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John’s Horror Corner: Midsommar (2019), Ari Aster’s emotionally heavy folk horror about a mysterious festival in Sweden.

October 10, 2019

MY CALL: Emotionally challenging, this was the bold follow-up to the already brazen Hereditary (2018). Great art and great filmmaking; but the film will leave you feeling hollow despite its punctuated shock and awe. MOVIES LIKE Midsommar: Of course, Hereditary (2018). Other slow-burn films about suppressed guilt and the family dynamics they affect include The Uninvited (2009), The Babadook (2014), Goodnight Mommy (2014) and The Witch (2016).

After the tragic loss of her parents and sister, Dani (Florence Pugh; The Falling, Malevolent) accompanies her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor; Free Fire) and his friends Mark (Will Poulter), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) and Josh (William Jackson Harper; All Good Things, They Remain) to Sweden, where Pelle’s rural family-commune celebrates a traditional mid-summer festival.

The dusky opening scenes of Winter are strikingly beautiful, if quietly morose. Then as quickly as we find ourselves in the pristine Swedish countryside, flush with Summer’s bright greens and ablare in white garbs, I feel a folk horror Wicker Man (1973, 2006) vibe settling. Have we learned nothing from The Ritual (2017)? Avoid the rural and wilds of Sweden! The supernatural fauna there basks in the emotional suffering of its victims. In fact, I expected the film to follow the path of The Ritual (2017) or The Shrine (2010). But it remains a bit more grounded.

Writer and director Ari Aster (Hereditary) fearlessly breaks into his second feature film with yet again well-over two hours of emotionally soul-crushing running time. However, as powerfully as the film starts, I feel it wanders into less tactful, more distraught zaniness in its final act—much as did Hereditary (2018), but not to the same “supernatural” degree. And like Hereditary (2018), we find horrendously shocking head trauma. And, well, it’s more than just momentary. Wow… and graphic! Don’t even get me started on the holy crap leg break. For a film so slowly to moderately paced, it has more than its share of brutal imagery.

This film weirded me out so many times over. Withholding from loved ones, viciously passive aggressive resentment, psychological unrest… loss, grief, guilt—Aster is up to his old tricks again. And he’s great at playing this hand. We watch as (probably familiar) uncomfortable relationship dynamics unfold, and we feel every bit as uneasy as the characters… frequently. And speaking of uncomfortable, the term Suspiria (2018) cult sex scene” comes to mind. Take from that what you will.

From a filmmaking perspective, this was the bold follow-up to the already brazen Hereditary (2018). But as beautiful a film it may be, I also feel this was the film Aster “dreamed to make” much more than the film his fans dreamed to see. Great art and great filmmaking; but the film will leave you feeling hollow despite its occasional shock and awe.

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