You can’t be afraid of the dark in Midsommar, because darkness never comes. Everything that happens in writer-director Ari Aster’s cornea-searing, fantastically unnerving folk-horror reverie unfolds in the dazzling glare of June-bright sunlight — a waking nightmare nestled cozily within the clapboard barns and verdant valleys of the Swedish countryside (though actually, it was shot in Hungary).
Emotionally fragile Dani (Outlaw King’s Florence Pugh) is still lost in the fugue of a recent family tragedy when she gloms onto a guys’ trip her increasingly distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and several of his friends have planned: two pastoral weeks in the hometown of their fellow grad student, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
Though it’s not really a town at all, more a small communal settlement — and its beatific residents, with their Maypoles, muslin gowns, and flower crowns, seem to be toeing some hazy Scandinavian line between weekend at Coachella and Wicker Man. The group’s arcane rituals — the psychedelic teas and hand-carved runes, a lone bear in a cage that nobody offers to explain — seem charmingly quirky at first, and then more sinister.
Aster (Hereditary) is more a master stylist and moodsetter than a storyteller; even the plot’s most unsettling turns tend to come telegraphed with portent. Characters, too, lean toward archetype: the callow, self-absorbed boyfriend (Reynor); the earnest academic (William Jackson Harper); the boorish horndog (Will Poulter).
But his actors — especially the luminously expressive Pugh — are too good not to make the most of their roughly sketched roles. And like the fretful violins that stagger raggedly over the soundtrack, the skin-pricking pleasures of Midsommar aren’t rational, they’re instinctive: a thrilling, seasick freefall into the light. A–