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Midsommar: Ari Aster's sun-soaked horror

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Ari Aster turns his attention towards wilting relationships with this flowery folkloric horror about the carnivals of grief and dependency. Breakout star Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) stars as the nail-biting Dani, who is clinging to a dying relationship with her grad-school boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and senses his mounting resentment towards her.

After Dani is struck by a family tragedy that only suspends their impending breakup due to 'Christian's guilt' (Aster is not always the most subtle), his mild-mannered Scandinavian friend Pelle has an idea. He invites Christian and his college friends to a picturesque Swedish festival that only occurs every 90 years, pitching it as a holiday. And as a transparent last-ditch effort, Christian brings Dani.

This hilariously irritates the college bros, who were planning the trip as a guys' getaway. But still, the group arrive at the Swedish countryside with high hopes as they are greeted by Pelle's welcoming family and friends, generously handing out magic mushrooms in a breathtaking pastoral idyll. Maybe this is going to fix everything, Dani and Christian think as they grin at each other.

This is a chance to breathe, for Christian to get inspiration for his thesis, and for them all to take psychedelics in the sun. But unsurprisingly this flower-crown occasion has sinister implications, and it's not long before it descends into a bloodbath.

This is the central conceit of the film: it is resolvedly anti-twist. The turnings of the plot are right there in the blurb. Of course the white-robed Swedes holding a remote ceremony in the hills are actually part of a mystical death cult. But instead of traditional shocks and gore - which are there, but aren't as prevalent as horror marketing sometimes alludes to - Midsommar is totally confident in its own slow-build and thematic integrity. The film isn't bothered about impressing a modern horror audience used to quick-fire thrills and violence.

But look close enough and there's a different kind of thrill to be found in the flowerbeds, one far more introspective and savage. As certainly as Dani and Christian's relationship is doomed, the fate of Midsommar's narrative is inescapable. Destiny is writ in the daisy-chains. Artistically unburdened, Midsommar blooms into a completely unique kind of horror: one where the real frights are the ones you always knew were coming.

Aster, who claimed a spot as one of horrors leading new voices with last year's Hereditary (alongside Robert Eggers and Jordan Peele, among others), has been open about the fact that Midsommar was inspired by a messy relationship he was once in.

Informed by this first-hand experience, Midsommar feels vulnerable and cathartic amid the bloodshed, and it's also laugh out loud funny. Every character Aster writes is rounded out in twenty-first century hilarity, and one wonders what magic he could pull off with a low-concept, non-horror feature in the future.

Catch Midsommar at The Showroom until 1 August.

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