Review: Midsommar is an unrelenting horror masterpiece

OPINION: Strangely enough, Stephen King hates the most famous adaptation of his own work. 

Describing Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the world's most influential horror writer described the world's most acclaimed horror film as "a movie made to hurt people". 

While King meant it as an insult, it's a phrase which perfectly describes the work of Ari Aster, director of 2017's Hereditary and, now, follow-up folk horror Midsommar.

Aster's latest isn't a direct sequel, but explores the same themes of grief, trauma, and the occult. 

It's a masterful work that uses every cinematic tool to make the audience feel not just fear but soul-shaking dread. This is a movie made to hurt people. 

Midsommar opens with Dani, played by the exceptional Florence Pugh, experiencing a brutal loss in her family. Like Hereditary before it, Midsommar unflinchingly shows raw trauma and uses it as a foundation to build horror. 

To distract from her grief, Dani travels to Sweden with her partner and his friends to spend time with a reclusive community celebrating their rustic summer solstice festival. The village is picturesque, with welcoming hosts and 23 hours of sunshine per day.

However, like Dani, the audience never recovers from the trauma in the opening scenes and we head into the rest of the movie a bundle of raw nerves, spines bare to every crawling shiver.

For most of Midsommar, Aster mines everyday forms of discomfort to keep the viewer on edge. Whereas Hereditary primarily leveraged the supernatural for scares, Midsommar uses the more relatable fear of social anxiety.  

Aster obviously understands that to the average person, new places and new people can be almost as scary as the threat of violence. People will often walk to their graves to avoid causing a scene. 

It's established horror wisdom that you lose your audience once your main characters start acting in obviously stupid ways ("What's that honey? Mysterious Ouija board appeared in our unnaturally cold attic? Better give it to the kids"). Midsommar avoids this pitfall with immaculate writing and a cast that responds believably to their situation. 

They're awkward and increasingly uncomfortable with the village festivities, but desperate not to cause offence. By the time anyone realises they aren't safe, they've missed their chance to leave. 

The film punctuates this creeping tension with a few scenes of graphic violence which are more confronting than any I've experienced in other cinema. Aster doesn't overuse gore, but what he does include will sear in your memory.

A word of warning: while I utterly loved this film, I can't recommend it to everyone. If you're sensitive to suicide, loss of a family member or even mental health issues more generally, then you may want to steer clear. This is a film that never looks away, even when you're begging it to. 

Midsommar will rock you back on your feet in it's opening moments and never let you get your bearings. You'll be shocked before the opening credits even roll. You'll squirm through every frame of Dani's descent into delirious nightmare.

And finally, after seeing the village where the sun never sets for what it truly is, you'll scream.

Four-and-a-half stars. 

Finn Hogan is the host of NerdsPLUS, Newshub's pop-culture discussion podcast.