I know! Twice in (a little over) a week! And by the time you read this, I’ll have been again. This could be the first month where my Unlimited Card has actually given me value for money!
Last week, I went to see Yesterday, the new Richard Curtis rom-com, directed by Danny Boyle, this year’s “feel good hit of the summer”.
The film I went to watch on Thursday evening could not be further from a feel good movie.
Here’s the plot: Dina and Christian are a couple on the edge of separating. In fact, were it not for the fact that Dina is having a very hard time indeed dealing with her bi-polar sister, then Christian probably would have ended the relationship long ago.
And then tragedy strikes Dina’s family, and suddenly her sister is no longer a problem. And neither are her parents. This is all in the first ten minutes, mind. A message is being sent by director Ari Aster: if you think this is a grim way to start a film, just you wait.
Christian and his college pals Josh, Mark and Pelle are planning on travelling to Sweden, to Hålsingland, the commune where Pelle was raised, to take part in a festival which only comes around once every 90 years. Each has their own reason for going: Josh is writing a thesis on pagan rituals, Mark wants to meet Swedish chicks, and Christian just wants to get two things: away from Dina and his shit together. But following the tragedy, he invites Dina to join them, much to the horror of Josh and Mark, and the creepy joy of Pelle.
Here’s the trailer:
The film moves, appropriately enough for a film set in Scandinavia, at a glacial pace, but that’s not to say it’s ever dull or that you find yourself wishing something would happen, because you know that when it does, it’s going to be gruesome.
For from the moment the group arrive at the camp and meet their fellow festival goers, you just know that something bad is just around the corner. They take natural hallucenogenic drugs within minutes of arriving, and the film moves into a suitably ephemeral dream-like state; these are not like any herbal highs I ever tried, for they make plant, flower and tree life come alive, you can see them breathe. It’s trippy beyond belief; on more than one occasion I found myself blinking, rubbing my eyes and thinking: did that flower just exhale?
And that’s the contrast at the heart of the movie: the everlasting sunshine on gorgeous green fields, all beautifully shot, the setting for some seriously unsettling shit.
The gang meet a young English couple, Connie and Simon, who may as well have the words “won’t last the whole film” tattooed on their foreheads, and then the festivities begin, and it all gets watch-through-the-gaps-in-your-fingers weird.
It reminded me of two films: 2017’s brilliant Get Out and the original 1973 Edward Woodward version of The Wicker Man; both seemed ground-breaking in the horror genre and Midsommar seems cut from the same cloth. And the reason for that is that in all three, all the way through, there’s a brooding sense of forboding, that something is bubbling just beneath the surface, that all is not quite what it seems, that something is not quite right here and, above all, that something utterly grim is about to happen.
And it does. Oh boy, oh boy, it does.
A large part of that feeling is down to the musical score, composed by Bobby Krlic (aka the Haxan Cloak); it’s always there, it seems, emphasising the beauty and horror as it unfolds, which, now I write it down, I realise is exactly what a musical score is supposed to do.
It’s minimal and then it’s complicated. In some places it drones, in others it soars; drums are rattled and pipes are blown, it’s eerily beautiful. Imagine Brian Eno in full-on ambient mode, but instead of any electronic musical equipment at his fingertips, he has a bunch of twigs, some harps, violins and a bunch of humming and howling Nordic nutters. (I’m no Eno afficionado, so I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised to find out he has a whole back-catalogue of that kind of stuff that I’m blissfully unaware of.)
Actually, don’t take that as an accurate comparison at all, have a listen for yourself, but don’t expect to have a smile on your face after listening to these. They’re all exquisitely beautiful, bright yet dark, just like the film: