Friday, July 26, 2019

Review of MIDSOMMAR: Bizarre Bacchanalia

July 25, 2019

Anthropology major Pelle invited his fellow grad students Josh, Mark and Christian to his home community of Hårga, in Hälsingland, Sweden. Christian's emotionally-fragile girlfriend Dani, who was just recovering from a devastating family tragedy, tagged along with the boys to witness special midsummer celebrations which took place only every 900 years. However, their excitement quickly turned into horror with each passing day as the cult rituals become more and more bizarre and even deadly. 

Florence Pugh carried the film well playing the vulnerable central character of Dani. She had a vibe of a young Kate Winslet, and with the talent she showed here, her career promises to go the distance of Winslet's as well. Jack Reynor displayed a lot of chutzpah to play the bold role of Christian, Dani's cold detached jerk of a boyfriend. Of the supporting cast, I only recognized Will Poulter playing the raunchy friend Mark, but the rest were all new actors and actresses. This casting decision further contributed to the authentic eerieness of the film. 

It was such a different sort of horror movie because it was mostly set outdoors in broad bright daylight. It was also remarkable that unlike the other horror movies, the inhabitants of Harga were all so friendly and smiling, and furthermore, they were also seen wearing immaculately white clothes most of the time. Nothing was lurking in dark shadows as everything was in plain sight under the midnight sun. There was just this very slow build up of suspense which led up to most outrageous and unsettling scenes. 

This film which reminded me in some way of "The Wicker Man" a British horror starring Edward Woodward (Robin Hardy, 1973) involving an isolated community of people who had heathen May Day celebrations with beliefs of reincarnation and free sex. It contained several elements seen in "Midsommar" such as the remote location, pagan ceremonies, weird costumes and ritualistic bonfire.  It was notoriously remade in Hollywood starring Nicolas Cage (Neil LaBute, 2006). It had scenes of Cage disguised as a bear, an animal which also seen in "Midsommar."

The R-18 rating of this film was fully deserved. The use of hallucinogenic drugs was rampant throughout the film, and the audience also gets a dose of psychedelic effects reflected in the unusual camera work and visual effects. Despite the peaceful rustic setting of flowery meadows, extreme gore was shown up close and bloody. Its very first scene of splattering anatomy was a guaranteed shocker. 

On the other end of the R spectrum, the climactic highlight was a prolonged and graphic copulation scene with unabashed frank nudity. This wild sick scene was totally disturbing and deranged, not easily forgettable for sure. When a naked little old woman joined in the action, the scene turned all the way more psychotic. The women of Harga shared their emotions seriously as they moaned and writhed in unison during the whole rite. 

Writer-director Ari Aster gained accolades for his feature film debut "Hereditary" last year. "Midsommar" proved that his prior success had not been a fluke.  He knew exactly what he was going for and he audaciously went all the way and more to achieve his vision. "Midsommar" lasts for more than 2-1/2 hours, but the audience gets hooked in from the get-go and held in rapt attention the whole time up to its outlandish conclusion. 8/10.  

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