Midsommar

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

I’ve always loved stories about people who stumble into mysterious and dangerous places.

Thomas Tryon’s “Harvest Home” was such a story, a city couple moving to an idyllic little country town that is not what it seems to be. Or “The Stepford Wives,” where a couple moves to a small Connecticut town where men are married to perfect wives (part of it was filmed in Darien, Connecticut’s Goodwives Shopping Center). Or “The Wicker Man,” where a British policeman encounters an ancient cult on an isolated island (the original version with Edward Woodward is my favorite).

This cinematic theme is sometimes called “a folk horror film.”

Now we have a movie called “Midsommar.” No, it’s not based on Shakespeare’s comedy. This is an eerie, scary, stumbling-into-the-wrong place story.

Although it was filmed in Budapest, it tells of a young American couple who take a vacation to Sweden following a personal tragedy. We learn that Christian (Jack Reynor) and Dani (Florence Pugh) are having problems with their relationship. They meet up with their friend Marks (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) for a side trip to an isolated rural town that holds a midsummer festival every 90 years. And this is the year. How lucky they are, their visit coinciding with this once-in-a-lifetime Halley’s Comet like timing. But what they don’t know is that these festivities are actually a violent pagan ritual – and the townsfolk insist they take part.

Uh-oh.

“Midsommar” continues creeping out audiences at Tropic Cinema.

This was originally pitched as a slasher film, but director Ari Asher toned it down, making it more about the couple’s deteriorating relationship after experiencing a breakup himself.

The Hollywood Reporter describes it as “more unsettling than frightening, but still a trip worth taking.” Variety proclaims it “neither the masterpiece nor the disaster” it could have been.

Ari Aster is best known for writing and directing the 2018 horror film “Hereditary.” While not perfect, “Midsommar” establishes him as “a horror director with no peer.”

Even Jordan Peele (director of “Us” and “Get Out”) has praised the film.

Although Ari was born in New York City, his family briefly lived in England before settling in New Mexico. There Ari became obsessed with horror films. As he recalls, “I just exhausted the horror section of every video store I could find …”

He wanted to make his own horror films but “I didn’t know how to assemble people who would cooperate on something like that … I found myself just writing screenplays.”

Like a young Steven Spielberg obsessed by nightmares, Ari began making his own short films – “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons,” “Manchausen,” “The Turtle’s Head,” etc. After graduating from the American Film Institute, he got his break with a feature-length film called “Heredity,” a supernatural psychological horror drama starring Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called it one of the scariest movies of 2018.

“Midsommar” is a good follow-up, making Ari Aster a frightmeister to be reckoned with.

My takeaway? I’m not making any detours to small out-of-the-way isolated villages next time I take a trip.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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