de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Ari Aster’s first feature, last year’s sleeper hit, “Hereditary”, was a film that haunted my dreams. Etched itself inside my soul. Made me think long and hard about my own mental state. A film that simply hasn’t left me since my initial viewing.

So when A24 announced soon after the release of “Hereditary” that Aster would be releasing another film the very next year, my anticipation was immediately set. Although I can’t tell you how much of an impact
“Midsommar” will inevitably have on me just yet, I can assure you, Aster is an auteur that is here to stay.

Dani (Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”) and Christian (Jack Reynor, “Sing Street”) have been together for over 4 years, but are seemingly at the end of their relationship. Dani attempts to strengthen their connection, but Christian just doesn’t seem willing to give any effort in being a reliable partner. He’s emotionally distant and can’t muster up the courage to break things off. When Dani experiences a great loss in her life, Christian sticks around, feeling responsible for her and eventually take her on a trip to Sweden with his buddies Mark (Will Poulter, “Detroit”), Josh (William Jackson Harper, “The Good Place”) and their Swedish friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). 

They arrive in Sweden for the annual Pagan Midsommar festival. Christian and his friends are anthropology students looking to study the community celebrating the aforementioned festival while also looking to indulge in the promise of the festivals hallucinogenic drugs, drinks, all while basking in the glaring Swedish sunlight. However, in expected fashion, things take a turn for the worst very quickly. 

“Midsommar” finds writer/director Ari Aster swinging for the fences. This is a wildly ambitious second feature that manages to succeed in nearly every aspect.

In the way that “Hereditary” was a deconstruction of a broken family, “Midsommar” is a deconstruction of a toxic relationship. Aster admitted he wrote the script during a bad breakup and the results certainly show. This is a ruthless and ferocious tale that pulls no punches. “Midsommar” is an unnerving break up movie that later unfolds as a Folk horror film.

Aster examines Dani’s inner suffering with an unflinching eye. Dani is a flawed person. She’s needy, she doesn’t give enough into her relationship and after her loss, experiences crippling anxiety that affects her relationship with the outer world. Florence Pugh delivers her most powerful work to date in a performance that while grueling and emotionally draining, is also very subtle and nuanced.

Jack Reynor adds significant depth to his role of Christian. On paper, the character could be seen as fairly one note, but Reynor’s layered performance makes the character feel more complex. Aster effectively shows us just how unhealthy the central relationship is and how neither character benefits from staying.

Running at a beefy 146 minute runtime, “Midsommar” will certainly test the patience of some viewers. The languid pacing helps create an immersive experience, but for audiences who crave fast and bombastic scares, ‘Midsommar’ likely won’t satisfy. There is a good 10-15 minutes that could’ve been shaved off, but Aster’s excellent character work and absorbing atmosphere more than makes up for “Midsommar”’s shaggy narrative. By the time the film gets started, you can see where the journey is going, but what Aster does so well is subvert how we get there.

Aster gradually builds an uneasy tone that goes rampant in the manic final act. The filmmaker does reveal his hand a bit too early, even if “Midsommar” isn’t particularly interested in building much mystery behind the Cult’s motifs. The story isn’t built on revealing what the Cult is up to, rather how the characters react to what the Cult is doing to them. 

Aster implemented many subtle visuals in “Hereditary” that forced audiences to see — and fear— things that weren’t actually there, or in some cases, show a terrifying image that many didn’t see. In “Midsommar”, he orchestrates plenty of trippy, mind-bending sequences with visuals that make you feel like you’re in a bad trip along with the character. It’s a much more ambitious film visually than ‘Hereditary”, but it never feels style over substance. All the psychedelic visuals serve the plot and often aid in further fleshing out certain details that otherwise would’ve gone unnoticed by most. The cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski is a revelation in of itself.

The contrast of beautiful, bright colors, with disturbing and shocking images makes “Misommar” play out like a twisted and operatic fairy tale which isn’t all that surprising given the number of times Aster has referenced “The Wizard of Oz” when describing this film. While not as flashy as many mainstream films, the visual effects design is subtle and downright exquisite. The small movements in the trees, the flowing air waves during the drug trips. The filmmaking here is so absorbing and vibrant, you can practically feel the film breathing with Bobby Krlic’s mesmerizing and deeply ominous score feeling like the films pulse. By the end of the film, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to heaven and hell simultaneously.

You may love “Midsommar”, you may hate “Midsommar”. If I’m sure about one thing however, you won’t easily forget it.