"A Wizard of Oz for perverts", that's how 32-year-old New York director Ari Aster sums up his much-awaited new film film, which follows the successful release of his first film, Hérédité last year. A leader (arguable along with with Jordan Peele - the director behind Us and Get Out) in elevated horror, Aster follows in the footsteps of the most brilliant authors of the horrific genre, from Stanley Kubrick (The Shining) to Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby).
In the centre of the film, the character of Dani, played by the incredible Florence Pugh, an American student whose boyfriend Christian is inexorably moving away at a time when a family tragedy is hitting her hard. Christian plans with other PhD friends to study the pagan rituals of a small community in Sweden, rituals that only take place every 90 years, and Dani, in the midst of depression, inadvertently grafts herself onto the trip.
The filmmaker therefore begins by twisting one of the first precepts of the genre by choosing to unfold his plot not in a threatening night but under the permanent pastel sun of June: that of traditional festivals with the aseptic atmosphere of the Swedish summer solstice with flower crowns, embroidered blouses, folk dances, pretty houses and bucolic feasts. Aster pays homage to the classic horror film The Wicker Man (1973), which sees Christopher Lee as a guru who orchestrates a cruel cult on a small Scottish island.
The sun does not prevent horror. On psychedelic drugs, Dani, emotionally driven and seduced by the hårga, the pagan (imaginary) religion of the smiling and disturbing locals, ends up participating in disturbing and violent ceremonies until she reaches a hallucinatory limit. The first screenings of the film disturbed and delighted many critics in the United States, particularly because Ari Aster, who wrote this film to process a difficult break-up, puts Dani and Christian's deliquescent love story and grief at the heart of his horror film. Resulting in a film that is as seductive as it is terrifying.
Midsommar, by Ari Aster with Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor and Will Poulter was initially released in New York City in June this year.