Regardless of humanity’s various shortcomings, it’s nice to live in a world where a filmmaker can make an ambitious, sprawling, visually stunning horror film with decent financial backing by a studio and receive proper distribution for the finished product.
As evinced by its measured pace, intricate production design, and refusal to abide by traditional genre rules, there’s little doubt that Midsommar is exactly the film that writer/director Ari Aster wanted to make.
After the polished, classic terror of his phenomenal 2018 feature debut Hereditary, the filmmaker boldly stretches the definition of “horror” to one rooted in sunshiny fears, following grad student Dani (Florence Pugh, having a marvelous cinematic year after Fighting with My Family and Outlaw King) as she works through tragedy while on vacation at a secluded Swedish pagan community during the June solstice.
Clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours, there’s a strong argument that a tighter movie could (or should) have been crafted in the editing room, but the steady, leisurely storytelling throughout Midsommar feels increasingly at one with the unusual society’s pageantry — especially as its darker elements move to the forefront.
With Dani’s apathetic boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, Sing Street) and his doctoral classmates Mark (Will Poulter, Detroit) and Josh (William Jackson Harper, Paterson) blindly trusting fellow student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren, HBO’s Gösta) and his invitation for them to study his ancestral home, the film’s spooky atmosphere thickens without aid from jump scares.
Bathed in near-ceaseless midnight sun that’s just as effective — if not more so — than darkness and shadows, Midsommar specializes in dread rather than the genre’s usual cheap tactics, building tension through fascination with and fear of the unknown.
Further enhancing the mood are subtle, peripheral hallucinatory images and surprisingly sparse grotesque sights that, bereft of exposition, allow possibilities of their non-explicit stories to play in one’s head, resulting in potential answers far creepier than any singular explanations Aster could provide.
These imaginative ends for the community’s human sacrifices likewise keep Midsommar innocent of predictability claims. Though the victims are arguably inevitable and doomed from the start, their final days are rife with suspense and mystery — and won’t soon be forgotten.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark, and Grail Moviehouse