Review: ‘Midsommar’ delivers relationship woes and twisted horrors in the light of day

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In “Midsommar,” directed and written by Ari Aster, a research trip to a Swedish commune for a group of American grad students goes horribly wrong. (Photo credit: A24)
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By Richard Roeper

Clocking in at a bloated two hours and 20 minutes of very slow build, the gorgeous, weird and ludicrous horror film “Midsommar” tests our patience more than once before delivering some seriously grisly and wonderfully twisted material in the final act.

On the heels of last year’s instant horror classic “Hereditary,” the blazingly talented writer-director Ari Aster again delivers some arresting and truly disturbing imagery, even as some of the themes he explores and the big set pieces in the last few scenes feel a bit repetitive and derivative this time around.

“Midsommar” is a nightmare taking place mostly in the light of day in a remote village in the Swedish countryside where the sun rises before 4 a.m. and sets after 10 p.m.

Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a grad student from Sweden, has invited his American roommates to spend a month with him in his home village. It’s a self-sustaining community where everyone dresses in white and displays cultish loyalty to the rules, and there are libations that seem to contain magical powers, and oh yeah, there’s a bear in a cage nobody talks about.

The roster of American guests includes Christian (Jack Reynor), a self-centered charmer; Josh (William Jackson Harper), an ambitious academic; and Mark (Will Poulter), a leering womanizer who just wants to get high and get lucky.

Also, along for the trip: Christian’s girlfriend, Dani (Florence Pugh), who accepted her boyfriend’s invitation to join. This is much to Christian’s chagrin because he didn’t really mean it — even though Dani has recently experienced an unspeakable family trauma and needs Christian now more than ever.

At this point it should be obvious: Christian is the worst. It works because, at its core, “Midsommar” is a break-up movie, a metaphor about the destruction of a relationship.

Pelle’s extended family greets the American visitors with open arms, welcomes them to the community and sets them up with accommodations in a super-cute bed-and-breakfast-type barn. What’s there to worry about?

Judging by all those intricate carvings on the walls and the ceilings, and the wide-eyed weirdness of just about everyone who lives in this isolated community, there’s a lot to worry about.

The American guests are smart and savvy, and in the case of at least one student, well-versed in the history of the pagan rituals taking place in the village.

They’re also idiots, just as dumb and dopey as the typical collection of clueless morons in the woods in a sub- standard slasher movie.

Even as writer-director Aster creates an ever more elaborate, ever more grotesque puppet show — including one of the most insanely graphic group sex scenes in modern motion picture history — “Midsommar” is at its heart the story of a relationship gone wrong.

Kudos to Jack Reynor, who looks more than a little like a slimmed-down Seth Rogen, for his funny and empathetic work as Christian. Florence Pugh, who killed as the WWE wrestler Paige in “Fighting With My Family” earlier this year, is even more impressive in this movie as Dani, who has put up her boyfriend for far too long.

Until now.

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