What is it about films featuring cults that does it for me? I think the idea of a group of people subscribing to a mass idea with unbridled devotion just sort of freaks me out. I’m not a religious guy, and believe me, I’ve given a few of the organized ones a chance. There are some great ideas that I’ve taken into my own life, but really, like Bob Dylan once dryly joked, the only church I belong to is the church of the poison mind.
For me, when I watch The Wicker Man (either version, though I adore the Nicolas Cage version), I think cult film, though I know for many it would be labeled folk horror. The Invitation – cult film. The Sacrament – cult film. I dig those that I’ve seen and I know there are more waiting for me to find them.
Ari Aster’s Midsommar, out this weekend, is to me a definite cult film, though it also falls under the folk horror banner. Regardless of labels, the movie is full of excellent performances, shocking gore, and genuine laughs. Strange for a film that at its heart is how one deals with trauma.
In Midsommar, Florence Pugh plays Dani, a college student whose live is ripped apart following the murder/suicide of her parents and sister. Dani winds up occupying her one-foot-out-the-door boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a 9-day festival in Sweden that occurs once every ninety years. Drugs are taken, strange drinks are sipped, traditions are revealed and things go downhill fairly quickly.
I’m being purposefully spoiler-free in my description because walking in fairly cold is the way to see Midsommar. Apart from the general concept and the trailers, I didn’t know anything else about the film. “Don’t have any expectations,” our own Sachin Hingoo told me, and I didn’t. Which means everything about Midsommar hit me in a visceral way. I laughed hard and often. I audibly groaned and let out a few “Jesus Christs” as well.
Here’s what I’ll give you. All the performances are well done, but Midsommar is Florence Pugh’s moment. She is given so many emotions to run through, most notably grief, trauma, and loss, and she delivers them all so clearly and vividly that you can’t help but empathize with her character all the time. This connection helps mitigate the fact that Midsommar follows a fairly standard storyline when it comes to cult/folk horror films. If you’re familiar with them, you know that, apart from a few exceptions, you know how this is all going to end. It’s the journey though, not necessarily the destination in this case.
Midsommar isn’t the horror film that writer/director Ari Aster’s Hereditary was; I don’t recall laughing during that one. For my tastes, if I’m comparing the two, Midsommar feels like a superior film, maybe because it’s the lighter of the two. And I’m using lighter loosely – I wouldn’t be taking my mom to see Midsommar, I can assure you. I’ve seen some talk that the movie is too long, but again, for me, its 147 minutes just flowed perfectly.
Ultimately, whether you call it a cult film or a folk horror film, Midsommar is a great movie that’s worth joining an audience for. Just be careful what you sip – you never know what’s in your drink