In Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” the hills are alive with the sound of music (literally!). The hills of Sweden warp to the hymns of the occult. Fittingly, this sensationally scary sophomore feature warps and stretches you like silly putty.
It’s shaping up to be quite the career for Aster, whose breakout hit “Hereditary” was the scariest thing to come out in years. That was a family tragedy that benefited from a myriad influences. The hereditaries of his latest film are just as vital. The plot draws obvious parallels to “The Wicker Man,” but it owes more to directors like Ingmar Bergman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose savage depictions of human nature were greeted with poetic harmony. Some of you may also notice the director’s fondness for H.P. Lovecraft. The folklore here is certainly handled with love and craft, and it makes some of the most explicit images ever put on screen seem beautiful?
If you found the naked people chanting at the end of “Hereditary” appealing, then you’re in for a treat. There’s a lot more where that came from in the Swedish countryside. There’s also a lot more of, well…everything. For starters, there’s a lot more light. To enter this camp is to enter a children’s story book. White-clad Swedes and their farm animals prance through the green pastures and golden hills, their smiles as inviting as the smoky cabins they stay in. A group of American tourists are as entranced as we are, that is, until they drink the cult’s Cool Aid.
Among the group of tourists is Dani (Florence Pugh in Collette mode). Her sister is suicidal and her relationship is on “It’s Complicated,” so a trip to Sweden and some mysterious drinks might do her some good, right? She’s there with her distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and you can practically see the squiggly lines dividing their heart. Christian’s there with his bros, all of whom don’t see the appeal in Dani’s pillow lips and bedroom eyes. This especially goes for Mark. Will Poulter, showing bigger balls than he did in “Were the Miller’s,” gives Mark and the picture some much needed comedic relief. Also along for the trip is Josh (William Jackson Harper), whose studying the tribe’s rituals for school, and Pele (Vilhelm Blomgren), a member of the tribe itself.
The whole film is a trip. A spellbinding acid-trip into the deepest depths of human grief and desire. You will feel bewitched and put upon. Suicidal rituals and suicidal orgies meet head splattering ends. Bodies are ripped open like cardboard boxes. And yet, all these WTF moments are accompanied with tender care. That’s because Aster has found his own distinct style. He’s found a way to play follow-the-leader with his audience–where he takes you is seductive yet appalling. But you’re a willing follower, excited for whatever twist or twisted image he has to offer next.
What puts Aster in a class of his own, though, is his knack for entertaining. It might sound weird to call a picture as perverse as this entertaining, just as it might be weird to think of this as a rom-com. But both apply to “Midsommar.” Think of it as “A Midsommar’s Night Dream,” except everything is happening in the blinding daylight and the fairies are actually dancing hippies. This premise might have been silly if the dance weren’t so gorgeous. The camera floats through the camp like an angel, holding shots just long enough for you to start squirming in your seat. The lighting, framing and visual trickery all giving us the same drug-induced side effects the characters are feeling.
It’s a fitting trick for a heady horror film that’s about the horrors that occur in our heads. Like Toni Collette’s mom in “Hereditary,” Dani has some skeletons in her mind’s attic. Will her boyfriend leave her? Where will she end up when she gets back? Does she want to go back? The answers lie somewhere in the festivities, but I won’t spoil them here. What I will say is that you should leave your sanity at the door. Darkness travels at the speed of light in Aster’s world. A world “Get Out” director Jordan Peele referred to as “the most idyllic…eve (he’s not wrong). It’s a world where it’s daytime 24/7, and sexual frustrations and pornographic violence have nowhere to hide. Bring the kids.