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This is the sophomore effort from director Ari Aster, who freaked us out with Hereditary. Now, the studios didn’t complain when Endgame was three hours because, well…it’s a Marvel movie. This is a crazy cult, horror flick, and…somehow the studio gave it the greenlight at nearly two and a half hours. And it’s easily going to be the most polarizing movie of the year. People will either love it or hate it. I can guarantee you of that. Yet my wife and I were both somewhere in between. It’s hard to hate a movie that does so many things well.

Often times during this flick, I kept thinking of Led Zeppelin lyrics. So, since the movie meandered a bit, I figure I’m going to with my review. And it might keep me from spoiling anything, by just inserting a Led Zep lyric that reminded me of a certain scene. I’ll start with:

Come to the land of the ice and snow/with the midnight sun where the harsh winds blow…(wait, they used that song to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; bad choice by me).

In the opening scene, I realized we had some solid writing. A young woman (Florence Pugh of Fighting With My Family and Lady Macbeth) is desperate to keep her boyfriend (Jack Reynor of Sing Street). As she explains to her girlfriend, she knows he’s checked out of the relationship. Then the story cuts to a scene where he’s with his friend, talking about ending it. So her suspicions were correct.

The guys are all planning a trip to rural Sweden, because one of the guys in their group lived on a commune there. One of them wants to write a thesis on it. Another one (Will Poulter of We’re the Millers and Maze Runner) thinks it’s an opportunity to get laid. 

The boyfriend shows he’s not just some cad, because he invites his girlfriend to go with them to Sweden, since she is going through something traumatic. The other guys were hoping this would just be a bro trip.

Aster gives us some interesting camera angles (overhead shots, upside down, and slow motion in ways that perfectly fit the scenes). The gang makes the four hour drive from the airport and finally reaches the campgrounds. Family and friends are introduced, and they all promptly eat some magic mushrooms.

Walkin’ in the park just the other day/What do you think I saw?

Crowds of people sittin’ on the grass/With flowers in their hair, saying

“Hey boy, do you wanna score?”

And you know how it is

I really don’t know what time it was/So I asked them if I could stay awhile

Whenever a cult setting is depicted  in a movie, we know no good can come of it. Watching this, I thought of three better movies — The East, Sound of My Voice, and last year’s The Endless (done by two brilliant San Diegans). There will be other movies you’ll think about — a bit of Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, and my wife brought up the fact that “A bear hasn’t gotten that messed up since The Revenant.”

And the interesting tapestries and drawings on the wall of this commune, show us some backstory, which was also done well in Hereditary with the miniature dioramas Toni Collette’s character created. And on that note, I felt Collette should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for that role. In this, Pugh’s performance should at least be considered come awards season. Her acting, subtle facial expressions, and body language — convey so much brilliantly.

Dancing Days are here again/As the summer evening grows

I got my flower, I got my power/I got a woman who knows.

The costumes were great, and it’s interesting how the Americans (and one British couple) stand out with their colorful clothing, amongst the white clothing of the group. The folksy music creates an eerie vibe, and the score is perfect for this (even the use of the Frankie Valli song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore in the closing credits was a wise, humorous choice).

The movie also uses humor nicely, which a dark, folksy horror flick can do. The problem is how gratuitously graphic it gets at times. For example, we see somebody early on sacrifice themselves. It’s powerful enough to see from far away. What was the point of a disgusting close-up? There were many moments like that, and I’m sure Aster would argue, that the point was to shock you with just how horrific certain things are.

The movie also meanders a lot, and being billed as a horror movie, it has the same problem Get Out had. It’s really not all that scary. It’s just a creepy story with scary situations, not actual scares.

One of the other disappointing things about this movie is that it’s rather predictable, and because of that, it makes the long run time seem a bit excessive (although I was never bored, and I was at a 10:15 p.m. showing). It just makes you yearn for a better story, that isn’t so exposition laden. 

She asked us to stay for tea/and have some fun…

Although some of these rituals feel like things we’ve seen in other cult movies, some of it was so utterly bizarre and mesmerizing. As were the set pieces. It’s also interesting that, with the sun never setting, things can be just as creepy in the light of day.

It is the springtime of my loving/The second season I am to know

You are the sunlight in my growing/So little warmth I’ve felt before.

One of the problems with this movie is that you never really care for these people. Pugh plays the most sympathetic of the bunch, but even her character is a bit problematic when you think about how she tried so hard to keep a man that clearly isn’t interested.

I thought I’ve seen interesting dance contest scenes in movies (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Grease), but the one here takes the cake and makes us wonder just what’s in store for us in the third act. Who knew it was a contest to name the May Queen?

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow/Don’t be alarmed now/It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.

One of the things that was enjoyable was that the people talked the way I felt they would. In some horror movies, you wonder why they would go into the basement or into the woods at night. In this, a few people do decide to leave early. And, some of the weird rituals get explained, to convince the others to stay. It all felt plausible.

Someone told me there’s a girl out there/With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.

Often times, the movie felt self-indulgent. Yet every time there were moments that bugged me, there’d be something interesting, like psychedelic imagery that was cool. Food on the table throbbing as if it were alive, trees breathing, flowers pulsating. It was like I was on a trip without having dropped any acid.

It’s also the first time I can recall, since being a kid watching The Boys From Brazil, where seeing young, blonde kids running around gave me an eerie feeling.

Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true/Wanted a woman, never bargained for you

Lots of people talk and few of them know/the soul of a woman was created below.

2 ½ stars out of 5. Not for the faint of heart.


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