A stunning, unexpected nightmare for a group of grad students without a clue. Doesn’t leave much room for sympathy for the victims. It’s a clever film worth seeing twice.
Director-screenwriter Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY (2018) was certified a hit with critics but more important, the ticket-buying public. With a production budget said to be $10,000,000 and it’s global box office of slightly over $70,000,000, the sudden assured skill of Aster’s first feature film reminded me of how Hollywood embraced M. Night Shyamalan after THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). He could do no wrong until he quickly ran out of original ideas.
Aster must avoid the pitfalls of fawning praise, big money and celebrity that led to Shyamalan’s run of lousy failures. It took 2017’s hit, SPLIT – made for only $9,000,000 - to parole Shyamalan from Hollywood jail.
Aster, A24’s Golden Child, impressively follows up HEREDITARY with MIDSOMMAR. His indulgences – a mainly Swedish cast and a leisurely 146 minutes running time – indicates that A24 is solidly behind Aster. Bravo to A24 for letting Aster do exactly what he wants.
College student Dani (Florence Pugh) is struggling with guilt over her sister’s sudden suicide. Well, it might have been sudden, but really not unexpected. She was a big problem for Dani. And Dani is unstable herself. She’s needy and hysterical. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynolds) has had enough of Dani’s clinging behavior so he takes the opportunity to join his three closest friends on their holiday in Sweden.
They are anthropology graduate students and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has invited them to visit the commune where he was raised. While Christian has not decided on his thesis, Josh’s (William Jackson Harper) thesis is on European midsummer rituals. The guys see it as the perfect ploy for Christian to free himself from Dani; instead, her shock at being left alone for three weeks compels Christian to invite her along.
The group finally makes it to the remote Swedish commune. There’s hippie sex and hallucinogens. There are pretty costumes and a big, richly decorated communal sleeping barn. None of them have done much research on the commune, its policies, its philosophy or its rituals. All they know is that they will spend nine days during the solstice experiencing a festival that happens once every nine years.
In 2014, I attended the Prayag Kumbh Mela which is the mela held every 12 years in India. The exact date is determined according to Hindu astrology: the Mela is held when Jupiter is in Taurus and the sun and the moon are in Capricorn. For the 2019 Kumbh Mela, 120 million people are expected.
Human sacrifice has always been a feature of religious ceremonies, whether intentionally arranged or arranged by other forces. The energy requires sacrifice. Stampedes claimed seven lives during the 2010 Kumbh Mela, 39 deaths during the 2003 event and in the worst Kumbh, about 1,000 died in 1954.
Pele hasn’t told his friends anything about what will happen and they haven’t bothered to question anything. Even Josh doesn’t seem too intent on interviewing anyone or learning the meanings of the rituals.
Pretty soon the visitors witness a very horrific ritual where two of its long time residents voluntarily jump to their deaths. In this community, the people understand the importance and significance of sacrifice. If not done voluntarily, the demand is met in others ways.
On September 24, 2015, a stampede caused the deaths of well over 2,000 pilgrims who were suffocated or crushed during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The high number of deaths caused by the disaster make it the deadliest Hajj disaster in history.
Good-natured Pele forgot to tell his friends that he was tasked with bringing in new people. None of the Americans seem to grasp the situation or their role. And when it comes time to anoint the festival’s May Queen, it seems that Dani is won over by her costume and flowers in her hair. It’s a terrific competition. Christian, on the other hand, is not very happy with the role the commune has assigned him.
Dani, who started off as rather unstable and troublesome seems to finally realize the power of the May Queen and she has a score to settle.
Aster seems to already have some “tells.” Both HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR have characters with unusual deformities.
MIDSOMMAR enchants and captivates by its slow pace. Its enthralling that while the film’s genre is horror, it satisfies without creaking stairs, doors opening by themselves,, dark hallways and ominous music. It’s a clever triumph and worth seeing twice.
For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/