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Review: Ari Aster’s Midsommar

Midsommar, the sophomore feature of Ari Aster, is less a horror movie, and more an after school special on why accepting drugs from Swedes who all dress the same is a bad, bad idea. In many ways, the film is a comedy, with many of its violent or otherwise distressing moments delivered with deft comedic timing, the same manner of comedic timing that Adam Sandler—whose take on slapstick lacks both the punchiness and subtlety Aster provides—avoids entirely in the existential nightmares that are his movies post Little Nicky (hot take). 

The film follows Dani (Florence Pough) who, after a horrible family tragedy, heads to Sweden on a trip with her inattentive and boorish boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends, all from America. As part of Josh’s (William Jackson Harper) research for his PhD, the group heads to a small and culty Swedish village preparing to hold a festival that comes about only once every 90 years. The number nine and variations of it appear throughout the film in a way that’s kind of clunky, but also hardly noticeable.

As the festival progresses, its rituals—and the horde of bizarrely cheerful and accommodating Swedes—grow stranger and (for some reason) the newcomers stick it out instead of running to a hotel or something. They are also regularly peppered with drugs, which they take with very little protest, even when one of the Swedes says a concoction is designed to lower people’s defences.

The whole ordeal takes place mostly in daylight, and, as a subversion of normal horror movie tropes, the scary things are often somewhat beautiful. It’s a muted aesthetic compared to Annihilation (2018) and one that, in terms of cinematography, draws heavily from the films of Wes Anderson.

It seemed Aster wanted to make a scary movie that took place in a bright, sunny field, and in this regard, he failed. There are unsettling and gory bits, to be sure, but, while the film is innovative in its approach and tone, precious little of it was actually frightening. Your mileage may vary. Use your best judgement.

Mostly, though, Midsommar is a well-made film. The dialogue suffers a bit from the vague interpersonal conflicts between Christian and his friends, and the cinematography has a few questionable shots but, oddly enough, those only happen before the main characters reach the cult. The cultists themselves do a fantastic job of acting in truly alien, unsettling, and sunny ways. They sing at weird times, dance in weird ways, and make weird hand gestures—how much of this is just how Swedish people do is unknown, and potentially frightening. 
It’s from the dichotomy between the horrors the protagonists face and the energy and enthusiasm with which the cultists perform or experience them that Midsommar draws the original and clever perspective through which it wrought a sense of abject terror—in theory. In practice, Midsommar—while in no way a feel-good movie—is hilarious. 

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