Csaba Aknay / A24

The independent studio and production house A24 might be making the biggest gamble of the summer movie season. They’re releasing Midsommar, Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster’s languid, 147-minute-long psychological horror film that’s shot almost entirely in broad daylight and features zero marquee names (the most recognizable face is the guy who plays Chidi on The Good Place), and they’re releasing it on Fourth of July weekend—the same Fourth of July weekend when theaters will be overwhelmed with crowds for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Far from Home.

In some ways, at least, their timing makes sense: Midsommar’s release comes on the heels of the summer solstice, when many countries hold elaborate, age-old festivities to celebrate the new season. Aster sets his unsettling and unforgettable story during one such celebration: a fictional fête held every 90 years in the isolated Swedish commune of Hårga. The quaint, seemingly innocuous affair turns out to have very dark origins and practices—something that’s slowly uncovered by a group of dopey Americans visiting the village for thesis research.

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By stretching the pace of his storytelling, Aster manages to get an even firmer hold on the audience.

Most of them are there for research, anyway. Dani (a perfect Florence Pugh) is merely tagging along with her hapless, thoughtless boyfriend (Jack Reynor), in search of something to help quiet the anguish caused by the death of her sister and parents (with shades of Hereditary, those deaths occur in a particularly harrowing incident early in the film). As the layers of Hårga’s disturbing celebration are peeled back, Dani stumbles through the stages of grief—and realizes how much danger she’s in.

Much of Midsommar plays out like a sun-drenched companion to Hereditary: Both films are stories of mourning colored by the director’s fascination with occult practices and gross-out shocks. But by stretching the pace of his storytelling and allowing small veins of comedy to cut through the tension, Aster manages to get an even firmer hold on the audience. It’s a slow squeeze that gradually turns into a tight death grip, and when Aster finally lets go—via a stunner of a final shot—the relief and delight that follows is glorious.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30