A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
A vast improvement over the wildly overrated “Hereditary,” director Ari Aster gives us a slow-burn of a horror film that gradually gets under the viewer’s skin and proves hard to shake, even after the credits role. Florence Pugh ably carries the film as Dani, a troubled woman trying to deal with the sudden death of her parents and sister, whose vulnerability comes into play when she, her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and two other friends attend a pagan festival in Sweden. The movie proves to be an immersive experience that envelopes the viewer in a story that masterfully and deliberately sets up its premise in an unassuming manner before springing its final, horrific denouement.
Bizarre is putting it lightly. The events that occur are disturbingly horrific as Ari Aster pushes the envelope on this one. While it has a better narrative arc than “Hereditary” and Aster masterfully sets up each and every situation with eerie perfection, the gruesome onslaught leaves nothing to the imagination and only burns indelible images into your memory. Social issues such as mental illness, suicide, family, and caring for our aging population drive the underlying premise of this film forward and Pugh along with a small ensemble cast create characters that develop in the most unexpected ways. Aster’s commentary about this is obvious, along with his foreshadowing of the horrors that await. Believe it or not, there’s a splash of comedy throughout most of the film, but it’s not enough to offset the brutality of it all.