Midsommar ★★★★½

Is likely to do for sharp inhale-exhales what Hereditary did for tongue clucks. 2019's other rising horror director gets his own sprawling sophomore feature to further explore his obsessions with the extremities of grief, and as with his debut, this was definitely my cup of tea (with enhanced properties).

Plot-related details in any review of Aster's films should be kept brief-to-deliberately-unmentioned, so I'd rather pivot to the craft of this one, because for me at least, that's really what makes it so damn worth sitting in a ball while the folk-orchestral score shouts at you for two and a half hours. Aster and Pawel Pogorzelski wield their camera like a sword. It's amazing to see how they can condense so much information into a shot, often staying put where lesser directors would devolve into a messy, location-jumping, shot-reverse-shot purgatory. In an early phone conversation, the camera sits within Florence Pugh's personal bubble for the entirety of the call, and is enrapturing. She leans forward into an unnoticeable focus pull, and all I can think is, god damn, there are few people on this Earth that can make a static, ultra-closeup look this good. Bear in mind, this is before the film gets all post-modern 30 Days Of Night on us.

Spending time with the Harga, in the sunlight, is made wonderful through the film's production design. Literally, there isn't much there. But there's a lot of detail written on the walls, and the way the film keeps you in the dark about the cult's rituals allows the expositional scenes to be genuinely interesting. Except, I don't care about the anthropology. I'm wanting to learn as much as I can so I can leave. It's a wonder why you don't see much bright horror these days. It's such a sinister trick. Knowing that the sun won't fully set gives sets the same nervous expectation in your mind as black, unlit night.

Florence Pugh is climbing high up my list of Hollywood favorites. She is the film's battered, beating heart. I sincerely hope she isn't snubbed come Oscar time as Toni Collette was. The rest of the cast is great too, although I do wish they were given more screen time. The film does falter when it comes to exploring other characters, and does an unsatisfactory job at bringing them to any sort of end, but this is Pugh's show. She more than makes up for it.

While I do prefer Hereditary, simply because it's tighter and more terrifying to this one's unnerviness, there is no doubting Ari Aster's talent for marrying real emotional turmoil with familiar horror setups. In a world where the psychology of horror film characters is oft-neglected, or flat out nonexistent, he is running circles around the genre. He understands that to confront life's traumas is to purge them from you, a task that's hardly ever squeaky-clean. Some faces are bound to be squashed in the process.