REVIEW: ‘Midsommar’ is as stylish as it is suspenseful

Whoa nelly does this one get wild.

Florence Pugh plays Dani in “Midsommar,” the second feature film from director Ari Aster who last year helmed the fantastic “Hereditary.” Dani is a college student who, in the first act, goes through a major tragedy in her life. The subsequent depression Dani goes through becomes a point of stress between her and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor).

However, she gets an opportunity to get away for awhile by traveling abroad to Sweden to spend time at a rural town by way of an invitation from their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). Dani, Christian, along with their friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) decide to go with Pelle for the trip, both to study the culture and have some fun. While the town they go to seems to be just a calm place holding a midsummer festival, though, the lead characters soon learn about some rather disturbing rituals by the locals.

In his follow-up to “Hereditary,” Aster again delivers an unorthodox thriller to mainstream audiences. However, unlike the 2018 picture, “Midsommar” is more suspenseful than outright scary.

The film, also penned by Aster, works as a slow burn. There are some frightening moments sprinkled in to be sure, but the film is more structured to slowly unravel what’s really going on with this community and present hints that the situation is becoming more dire.

For the most part, this works fairly well. As “Midsommar” continues, an audience can only become more on edge as this commune reveals more of itself, both with noticeable actions they take and others that are more subtle.

The lead characters of “Midsommar.” Courtesy A24.

While the suspense builds well for the most part, and eventually pays off with an outrageous, bold climax, there is a period in the second and early third acts where the picture’s length becomes apparent. “Midsommar” comes in at about two and a half hours, and unfortunately, it does show. While never getting to the point where an audience might be bored or un-engaged, there is the feeling that some things could be trimmed.

Another issue facing “Midsomamr” is how telegraphed some aspects of the commune are. This is a horror flick and of course audiences should be aware these village folk could be antagonistic, but they appear a bit too “off” from the get-go. Aster builds the suspense well overall here, but making the commune act a bit more “normal,” and not as obvious could have helped.

It’s also noticeable how the lead characters in “Midsommar” don’t seem to spot some very clear red flags that pop up at times.

With that said, though, the characters in “Midsommar” and the cast portraying them do still work for the most part. Reynor is convincing as a a boyfriend who’s trying to be supportive, but is also somewhat at a loss in terms of what to do. He does solid work portraying a flawed character.

Pugh deserves a lot of credit, too, for portraying a very tortured character. Dani is very clearly still in a bad place because of what happened in her personal life and the character’s difficulty in social situations, especially the new ones in this commune, are very well displayed by Pugh.

Like his last film, Aster’s “Midsommar” also boasts really strong writing, especially when it comes to relationships. Aster’s skills can really get under a person’s skin by believably writing characters to have those uncomfortable relationship moments.

Another strong piece of “Midsommar” is the cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski, who also partnered with Aster on “Hereditary.” “Pogorzelski beautifully shot this film with some clever angles and camera moves to give the movie a dream-like vibe. As part of the filming process, Pogorzelski and Aster also often included mirrors in shots, which really worked in building unrest.

“Midsommar” isn’t as tight and well put together as Aster’s previous picture, but it’s still a great entry in a genre experiencing a really good period. It has its issues, but for the most part it’s still a good flick, although a viewer’s experience may vary considering what’s shown in the third act. 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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