There’s no way “Midsommar” should go on for 140 minutes — it’s surely way too long for a slow-boil horror story, as though writer-director Ari Aster needed the extra time to throw in every creeped-out variation on his theme.
But without the running time, “Midsommar” wouldn’t have its madly epic quality. And make no mistake: This movie is epic. Also completely mad.
Aster’s first feature was last year’s “Hereditary,” a piece of supremely controlled terror that built to a buckle-up-we’re-goin’-all-the-way-here conclusion. The audience I saw it with openly jeered at the screen during the final 20 minutes. I loved it.
For “Midsommar,” Aster goes in a different direction. Instead of the dark, claustrophobic interiors of “Hereditary,” he sculpts a story set in the bright summer sun of Sweden, where midnight is still daylight in June.
The place is home to a New Age (or is it pagan?) community (or is it a cult?) where the inhabitants prepare for a ceremony that happens once every 90 years. They dress in blindingly white folk garb, they decorate the open-air compound with wildflowers, they sip hallucinogenic brews.
Our focal point is Dani (the petite yet formidable Florence Pugh), who’s come to this place with a group of college pals and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, from “Free Fire”). The commune is the boyhood home of their exchange-student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a gentle soul.
Their group is rounded off with Josh (William Jackson Harper, from “The Good Place”), who plans to do a postgrad research project on the sect, and Mark (Will Poulter), who’s around to crack jokes.
It is no spoiler to suggest that something sinister might be lurking in all the sunny smiles and welcoming embraces. The folk horror that rolls out is sometimes shocking, sometimes ghastly, and mostly as brilliant as the too-bright sun.
Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski constantly find unsettling angles from which to view the action. Even in relatively normal scenes, you might feel chemically altered, just based on how you’re seeing things.
Add the nerve-bending music by Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) and you’ve got an extremely edgy 140 minutes to contend with.
It’s not just effects, though. The way Aster mercilessly sketches his characters has lot to do with our commitment to the material. The passive-aggressive relationship between Dani and Christian, for instance, is palpable, and Dani’s grief over a recent family tragedy is surely simmering beneath many of her decisions.
Florence Pugh, who was terrific in “Lady Macbeth,” provides exactly the right amount of gravity for a movie that will go bananas. The rest of the cast is a little bland by comparison, in fact.
Nothing is off the table here: not explicit nudity and head-crushing, not the spookiness of Swedish dialect (nice language, don’t get me wrong, but still), not a mysterious bear that, having been introduced in the first act, must by necessity go off before the end. Take this as a warning or an invitation, because there’s nothing else quite like this movie.
“Midsommar” (3½ stars)
A group of college friends visits an isolated commune in Sweden, where the locals are preparing for a rare ceremony. Can anything good come of this? Not with “Hereditary” director Ari Aster at the helm, as every creeped-out variation on the folk-horror theme is trotted out with glee. Florence Pugh lends a necessary gravity to the truly mad visions on display here.
Rating: R, for nudity, violence
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall