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  Midsommar Ritual Union
Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Elloria Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlén, Gunnel Fred, Isabelle Grill, Agnes Westerlund Rase, Julia Ragnarsson, Mats Blomgren, Lars Väringer, Anna Åström
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: One night Dani (Florence Pugh) had a message from her sister that worried her, but she was not sure where to turn when she phoned her parents and had no reply - how about her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor)? They had been going through an uncertain patch in their relationship, not helped that unbeknownst to her his friends had been encouraging him to break up with her since she was, in their opinion, no fun to be around, but when he received a call from her that night, it would bolster their bond. Yet only because of guilt - after all, you don't break up with your girlfriend when her parents are murdered by her sister, who then takes her own life at the same time, do you?

With Hereditary, writer and director Ari Aster consolidated his early promise from a selection of short works for many horror fans, even if just as many failed to understand what the fuss was all about. Following it up with Midsommar, that same mixture of fans embracing his efforts while others complained of Emperor's new clothes ensued, as if anything, he indulged himself by determinedly going his own way yet more, combining bizarre symbolism with studies of grief and bursts of extreme violence to craft a style distinctive to his vision. Like it or loathe it, there was little doubt he was making his features in precisely the manner which suited him first and foremost.

Thus a cult moviemaker was born, and whatever else he was, there was nobody else doing exactly what he had been up to, suggesting that the horror genre was able to branch out into new directions even at this stage in its development. But what was this? Complaints that essentially Midsommar was The Wicker Man in all but name? There was some truth to that, but it did not paint the whole picture, as if you thought the islanders in that 1973 cult classic were in effect the good guys and Sergeant Howie deserved what was coming to him, then there was much validity in the claim; if you found the British chiller to be more amusing than, well, chilling, again you would see that here.

Consider that The Wicker Man takes the structure of a joke, or at least a shaggy dog story, ending in a punchline that contained a certain grim satisfaction, you would see that it was fine to laugh at both that and Aster's folk shocker, or at least watch it unfold with a wry smile playing on your lips. There was assuredly a sense of humour at work here, and if you did not pick up on it or simply did not find it funny, Midsommar was not for you. Similarly, it was a film obsessed with ritual, taking the form of a nine-day ceremony and treating the genre just like this religious - here, pagan - service, complete with arcane movements, dressing up in the right robes, taking care of the artefacts, and naturally, making sacrifices. Animals if that was what was required, but you knew that humans were on the menu as well, rendering this a tale of the very much as we expected. Very nearly.

Symbolism hung heavy on the participants as to recuperate, the emotionally fragile Dani latches onto Christian's academic expedition to Sweden where he and his cohorts (Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter) will study the summer solstice ceremony in the land of the midnight sun. This resembled, in a way that its fans and maybe creators might not have been keen on, Eli Roth's much maligned, reactionary The Green Inferno, but Aster's efforts were far more palatable since he was on Dani's side all the way, despite the anguish and mental illness he plunged her into. So much so that this was not like The Wicker Man at all, as that tale punished its protagonist for his narrow worldview while slyly sending up those who believe their way of life is any better and no less deluded, while the participants in Midsommar were there to help the girl through a difficult time, the mending of a broken heart and washing the frankly not much good Christian out of her hair. If twenty-first century horror filmmakers insisted on rehashing The Exorcist ad nauseam, maybe it was time to give another sacred text a chance at a variation. Just no one mention Nicolas Cage. Music by The Haxan Cloak.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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