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Movie Review | Midsommar

Dani (Florence Pugh) is shocked at what she sees in Midsommar

Movie summary: A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown's fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. (IMDb)

A story: last weekend, me and my friends were split over whether to see Midsommar or Hobbs & Shaw. Three, including me, wanted to see the former and three the latter. As you can tell by the fact this is a review of Midsommar, my 'team' won - although two of group who wanted to see Hobbs & Shaw were so adamantly against seeing this movie that they flat-out refused to watch it.

The third of the Hobbs & Shaw voters agreed to come along anyway despite not being eager to see it, and last Sunday is when we watched it. By the end of the movie, the friend who'd had to be convinced to come now had to be helped out of the cinema by the rest of us because she was feeling so ill after seeing it.

As a result, we'll be going to see Hobbs & Shaw tomorrow, before taking her to a desserts restaurant and buying the biggest sundae she can manage as a way of saying both 'thanks for coming' and 'sorry for making you ill'. But, yes, Midsommar is that type of horror movie - not one to scare you a great deal, but one that will really get under your skin and make you feel queasy.

I have to admit that there were a couple of moments that the tension had built up enough that even I had started to feel a little unwell while watching this movie. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you think something bad is about to happen? Midsommar creates that feeling, but then doesn't provide any kind of release for long stretches of time.

Hell, even when it does, it most likely won't be in the manner you're expecting. From the set-up, you know where this is going and you'll think you know how everything is going to unfold, but the movie lets that feeling linger and linger before something will happen that will be both shocking and surprising. There won't be any fanfare either, nor will there be any cheap jump scares.

If you've seen The Wicker Man (and please, watch the original), then you can expect something similar from Midsommar, except pushed just that little bit further with how weird and freaky it all gets. They're both 'folk horrors', but I'd say that this movie leans further into the horror side of things, by never making events feel normal - you're aware there's something very wrong early on.

The thing with folk horror is that the pageantry and fanciful ceremonies all seem a little silly on the surface, but Midsommar makes a point of showing just how odd and creepy this can come across in the modern day. The routines and rituals the Hårga go through are depicted a little too seriously to be truly silly, instead often leaving you squirming in awkwardness, much like the main cast.

The oddness of events does allow for some genuine humour though, usually from said cast reacting to what they're seeing - albeit pitch black humour, laughing when you know you really shouldn't. Most of the humour works, but some of it misses the mark, plus there are occasional moments of what feels like unintentional comedy that the film didn't intend the audience to laugh at.

The customs of the Hårga prove confusing for Dani (Florence Pugh) in Midsommar

And there's a similar criticism that can be applied to the cast too: sometimes they react very much like real people would to the eccentric behaviour they witness, then other times they'll ignore what they've seen and press ahead in a manner which feels very much like characters acting in a way to move the story forward rather than behaving like real people.

The best of the bunch is Florence Pugh as Dani, whose character suffers a devastating loss at the start of the movie and spends the whole movie trying to cope with that personal tragedy while weird things are going on around her. I don't want to spoil the ending and what happens to Dani, but Pugh is fantastic from start to finish and I felt very sorry for her character at the end.

As for how the movie looks, I think the movie almost entirely taking place during daylight (thanks to the extremely northern setting) only adds to the unsettling feeling the movie generates, as I think audiences are hardwired to be more scared of the dark - after all, darkness can hide anything, so how can anything horrific hide in constant sunshine?

The only comparison I could really make is that it reminded me of when I was ill in the past: I went to bed on a bright, sunny afternoon and woke up feeling like I'd just had a normal night's sleep, but it was actually about twenty-two hours later. My head and body really struggled to cope with waking up and having more of a summer afternoon left than when I'd gone to bed - the exact kind of disorientation I imagine the characters felt, which allowed me to empathise a lot more than otherwise.

There are also some gruesome images in Midsommar that might put some off, including two deaths early on that don't shy away from depicting mutilated heads as rather mundane sights. That's obviously an unpleasant image, but it's the casual, almost uninterested manner in which they're shown adds an extra layer of creepy.

I imagine a lot of people will bounce off Midsommar, unable to get over how goofy some of the Hårga community's customs are on a surface level. I can understand that, plus a lot of the central characters aren't particularly likeable, so when things turn sour, you don't really have anyone to root for beyond Dani - and she doesn't have the happiest of endings either.

Midsommar is an unsettling movie that will provide plenty of uneasy and stomach-churning moments for those that connect with the movie, but might appear silly and baffling to those who don't. Much like the community of the Hårga and their odd ways, it might appear mundane on the surface, but there's a lot more going on that you'd think when you look a little closer.


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