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Midsommar

Traveling Americans learn why you should first check Trip Advisor

What begins as an idyllic retreat during a Swedish Midsommar festival takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing. <<© A24>>

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are not a happy couple. Despite years together, she worries he will leave her. He wants to, but he doesn’t want the bad guy rep.
    Before he can work up the nerve to go, tragedy strikes, leaving Dani in a deep depression. Stuck playing the doting boyfriend while complaining to his pals, he insincerely invites Dani along on his boys’ trip to Sweden. Nobody’s happy when she agrees.
    The destination is a rare Midsommar festival in remote northern Sweden, where graduate student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) grew up. The festival holds a wealth of thesis material for anthropology student Christian and his friends.
    The Americans are welcomed to the isolated community by joyous people with open arms and hallucinogenic teas. Their gracious hosts and odd customs charm the students.
    But as customs become odder, the outsiders wonder what the purpose of this Midsommar festival is.
    Midsommar solidifies director Ari Aster (Hereditary) as one of the most fearless and fascinating filmmakers working today. He turns the horror genre on its ear. There is plenty of gore, tension and good acting but few surprises. The point isn’t the end. It’s the journey.
    Midsommar considers toxic relationships and our need to find community, even at the cost of compromising ourselves. Aster employs no jump scares, and he rarely relies on overly dramatic music. Still, there is plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat, as he takes us on a long, gruesomely disturbing march.
    Camera work makes this film a triumph. Aster employs sweeping wide shots and careful, subtle CGI to make the film a living thing. Blossoms seem to breathe, the hills ripple in unnatural ways and faces in the friendly crowd of villagers are slightly misshapen. This eerie effect makes everything unsettling.
    Also a cut above is Pugh’s astounding performance as Dani. Swinging from desperation to animalistic grief, she is a raw nerve of a woman who clings with her fingernails to signs of affection. She’s mesmerizing as she uncovers the secrets of the Midsommar festival.
    Despite my raptures, Midsommar is not for everyone. It’s unrelentingly brutal, subjecting viewers to well over two hours of pitch black humor. It’s a movie meant to evoke a response, and in my theater responses were pretty diverse. Midsommar is a movie for viewers who appreciate artistry over expediency — and don’t mind a few split skulls along the way.

Great Horror • R • 147 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable
    Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s arm was bitten by a tiger shark. Many people would have quit surfing; Bethany viewed it as a minor setback. She learned how to surf without an arm to balance her and became a pro.
    In this documentary, the surfer, mother and advocate for cleaning the oceans shares her secrets for a happy, productive life.
    It should be an inspiring flick. If you’ve got kids with big dreams, this might be the movie to convince them to follow them.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 98 mins.

Crawl
    Haley (Kaya Scodelario) searches for her father as a hurricane floods her town. She finds him trapped and injured in their house. Fearing they’ll drown before help arrives, Haley seeks a way out.
    What she finds is a giant alligator.
    Fans of schlock horror and goofy CGI effects may find entertainment in one woman’s battle with an alligator.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 87 mins.

Stuber
    Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver hoping to earn quick cash and a five-star rating. He’s expecting rides to the mall or the movies when Vic (Dave Bautista) jumps in his car.
    A cop obsessed with catching a killer, Vic is a bit of a loose cannon, offering Stu a gun and trying to rope him into his investigation. What will Stu do to avoid a one-star rating?
    Both Nanjiani and Bautista have proven themselves excellent comic talents. They can make almost anything funny, which is lucky, as this script lacks that quality and many others.
Prospects: Dim • R • 105 mins.