Ari Aster’s gorgeous freak-out of a movie Midsommar is actually the second major sophomore auteurist horror film of 2019. The first, of course, was Us—which didn’t quite deliver the bracing kick of Jordan Peele’s debut Get Out, but it was a pretty gripping ride nonetheless. (So what if you had a few unanswered questions at the end?)
Does Midsommar live up to its predecessor? That movie was 2018’s Hereditary, which was one of the most unapologetically disturbing films I’ve seen in a long time. Starring an operatic Toni Collette in a bad-mom performance for the ages, Hereditary took your worst anxieties about parenting and family, threw in some child possession and demon worship, and just sort of made hay with your nerves. Beautifully shot, it announced the arrival of a major new horror talent in the 32-year-old Aster. People went to see it to see if they could withstand it. I did so twice.
Will I be seeing Midsommar twice? Probably not. It’s too long at 140 minutes, and it isn’t scary, not exactly—more relentlessly ominous—but its gorgeous art design, florid gore, and revengeful mood has stayed with me. Movies are in a depressing state right now—an either-or proposition of franchise fodder and micro-indies no one sees—so I’m thrilled that an original story like Midsommar exists. And since it’s technically a horror film, people will surely flock to it over the holiday (unless they’re seeing Spider-Man: Far from Home). This is a good thing: The movie is ravishing in the way 1970s films used to be, and not one to watch on your phone. Midsommar demands a big screen; you want to have its glorious colors and atmosphere of disquiet wash over you.
Florence Pugh! Somehow, I haven’t mentioned her yet—and she must be the best actress not named Meryl Streep working today. As Dani, an American graduate student saddled with a stubbornly withholding boyfriend Christian (played with bro-ish confidence by Jack Reynor), Pugh is a young woman vibrating with need. The opening act of the movie deals her a harsh blow of the kind that Aster showed himself ruthlessly capable of in Hereditary. Grief-stricken, she falls into Christian’s arms and passively pressures him to invite her along on his summer boys’ trip to Sweden. His gang, Josh, Pelle, and Mark, graduate students as well, are headed to Pelle’s rural Swedish village for some anthropology research—in the form of an ancient solstice ritual. “It’s sort of crazy festival,” Pelle warns them. I’ll say.