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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews


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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Midsommar | Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomhgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia | Review

Think you know Sweden? IKEA, ABBA, candy fish, herring, lingonberries, right? Ah, no. Think commune, ritual, blood, inbred oracle, and fire.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, according to writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary) who helms a fresh hell-on-earth nightmare, this one bathed in sunshine. Aster does not turn his camera away from such things, incorporating the singing, cheerful orderliness, and serene smiles of the village inhabitants into the macabre and unforgiving society that slowly reveals itself to be an interwoven symphony of violence and celebration.

Four American grad students and one Swedish ex-pat visit Hälsingland, a remote Swedish commune with its own religion, rituals and traditions. There they witness and partake in Hårga, a midsummer festival that takes place every 90 years.

Dani (Florence Pugh) is the lone female in the academic group. Boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) tries to be supportive, but is distant, almost repelled by her neediness. His friends Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomhgren) do not want Dani to accompany them on the trip, but fear looking monstrous if they object. The poor girl’s been through so much, after all.

Hälsingland is Pelle’s hometown and his tales of its quaintness and of the once-in-a-lifetime Hårga festival pique the group’s sense of adventure. Both Christian and Josh want to base their theses on the sociological aspects of the commune, adding to the existing tension between Christian and Dani. Everyone sleeps in a large, tidy barn structure full of neatly made bed and walls full of pictographs.

The group meet another visiting couple, Simon (Archie Madekwe) and Connie (Ellora Torchia). Aren’t they all lucky to be allowed into this rare and secret society? Isn’t this just the most beautiful, peaceful co-existence among people that can be found? What a gentle, civilized refuge from an ugly, pain-filled world!

Yeah, no. From the first communal meal, events take a fatal turn, starting a slow march through a man-made series of terrifying acts, braided throughout with crisp cotton folk costumes, sunny blonde braids, and friendly bearded faces. Cryptic declarations abound from the elders, and everyone is content except (increasingly) their visitors.

The sun never stops shining as the horror grows. In fact, the sun does not set at all in the far north of Sweden in June. Nothing is hidden from the viewer in Midsommar. You are presented with a close-up view of the grotesque and the morbid, yet somehow serene savagery. It is up to you to look away.

As disturbing and unsettling as Midsommar is, there is a startling juxtaposition with its cinematically lush, natural beauty. Golden fields yield colorful flower crowns and maypole dances, while peaceful forests almost obliterate terrified screams. Almost.

Florence Pugh inhabits her role as Dani so thoroughly that her pain can be felt at a visceral level. The entire film rests on her shoulders, but the supporting cast is a formidable assembly of multigenerational talent, at once both vacant and knowing.

In Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography, the sun is a chilling bright spot illuminating behavior that is too strange to be funny, and too compelling to look away from. There is nowhere to hide in the land of the midnight sun, so you must be prepared for things that go bump in the light.


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