Happy Cult


05 July 2019| No Comments on Midsommar     by Sean Chavel


The first image looks for a moment like a mood-setter throwaway, but director Ari Aster holds his camera on it. You look closer to see how peculiar it is, then realize, if the director is letting us gaze on this for a reason, thus, it has weight to it. That first image in  Midsommar is a four, maybe five or six, panel painting that suggests the pastures that we will eventually spend the bulk of time at. And looking closer, it is an uneasy mix of religious and aberrant and punishing behavior in those drawings.

“Midsommar,” with its vibrant Swedish settings and pastel colors that feels like a cross between Agnes Varda and Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider” if it was photographed by John Alcott and featured actors in pressed frocks, could be the most immaculately clean and prettiest horror film ever made. Florence Pugh is the main lead, a young woman who just came out the other side of tragedy, who insists on joining her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his roommates on a special journey to the outskirts of Sweden. They take hallucinogenic mushrooms upon entering a commune, where they will stay a few days to experience a cultural festival that is beforehand unexplained to them, and are met by convivial but meek of pagan Swedes whom empathy takes on alternative meaning. They believe in imitating the behavior of all those in distress.

The Americans in their cheap Ross store clothes are naturally rude compared to these very methodical, festooned and contemplative people. These Americans are always awkwardly standing next to each other, but less in unison, less than these organized people where perfect symmetrical lines are adhered to everywhere. Americans this disorderly, as well as crass, are welcomed and patronized, and yet you may think, they cannot possibly be liked for genuine reasons. The hospitality is ceaselessly happy, but there are limits. Just wait until Will Poulter takes a pee on one of their sacred ancestral trees. The dislike for Americans really balloons after that point.

Director Aster is rigorously concentrated on a long deliberate build-up, so by the time the first aberrant social custom takes place, it’s revolting to us yet at the same time these Americans, while upset, accept it because they have justified it as their social practice. Most of “Midsommars” admirers probably do not want to admit that there are contrivances in the premise – I wasn’t really buying that the two of young men wanted to do thesis papers on European folk rituals as a reason to stay, not without a few other variables that should be discussed – but the bravado direction by Astor, this being his follow-up to the harrowing horror “Hereditary,” presses us to look past any holes while the film is happening. He smacks us across the head with the power of his filmmaking and his message on fundamentalist groupthink. And not even Ken Russell’s 1971 “The Devils” has a ritualistic sex scene this graphic and bizarre.

140 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Wicker Man” (1973); “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983, Japan); “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011); “Oklahoma City” (2017).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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