mindf–k as any of its most obvious precursors (Kill List, The Wicker Man, Mother!) — Midsommar nonetheless seems engineered to draw fiercely polarized reactions. In truth, it’s neither the masterpiece nor the disaster that the film’s most vocal viewers are bound to claim. Rather, it’s an admirably strange, thematically muddled curiosity from a talented filmmaker who allows his ambitions to outpace his execution."
Are you ready for the festivities to begin? Then click here to book your tickets for Midsommar, previewing on 3rd and 4th July before going on general release on the 5th.