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'Midsommar' is a grotesque, less effective follow up to 'Hereditary'

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Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor star in Ari Aster's 'Midsommar' (Photo: A24)

Midsommar
3 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Ari Aster
Writers: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rated: R

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: A group of American college students travel to rural Sweden to experience their midsummer festival.

Review: I loved the madness of writer/director Ari Aster’s debut film “Hereditary.” From the perfect casting of Toni Collette as the unhinged matriarch to the way the narrative feigns a sense of restraint and then gives audiences one of the most shocking scenes in the history of cinema.

With “Midsommar” Aster stays within the horror genre with a film that feels like a European twist on the cannibal subgenre that see hapless historians, environmentalist and scientists venturing too far into the Amazon rainforest. Here the exotic location is Sweden, the rituals are pagan in origin and our unwitting victims are a group of graduate students.

Like “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” starts out as a slow burn as it introduces us to its characters, sets the scene and then lets the heads roll (not nearly as literally this time). There’s a fair amount of character exposition for our protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) as she deals with tragedy and a fractured relationship with boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his unsupportive roommates. Then we’re whisked away to the country where the sun never sets and every smile feels like a veiled threat.

“Midsommar” feels like a demented It’s a Small World ride where the audience floats along and witnesses a cultural experience that goes from dark to darker and darker still before disembarking in the “Hereditary” treehouse to take part in a horrific shared experience with the townspeople. Aster lingers here for so long that it shifts from being effective to bordering on self-parody.

“Midsommar” is a horror film that leans heavily on its ability to shock audiences, rather than being a psychologically complex drama that fits within the horror genre. It’s “The Wicker Man” and “Hostel” on hallucinogens with the grotesque visual flair of “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.” It’s a dutifully-shot film and a grade above most horror offerings, but it is more familiar than I wanted it to be. A tighter cut or a more amiable group of characters may have made the madness and horror more convincing.



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