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Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia

Director: Ari Asster

Given that all too often horror movies tend to be sneered at by the 'intellectual' media for pandering to lowest common denominator-enjoying filmgoers, the praise being heaped on writer-director Aster's second feature (following 2108's Hereditary) by reviewers who usually disregard the genre is all the more fascinating and, even more strangely, unexpected for a movie whose dialogue is English.

Aster is one of a kind - although, considering the horrors on offer, perhaps 'kind' is the least likely word to consider in describing the grisly, gruesome gore-and-guts shocks he inflicts on his luckless band of American students who travel to rural Sweden to enjoy one of the country's most famous midsummer festivals - only to find themselves trapped in a grisly living nightmare of ancient sex-and-sadism heavy pagan rituals.

Young Americans Pugh and Reynor are in the process of breaking up when, reunited by a family tragedy, Pugh invites herself to join Reynor and his fellow students on which turns out to be hell-on-earth in a Darkest rural Scandinavia which poses as the land of eternal sunlight but pitches the luckless travellers into a slick, sick and increasingly gripping deep-black, sex-sodden comedy shocker when the seemingly bucolic villagers entice the visitors to take part in bizarre supernaturally-driven festivities that reveal the diabolical backstory of the far-from-innocent villagers...

The ensuing chills and thrills are delivered with an effectively sinister straight face, nerve-scraping suspense and increasing nastiness, along with sex scenes that mark something of a new milestone in commercial (as opposed to patent porn) cinema.

Aster makes the most of his players' unfamiliar faces to add uncomfortable realism along with brand-new locations, a fascinating rural mise-en-scene populated by genuinely frightening ritualistic maniacs and, most impressively, a potent display of the visually and physically macabre that makes the somewhat similar (but far less shocking) rustic horrors displayed by Witchfinder-General resemble nothing so much as a series of pallid Enid Blyton tropes.

Alan Frank

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Colour.
147 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 06 Jul 2019