Despite the brutal horror in Midsommar, the images that’ll stick with you after the credits roll are all close ups of Florence Pugh’s face. Pugh crying inconsolably. Pugh screaming in abject horror. And, in the closing moments, Pugh smiling beatifically.
Like writer/director Ari Aster’s previous film, Hereditary, Midsommar is a story about grief and heartbreak built around one massive performance. When we first meet Pugh as Dani Amour, she’s already in a state of distress, and things only get worse from there. Midsommar opens in mid-winter, as Dani discovers that her depressed sister has killed not only herself but also their parents. Her pain is immense, and the only support she has left is her useless boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), who was already planning to dump her.
But when she invites herself along on a lads’ holiday to Sweden, where Christian and his anthropology student mates are hoping to study the rituals of the mysterious Hårga community, well… let’s just say her internal anguish gets externalised.
This director’s cut doesn’t feel strictly necessary: the extra scenes include an extra abortive ritual and some more bickering, and their inclusion extends an already long film to an indulgent 163 minutes. But then it was an indulgent film in the first place. Did every flat surface really have to be covered in paintings, tapestries, or runes spelling out the unsuspecting characters’ doom? Was there any need for all the scenes of people sitting down to eat together? And were all those over-saturated, distorted flowers really needed? Of course not! But all of those details, plus Pugh’s killer performance, elevate what could have been a basic Wicker Man re-tread into an intense sensory experience that demands your rapt attention.
Yes, it takes nearly three hours to get somewhere any half-savvy horror fan will already have known it was heading. But it’s worth the trip.