In Brief: The Annabelle and Chucky movies in theaters are crap. This is a REAL horror movie.
Ari Aster is not a name many of you will recognize. He’s probably never going to be that person. Aster did last year’s horror hit Hereditary and has much in common with Michael Haneke whose name is probably equally mysterious to you.
Like Haneke, Aster writes and makes really creepy movies.
And — at least so far — like Haneke (White Ribbon, Amour, Funny Games) Aster also makes very good, and very original films. Midsommar sits on a cross somewhere between what Haneke does and though he’s not often all that good, M. Knight Shyamalan when he manages to do something right.
Aster casts Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family) as Dani. She’s a young woman whose parents and sister commit suicide. Devastated, she clings to her boyfriend Christian. He’s done by Jack Reynor (Kin). Christian wants to break up with Dani but doesn’t because of her fragile condition.
His friends — played by Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper and Vilhelm Blomgren — don’t understand his decision but reluctantly go along with it even when she decides to go along with them on a summer trip to Sweden.
Blomgren’s Pelle takes them to an annual festival at his home village. Once they get there, bad things happen. Really bad things.
I’m not going to go too much deeper into the plot because to do so would include spoilers. Let’s just say this is a familiar yet unique horror story and leave it there.
Aster’s film is a study in contrasts. The young Americans are confused, conflicted and dark. Pugh’s Dani is looking for light in the darkness that has become her life. Christian and his friends have no light in them at all and are just looking to get high and party.
Pelle’s villagers are all dressed in white with beautiful smiles and they are constantly dancing. That seems to be the perfect party for Christian and his friends. Of course, both groups are terribly flawed. The Americans basically have no hope and the hopes of the villagers are based in a deadly acceptance that death is a good thing that benefits them all.
It is pretty easy to guess who is included in the death is an aid to all scenario.
Pugh, Reynor and their co-stars benefit from a script that makes them act. Lines in Aster’s script are minimal. They’re forced to use facial expressions and their bodies to show what their characters are thinking. They get the job done and do it close to perfection.
Give credit for that to Aster whose writing is troubling in a good way. This is a very difficult movie to watch. Like Hereditary, it starts with lots of light but there are contrasts that go with the light. The film is bright and sunny from the time they hit Sweden until the disturbing climax.
Yet, it’s also very dark and very, very uncomfortable.
Aster keeps you on pins and needles from the beginning. You know that something bad is going to happen in every scene. Of course it doesn’t but you know it’s possible and even more likely than not. That leads to another contrast. Plenty happens but in unexpected yet expected ways.
I grew up loving horror movies. These days most horror is crap like the Annabelle movie and the Chucky movie that are in theaters now. Once in awhile though, someone comes up with a gem.
Aster’s movie is just that.
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Rated R for mature themes, violence, language and nudity. A great sophomore effort by Ari Aster. Very disturbing, sometimes tough to watch but this is the real deal, a very, very good horror movie. Give it a frightening Friday Flicks 4 on the o to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.