If you need a bolt of violence and suspense to combat your ennui, this trio will wake you up.
Midsommar (2019) A couple travels to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled midsummer festival, but what begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. (Wikipedia) Writer/director Ari Aster (Hereditary), continues his trend for psychological suspense with bits of in-your-face disturbing surprises. Midsommar is like a pot of water set for a slow boil. Perhaps viewers think the pace is too slow? I like the punishing pace. 4/5
The storyline of Midsommar is plausible enough in the first third by establishing the motive of visiting the rural community in Sweden. The male anthropologist/historian Ph.D. students fight over the pagan society as they try to claim it as their dissertation topic. Dummies. White guys trying to “own” another culture is a sure sign they’re gonna go down. However, their tagalong, the anxious, fragile female will become the winner. Even though you can predict generally what’s going to happen, there are enough details and twists to make it an arresting film of the senses. Nothing like a beautiful setting to tell a horror story. It’s a contrast I appreciate.
Once the guests arrive at the enchanting location, the pace picks up and the charming quirkiness of the village turns into run-for-the-hills horror. Three cheers to Florence Pugh for an electrifying performance. She gives sophistication to her complex character much the same way Toni Collette did in Hereditary. Beware of blind tradition; it’s as though author Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”) whispered beyond the grave into Aster’s ears and he ran with the concept.
The Nightingale (2018) Clare, a young Irish convict, chases a British officer through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness and is bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence the man committed against her family. On the way, she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past (Wikipedia). Director Jennifer Kent creates a stunning period film from the perspective of a determined, female protagonist. Actress Aisling Franciosi (Lyanna Stark, GoT) is convincing as Clare Carroll, a singing beauty who is a servant in 1825. She lives a harsh existence but is able to withstand the beasts of the British penal colony which will eventually become Tasmania. Kent holds nothing back as the violence in the story is filmed in a raw fashion as harsh as the Tasmanian setting. 4/5
Jo Jo Rabbit (2019) Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on. (Wikipedia). If you want to read an excellent review regarding what’s wrong with Jo Jo Rabbit, I recommend Owen Gleiberman‘s review in Variety found here:
Mr. Gleiberman makes a compelling argument. I loved it anyway. I thought it daring, fun and sad like all good coming-of-age stories. Is it Moonrise Kingdom with sass? Okay. I agree with that. Is it “a feel-good movie, but one that uses the fake danger of defanged black comedy to leave us feeling good about the fact that we’re above a feel-good movie,” says the critic? I love feel-good movies without the Hallmark cheese. The acting of the entire cast was entertaining. Roman Griffin Davis (Jo Jo). Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa the hidden Jew). Taika Waititi (Hitler). Rebel Wilson (youth camp assistant) Sam Rockwell (perfect as the youth camp leader). Scarlett Johansson (Rosie, the mom with the cool shoes). In German class, my high schoolers loved it. Maybe that’s why I did, too, for it is pitched to the kid at heart. I’ll be watching this film annually for years to come. 4.5/5