From director Ari Aster (“Hereditary”), dysfunction and the bizarre is again the order of the day. Here instead of haunted family houses, we have a commune in Sweden that engages in some indescribable practices to say the very least. While not as scarily surprising as its anti-homely predecessor, the latest “Midsommar” is blunt, eerie and effectively claustrophobic with some wonderfully creepy cinematography by Aster veteran Pawel Pogorzelski.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is having a bad semester. Her mentally ill sister just killed herself and her parents. Dani’s boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) offers little to no support, having second thoughts about their four year romance. He is emotionally cold, almost supernaturally so, but for those well acquainted with Ari Aster’s work this is par for the course. The director turns icy distance into a poetic staple.
Christian secretly decides to go to Sweden with his buddies to unwind on summer break. The sensitive Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invites him to stay with family. Dani finds out during a party secondhand and feels understandably disrespected. Embarrassed, Christian then invites her, half-heartedly.
Dani agrees to go. After all, a change of scene together might help the ailing relationship.
The two other buds merely shrug shoulders. Josh (William Jackson Harper) just wants to pursue his thesis on local customs and Mark (Will Poulter) only cares about sex with permissive girls.
When the crew of forlorn four arrives at Harga and notices that a bright sun is still out at nine p.m. combined with the sight of Pelle warmly embracing his relative a little too long, we know we are in for it.
Acting as an all too kind guide, Pelle smooths over any awkwardness, but Dani notices a small crowd laughing and becomes convinced that they are laughing at her.
Grass grows under her skin.
Pugh is perfect as the ultimate subjugated protagonist who, at least for the most part, maintains her observant dignity. Dani is a kind of Alice in Wonderland figure.
Vilhelm Blomgren is par excellence as the diplomatic and omnipresent Pelle who subverts consideration into something positively creepy. The actor has the best lines in the film and steals the show.
Suffice to say, this Swedish commune is abound with prismatic flowers but it is far from rosy and you do not want to spend a honeymoon here. The environs and its inhabitants make a kind of tilting and shattered “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” where cold herring is served whole without any respite, literally and figuratively.
There are shocking moments of bloody pulp and intricate bodily deformations but it echoes “Day of the Dead” by Salvador Dali more than Eli Roth.
In an Aster film, people go about their routines as tiny human miniatures put in motion under prisons by some misanthropic design. In this case, slanted wooden huts with impossibly pitched roofs resemble arrows pointing to the guilty, but few sins are more heinous than peeing on an ancestral tree. As in “Hereditary” the young people especially appear driven by a morose inexorable force, originated by either mass behavior or something geometrically unnamable.
Whatever the case, nudity rises in its melancholic pageantry once again, an apparent Aster trademark.
If the director’s brand of somber and grim Guignol is not your idyll, do your best to tolerate the “Midsommar” gore for the last scene of Florence Pugh. The actor is a blend of the beautiful and the horrible as she is covered in flowers. One single flower is actually pulsating, hyperactively pink and not to be missed.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org