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"chilling frights in bright sunlight"

★★★★ - STUFF 

- Having reinvigorated the familial horror with 2018's chilling Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster now takes on another of the genre's traditional tropes – Americans' European misadventures.

To be fair, much of the scene-setting bleakness actually takes place in the good old US of A. College student Dani Ardor's (a quite brilliant Florence Pugh) life is thrown into chaos when her troubled sister not only takes her own life, but that of their parents.

Leaning on her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) for support, little does she know how close he was to ending their relationship prior to this traumatic event. Now feeling somewhat trapped, Christian can't wait for his and his buddies' six-week summer adventure across the Atlantic. The expected highlight? A nine-day festival at Swedish colleague Pelle's (Vilhelm Blomgren) ancestral commune in Halsingland. Pelle tells them it's a once-in-90 years celebration conducted by his Hårga people.

Christian is sure Dani will be fine with him going on the journey and would never consider wanting to join him, especially in her current state. To his horror, he's proven terribly wrong.

Eventually arriving at the vast fields and compact village that constitute the Hargas' home, the group are instantly taken by their free approach to mind-opening hallucinogens and open spirits. Just as quickly though, there's conflict within the boys. Christian decides he'd like to do an anthropological study on their rituals, something Josh (William Jackson Harper) had already declared an interest in, while Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) isn't so sure they'll take kindly to sharing many of their unique ways of doing things.

Perhaps one of the darkest movies ever to have been shot in gorgeous summer light (Hungary here standing in for Sweden), Midsommar offers a feast of disturbing visions, fear-inducing moments and an ever growing sense of dread.

As with Hereditary, Aster doesn't shy away from showing the consequences of actions and misfortunes and there will be some who will struggle to last the movie's marathon running time (Aster even claims it's 30 minutes shorter than his original cut) in all its gory glory.

But Midsommar offers more than just shock or schlock value. There's no little art in this Wicker Man-meets-Logan's-Run-by-way-of-Titus-Andronicus. Aster has cleverly thought out his Harga rituals and values well (at least to the point of potentially creating plenty of post-viewing debate), while also making great use of sound, reflections, match shots and camera angles to draw the audience into his waking nightmare and leaving them glued to the screen.

Perhaps only slightly let down by a certain inevitability about the character's fates (it does rather slavishly follow some genre traditions potentially as old as the Hargas'), Midsommar is nonetheless proof of the emotional and visceral power of a well-made horror movie.

- James Croot, STUFF

Midsommar is now playing at Light House Cuba (and limited sessions at Petone). 

Rated R18 - Graphic violence, sex scenes, drug use and suicide. 


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