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Why Midsommar could be the modern day The Wicker Man

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With the summer season fast approaching, the grass growing ever-greener, flowers blooming and amber cider flowing, what could be more appropriate than a jaunty midsummer festival?

However, the festival getaway depicted in Hereditary director Ari Aster's upcoming movie Midsommar is perhaps not quite the breezy escape you had in mind. Set for release on 5th July, the current details of Midsommar are rather sparse, but what we have seen so far suggests something akin to the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man.

Here's why we think Aster's next foray into the genre could be a modern day take on the much beloved Edward Woodward-starring masterpiece.

There are thematic similarities

The themes running through Midsommar mirror those of The Wicker Man very closely. The story centres on a couple (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) who travel to beautiful Sweden to visit their friend's rural hometown and its fabled mid-summer festivities.

Beginning as an idyllic retreat, the vacation quickly takes a turn for the violent and bizarre as the lovers are ensnared in a creepy cult ritual. Black Mirror's Will Poulter stars as another key player in the terror that unfolds.

From the chilling, robotic smiles of the festival patrons to the perfectly white robes and brightly coloured flower crowns – the world of Midsommar communicates something outwardly blissful yet inwardly horrifying.

These seemingly perfect surroundings are reminiscent of the Scottish village of Summerisle, where The Wicker Man takes place – this is the place where Woodward's Sergeant Howie arrives, only to find himself at the mercy of a dangerously maniacal pagan cult.

Like The Wicker Man, Midsommar also promises a relentless feeling of isolation, one that envelops our characters as they are trapped with their cheery captors among the picturesque Swedish forest.





It's horror grounded in reality

Although he's only got one feature film to his name, director Ari Aster made quite the impact with last year's horror smash-hit Hereditary. It dabbled in the immensely traumatic power of grief, darkly mysterious secrets and creepy, murderous cults to create an atmospheric fright fest that elevated itself above jump scares and into something much more terrifyingly nuanced.

Similar to The Wicker Man director Robin Hardy, Aster's profound ability to communicate understated yet piercing horror is impressive. In The Wicker Man, it's the steady unveiling of Summerisle's eccentric community that really terrifies, eventually portraying them as a murderous cult in thrall to their superstitions. Throughout, we're witness to Howie's dawning horror that his devout Christian beliefs will not necessarily protect him from this paganistic menace. And throughout the film remains utterly plausible, daring us to imagine a real-life scenario where this could happen.

In the case of Hereditary, it's the emotional collapse of Toni Collette's anguished mother that is the centre point of all the horror that unfolds, grounding everything in relatable human emotion.

We've yet to see how Midsommar will tackle this area, although given the film focuses on the terrific Florence Pugh (who excellent in the recent Fighting With My Family), we can expect the horror to be imbued with plenty of conviction and drama.


It's all about atmosphere

The Wicker Man details the case of a missing girl from a small Scottish island whose very existence is denied by the island's inhabitants. The police chief sent to investigate, Howie, is appalled to discover that the islanders practice a form of Celtic paganism and is even more appalled at the lengths they will go to just to appease their gods. The film is a slow-burning mediation on dread and overwhelming unease; questions beget questions as the mystery unfolds, spearheaded by a casually threatening Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle.

The Wicker Man has been heralded as the Citizen Kane of horror films, and Midsommar promises a similar approach. It looks at how rural traditions mutate and transform into something malevolent, using outdoor locations shot in broad daylight to emphasise the terror. Just like the former movie, Aster's film plays against the traditional notion that horror is at its scariest in a claustrophobic, dimly lit environment.

On that note, Midsommar is an intriguing contrast with Aster's previous movie, which was largely set indoors and mirrored the aesthetics of a doll's house, interior landscapes shot at a distance to emphasise the fragility and vulnerability of the characters.




However, there's no Nicolas Cage

Unfortunately, Midsommar lacks an overacting Nicholas Cage from the 2006 Wicker Man remake. This of course means there will be no men in bear suits parading around, or crying out about bees.

Midsommar is released on 5th July, so let us know @Cineworld if you'll be brave enough to go and see it.

Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.