mon 18/11/2019

Midsommar review - hell is other people | reviews, news & interviews

Midsommar review - hell is other people

Midsommar review - hell is other people

Sun-bleached horror proves night isn't the only time things go bump

Florence Pugh stars as the troubled and tortured Dani

Who would have thought that Ari Aster could top the satanic delights of Hereditary? Yet with Midsommar, a psychedelic twist on folk horror, he has. Aster abandons the supernatural to show that it’s not things that go bump in the night that scare us, it’s other people.

Think of your worst romantic relationship, the one that churned you up inside and left you a sobbing mess for months. This is the territory that Aster mines in his latest work. Florence Pugh plays Dani, a post-grad student whose life is split between worrying about her suicidal, bipolar sister, and her relationship with Christian (Jake Reynor) who’s more interested in smoking weed with his bro pals. When a phone call comes, Dani thinks the worst has happened - and it has. But she has no idea quite how bad it is.

The sound design of Hereditary had your heart pounding with anxiety. Aster employs the same trick here in the opening scenes with significant effect, amplified by Pugh’s harrowing howls of grief. Then we are back with Christian’s gaggle of pals who, after weakly offering their condolences to Dani, plough ahead with their plan to visit Sweden. They have high-minded ideals of studying a remote hippy commune after being invited by their fellow student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Dani decides she will join them.MidsommarAster has no interest in creating a re-run of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, although it’s what springs to mind as soon as the film sets foot in the lush green commune in Sweden. But Aster isn't a lazy filmmaker, instead he continually defies expectations. Flaxen-haired residents in white-cotton robes wander around picturesque wooden buildings decorated with intricate runes and phalluses, handing out hallucinogenic tea, and casually telling visitors not to worry about the bear in the cage. There’s a gently comic strangeness to it all.

M.R. James taught us long ago that evil is not confined to the night time, and Aster follows suit, in Midsommar, basking in the daylight, but terrifying us more than any night ghoul could. While there are moments of visceral violence, it’s the more subtle menace that haunts. This is an off-kilter world where nightmares are continually hanging in the periphery.

But it all comes back to Dani and her suffering. One of the most chilling moments is when Pelle states that in the commune he’s always ‘felt held by a family, a real family,’ and Dani realises she’s never known that comfort. Pugh’s dexterity in such scenes is mesmerising. Her sadness is conveyed in the downturn of a lip, in a sigh of exasperation. It’s undoubtedly her best screen work. But before Dani can wrestle with her emotions, a ritual is about to begin, and blood sacrifices must be made.

@JosephDAWalsh

Comments

'Undoubtedly Pugh's best screen work'? Can't actually excel her portrayal of the northern Lady Macbeth, surely? A brilliant actor, and it baffles me why she was so overlooked in telly awards for making The Little Drummer Girl so real.

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