(director/writer: Ari Aster;cinematographer: Pawel Pogorzelski; editor: Lucian Johnston; music: Bobby Krli/The Haxan Cloak; cast: Florence Pugh (Dani), Jack Raynor (Christian),William Jackson Harper (Josh), Wilhelm Blomgren (Pelle), Will Poulter (Mark), Ellora Torchia (Connie), Archie Madekwe (Simon), Isabelle Grill (Maja), Gunnell Fred (Siv); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lars Knudsen/Patrik Andersson; A24; 2019-in English and Swedish with English subtitles)
“An awesome unsettling psychological high-brow horror film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The second feature from writer/director Ari Aster (“Hereditary”) is also an awesome unsettling psychological high-brow horror film. It’s a relationship breakup film that’s set as both a perverse comedy and violent folk tale relating to what can happen if the evil within us is unleashed and we become monsters.
Surviving a longtime rocky relationship, the American couple of the nagging Dani (Florence Pugh) and her bland student boyfriend Christian (Jack Raynor) agree to try and patch things up by flying to the rural town of Hårga, Sweden for a midsummer festival (a nine-day solstice festival). It’s a vacation suggested by Christian’s friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who wishes to take them to the commune where he spent his childhood and for them to be part of a colorful celebration that occurs only once every 90 years. Joining them are Christian’s insensitive anthropology grad school friends (Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper and Vilhelm Blomgren), who are not pleased Dani is going with them.
Dani is depressed due to the recent murder of her parents by her bi-polar sister, who afterwards committed suicide. She feels uncomfortable and wants so much to ask her insensitive boyfriend for support, but feeling her personal problems are driving a bigger wedge between them she keeps things buttoned up.
Though something sinister seems present the American visitors are gladly welcomed into the picturesque surroundings by the friendly costumed locals, and as part of the ritual take the same hallucinogenic mushrooms as their hosts. The acid trip doesn’t go well for the uptight Dani, who wanders off into a dream world that tunes us into what is coming down the road.
Think Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) if you want to know the direction that this pagan cult film is going. Things get bloody, as events in this unhurried film begin to mount and tensions rise. Christian finds himself the love interest of some daring naked female cultists who are all over him; while Dani, in the climax, as the May Day Queen, is faced with making some difficult decisions but has suddenly gained enough strength and venom on this trip to possibly make a choice she never would have made before.
There’s an electric atmosphere in the village as superbly photographed by Pawel Pogorzelski, the music by Bobby Krli is pleasantly eerie, and the performance by Florence Pugh is riveting. It’s a bizarre and unnerving tale (not really scary) that smartly plays with us throughout in its nightmare sequences, its graphic sex scenes, its creepy wall paintings, its “breathing” trees scene, and its vibrant calls for old-styled vengeance. All this weird activity makes for a visually hypnotic watch, but one not suited for all tastes.
REVIEWED ON 7/10/2019 GRADE: A