Review: Midsommar

Mats Blomgren, Anna Åström and Isabelle Grill in “Midsommar.”
Mats Blomgren, Anna Åström and Isabelle Grill in “Midsommar.”

Following a traumatic loss, Dani (Florence Pugh) travels to Sweden with her obnoxious boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his coterie of friends. In Sweden, they enter a remote commune that practices Old Norse paganism. At first, the commune’s pastoral lifestyle seems charming. But sinister doings are afoot and, soon enough, blood flows like glӧgg.

“Midsommar” is a jewel of world-building. Every frame is crowded with details that give an authentic sense of an ancient and complex tradition that sprawls far beyond the borders of the screen. These Nordic pagans aren’t cartoon cultists, in spite of the white robes. Each shot, carefully composed, magnetizes the eye and develops a mood of uncertainty and menace. The climax, featuring maypole-dancing and other Scandi revelries, ascends to a Dalíesque level of weirdness without sacrificing a sense of reality.

If only the characters of “Midsommar” were as finely drawn as the world they inhabit! Dani, who is apparently intended to be a downtrodden underdog, seems mainly self-victimizing. Her boyfriend is clumsily written as a narcissistic, philandering dudebro. One often has the feeling that the film is trying to browbeat you into despising him, so that when he is – spoiler alert – in effect, roofied, molested and set on fire, you can feel some satisfaction about it. It’s when “Midsommar” draws back from its crudely written characters that the film really shines as a masterpiece of world-building and atmosphere.