MIDSOMMAR, US/ Sweden, 2019. Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter. Directed by Ari Aster. 147 minutes. Rated MA (High impact injury detail).
Writer-director, Ari Astor, had made a number of short films before his feature film debut, Hereditary. It was well acclaimed critically and had quite a following – although, not from this reviewer who appreciated the technique but found the last part of the horror-fantasy too absurd.
In Midsummer, Aster takes for granted a great deal of pagan ritual absurdity (we hope) and incorporates it into the narrative.
We are immediately introduced to Dani, effectively played by the rising star of The Little Drummer Girl, Lady Macbeth, Fighting with the Family, Florence Pugh. She is nervy, apprehensive about her sister who is bipolar, the safety of her parents. And, we almost immediately see that she has good reason. They are dead. Dani is very nervy, continually phoning her boyfriend for years, Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian’s friends are advising him to break with her because of her pressures on him. Christian and his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Wilhelm Blomgren) and the intrusively obnoxious Mark (Will Poulter) are all involved in thesis work and their Swede friend, Pelle, persuades them to visit his home community in Sweden and to celebrate Midsummer – interesting for their thesis research. Dani is of two minds but eventually goes.
This is quite a long film, almost 2 ½ hours, and is never in a hurry. We are invited to accompany the friends to Scandinavia, to the northern summer, experience the midnight sun, meets the community and spend some time with them. We anticipate that after the welcome, the experience for the friends will be most unwelcome. And so it is.
This is mid-summer, pagan Scandinavian rituals, some elders, many young women, fewer young men, some children, are all dressed in white, bright sunshine white, while the guests remain in their visiting clothes, not white. Their time there will be 10 days of festivities, many rituals, well-prepared meals at long tables, communal living in a vast dormitory with roof and walls covered in bright paintings with mythological touches. And there is dancing and, eventually, the Queen of the May.
While all this may seem attractive, even innocent, there are some ominous signs, especially tablets and drinks which lead to hallucinatory experiences.
Despite the bright sunlight, some of the characters in the community act in very creepy ways. Dani is well received and is encouraged to participate in the increasingly frantic dance of the young women to determine who will be the last one standing, Queen of the May. She is completely covered in flowers, presides at the meal, is reverenced. In the meantime, Christian begins to feel more alienated and becomes the focus of an elaborate sexual ritual.
The drama builds its tension – especially with the information that there are four phases of life to correspond with the seasons and at the end, at age 72, the only prospect for the members of the community is death, vividly dramatised. As is the ending, but even more alarmingly and vividly dramatised, ritual, sacrifice involving fire and a giant bear.
Because of its exotic settings, everything in the mid-summer sun, the film does remain in eerily in the memory.
Roadshow Released August 8th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.