Think twice if a friend invites you to a festival in a foreign country.
If it’s anything like “Midsommar,” it’ll be the last trip you ever take.
Or so we discover in one of the most unsettling films of the year – a horror film that doesn’t need supernatural beings, creepy dolls or darkness to scare.
“Midsommar,” in fact, starts rather harmlessly. A grad student invites his friends to attend a festival in his native Sweden. Since one of the friends is doing a thesis on European midsummer rituals, he’s game. The friends are, too. And then there’s Dani (Florence Pugh), a girlfriend who has been through a family trauma and could use the distraction. Her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), haltingly asks her to come and, sure enough, she does.
Quickly, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has them, Josh (William Jackson Harper) and a whiny Mark (Will Poulter) on the road to his home, a commune of sorts where everyone dresses in white gauzy fabric and believes in rituals.
Drugs are common, too, and then there’s the decorative folk art that fills the buildings and tapestry littered around the open fields.
Because it’s so bright and seemingly nonthreatening, the world is immediately attractive to the outsiders. And then?
Director Ari Aster shocks early on and never quits. The cult has more than a few questionable practices and an interest in bringing others into the fold. Because Dani feels loved by many of these people, she’s more than willing to play along. When Mark urinates on a sacred tree, he’s immediately attacked and it’s clear where this is headed.
Still, Aster doesn’t bring out the long knives, so to speak, until the visitors have been lulled into acceptance. Two other outsiders mysteriously disappear. And then a nubile member of the commune starts showing an interest in Christian.
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Even though “Midsommar” clocks in at more than 2 ½ hours, it’s time well spent. Aster builds the suspense before moving in for the kill.
Dissect this further and you’ll be debating the merits of commitment, the value of friendship and the sanctity of home.
Like his equally creepy “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” loves to play with complacency. It thrives on innocence, then offers an unforgettable 30-minute rush to the end.
Poulter and Harper aren’t the film’s focus, but they provide perspective when drugs suggest there isn’t any.
Pugh and Reynor, though, are the reason to watch this. The two know how to play a relationship that’s in trouble and aren’t afraid to consider what life could mean without the other.
There’s a game-changing moment when he’s drugged and taken hostage that sets the frightening ending into play.
“Midsommar” isn’t a quirky little romp. It’s a smart thriller that makes you think twice about letting down your defenses. Put it next to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and it definitely stacks up.