Actor Jack Reynor and actress Florence Pugh star in writer-director-producer Ari Aster’s horror movie, ‘Midsommar.’
(Gabor Kotschy / A24)

Title: ‘Midsommar’

Director: Ari Aster (‘Hereditary’)

Starring: Florence Pugh (the upcoming films ‘Black Widow,’ ‘Little Women’), Jack Reynor (‘Transformers: Age of Extinction,’ ‘Glassland‘), William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia and Will Poulter

People often painstakingly strive to liberate themselves from emotionally harrowing situations throughout their lives, and will take any means necessary to do so, no matter how drastic their actions may seem. That’s certainly true for the young American students in the new horror movie, ‘Midsommar.’

The mystery drama, which A24 is set to release in theaters tomorrow, was written and directed by Ari Aster. The film is the scribe-helmer’s second genre feature, after he wrote and directed last year’s hit horror movie, ‘Hereditary.’ With ‘Midsommar,’ Aster and his creative team once again constructed a mesmerizing and unique world that explores the downfall of a relationship through the lens of a twisted fairy tale.

‘Midsommar’ follows Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a young American couple whose relationship is on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends and fellow grad students, including Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime title festival in the latter’s native remote Swedish village.

Once the group arrives in Europe, their initially carefree summer vacation in a land of eternal sunlight soon begins to take a sinister turn. Dani, Christian, Josh and Mark are stunned when Pelle and his insular family and former neighbors in the isolated community of Hälsingland invite their guests to partake in purification rituals that occurring once every 90 years. But the festivities lead the pastoral paradise to become increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing.

Like with the award-winning ‘Hereditary,’ which is a family drama that’s told through the lens of the horror genre, and is based on Aster’s own experiences navigating grief and trauma, ‘Midsommar’ became another opportunity for the writer to share his personal experience with romantic relationships in a visionary and groundbreaking way. He expertly pushed the genre in a new and unpredictable direction, as the story mainly focuses on the emotional turmoil that continuously plagues Dani, Christian and his friends, instead of just the physical harm they face when they arrive in Sweden.

The emotional journey that Dani embarks on as she begins her physical one to another continent enthralling highlights her expansive ability to heal that even she didn’t realize she had. Pugh powerfully brought Aster’s vision of the movie’s initially needy protagonist, who is only left with Christian to console her after a tragic accident plagues her family in the beginning of the story, to the screen. But once she, her boyfriend and his friends arrive in Sweden, Dani bravely confronts the agonizing and negative effects of infidelity, social influence and cultural legacy.

Reynor also stands out on screen, as he brings his signature relatability to his portrayal of Christian. The male lead character is rooted in reality, as he feels like he has to stay in his relationship with Dani out of obligation, despite the objections of his friends. While Dani senses he wants to leave, but she also knows that she can’t survive on her own. They’re at a standstill in their relationship, so the film’s overarcing plotline serves as an exploration into how the toxic, co-dependent dynamic between the two will resolve itself.

In addition to the gripping emotional arcs that Dani, Christian and his friends endure while they’re in Sweden, ‘Midsommar’ is also visually captivating. The majority of the story is set in the ancestral village of Hårga, which is made up of a series of rustic buildings. Working with production designer Henrik Svensson in Hungary, where the movie was shot, Aster and the team built an isolated village entirely from the ground up. The helmer and production designer scoured rural Sweden to find the right inspiration for the distinctive farmhouses they created for the drama. The resulting look is a warped, fantastical version of what would actually be found in a rural Hälsingland village during a midsummer festival.

In order to further mirror the emotional isolation that Dani, Christian and his friends feel while they’re in Hälsingland, Aster reunited with his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, to use the relentless, unrepentant sunlight to their advantage. Switching between close-up and wide shots during the seemingly endless sunny days that plunge the outsiders into an additional layer of disorientation, Pogorzelski effortlessly highlights the visible emotional descent the Americans experience during their stay.

‘Midsommar’ is a dread-soaked cinematic fairytale that enthrallingly showcases how a world of darkness can present itself in broad daylight. Precisely executed in every frame, Aster’s second feature is an emotionally grim reiteration of the hopelessness that vulnerable people like Dani face in every aspect of life. The empowering and instinctively disheartening horror film has an in-depth grasp of the emotional turmoil people have in all situations. The thought-provoking drama is an alluring sophomore effort from a versatile genre filmmaker, who proves that his first feature wasn’t a fluke; ‘Midsommar’ is an emotionally intense thrill ride that will leave audiences pondering the characters’ journey, long after the credits roll.

Technical: A-

Acting: B+

Story: B+

Overall: B+

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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