Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
Rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Yes, it’s ok to laugh.
Writer/director Ari Aster‘s follow-up to Hereditary, a 140-minute pagan horror opus called Midsommar (that’s pronounced mid-so-MAR) is more consistently laugh-out-loud funny than nearly any other movie I’ve seen in 2019. That’s intentional. Everything in an Ari Aster movie is deeply deliberate. Though it’s not as purely frightening and emotionally draining as Hereditary, Aster’s sophomore outing is absolutely a worthy successor. This is one of the most exciting voices in modern horror… and he’s got a great sense of humor.
Lady Macbeth star Florence Pugh plays Dani, who’s just experienced a devastating family tragedy and is on the outs with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Much to the chagrin of Christian’s rather comically unlikable, toxically masculine friends (William Jackson Harper as Josh, Will Poulter as Mark, and Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle), Dani accepts when Christian invites her to join their boys’ trip to Sweden, where Pelle’s family holds an annual midsummer festival. The isolated village is round-the-clock sunny, overrun with gorgeous flora and fauna, and there’s a lot of folk singing. Clearly, there’s something sinister here. We know this even before bloody rituals happen at the bottom of the first act.
With just two movies under his belt, Aster is a master of escalating horror. This isn’t boo! jump-scare horror. If that’s what you’re looking for, please go to a theater playing Annabelle Comes Home. That’s more your speed. Midsommar has rich characters, a profound sense of place, atmosphere that drops hints and tells its own story, and it all leads to a phantasmagorically gory climax that will make your blood run cold.
So what makes it funny? Aster wrote this script when he was going through a breakup. A gnarly one, it would appear. This is a study of a courtship gone toxic that is so astutely observed, so well written and performed that you might forget you’re watching a movie here and there. All of Christian’s friends are amusingly obnoxious. Poulter stands out. He’s a great, versatile actor, and here he’s playing an oblivious d*ckwad who is constantly bullying Dani, and at one point carelessly urinates on one of the village’s sacred landmarks. This doesn’t turn out well, of course.
The humor is interwoven with unspeakable horror. As we discover the secrets of this village and the malevolent intentions for the out-of-town visitors, things get so bonkers that Aster is right to milk everything for humor as well as frights. The standout sequence is a sex scene. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen or will ever witness again in your life. It’s disgusting, and damned if it isn’t hysterically, laugh-til-it-hurts funny. There are also moments of purely physical comedy that border on slapstick. It all works, though. None of this feels out of place, and it’s compulsively entertaining.
As in Hereditary, the performances are all flawless. Particularly of note: English thesp Florence Pugh is simply one of the best actors under 30 on planet Earth right now. She’s just 23, and she’s never been less than riveting–she surprises and thrills every time I watch her.
As a side note (this isn’t exactly a spoiler), there’s something special for the gays here. The very-handsome Reynor does the full monty for about ten minutes of screen time. The context isn’t exactly erotic–it’s actually pretty messed up–but no matter how we get there, an extended sequence of a hot 27-year-old American-born Irishman running around a Swedish field fully naked is a blessing.
In short, Midsommar is a damn good horror movie, maybe even a great one. And, it’s one of the funniest movies of 2019.