Movie Review – Downton Abbey (2019)

 Four years on from the final season, Downton Abbey makes its cinematic debut, and it’s safe to say that fans of the series will not be disappointed.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

Downton Abbey picks up in 1927 – one year after the series finished – as the Crawley’s are informed that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be staying with them while visiting the area. Excitement and nerves quickly turn to frustration and disappointment when the servants discover they won’t be waiting on the King and Queen. Instead, they are to be stripped of their duties by the Royal’s own staff.

Upstairs, the Crawley’s are experiencing their own drama. Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) discovers that her cousin and hand to the Queen, Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) has decided not to name Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) as heir to her fortune, so Violet hatches a plan to confront Maud when she arrives at Downton and convince her to change her mind.

The film version of Downton Abbey has definitely been made with the fans in mind. It cleverly acknowledges important past characters, such as Sybil Branson, but still provides enough background information to ensure newcomers can follow along. The film largely avoids drawing from past storylines, choosing to simply place audiences in the Downton Abbey universe during a time when excitement and conflict naturally unfold.

All the regular cast members return, along with several new players who add some drama to the storyline. Series writer Julian Fellowes has also been kept on for the film, carefully constructing a story that can be completely resolved within the space of two hours. While each subplot comes to a predictable conclusion, the Downton service staff bring a light-heartedness to the film that makes it thoroughly enjoyable.

As always, Downton Abbey well and truly belongs to Maggie Smith. Whether she’s engaging in witty banter with Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton), or facing off with Lady Maud, she is captivating in every scene, bringing a touch of feistiness to an otherwise conservative society. Other memorable characters include the enthusiastic Joseph Molesley (Kevin Doyle) whose nervousness ends up revealing itself in a hilarious manner, and Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) whose spunk and wandering eye gets her into trouble.

Filmmaker Michael Engler is in familiar territory here, having directed several Downton Abbey episodes and recent period drama The Chaperone. In collaboration with the production design team, he has continued the glamorous aesthetic of the series, with beautifully extravagant sets and costumes.

Downton Abbey knows its audience and knows what’s going to appeal to them. It’s also careful not to alienate new audiences, subtly reintroducing characters for those unfamiliar and bringing in a brand-new story without any past context needed. It’s very easy watching and is sure to be a hit amongst loyal fans.

Downton Abbey is available in Australian cinemas from 12 September 2019

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

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Movie Review – Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Director James Bobin turns out a surprisingly breezy adventure film for intrepid, fun-loving kids.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is good-natured, easy on the brain and far more entertaining than it should’ve been. The Dora the Explorer cartoons have always championed bravery and determination, led by a stout Latina girl, her loyal monkey companion and a talking backpack. This new live-action version of the character gives us something more: a real sense of danger (at least on a level that children can appreciate) and a spunky lead performance by Isabela Moner, who is filled with energy and goodness. This is the kind of kids movie kids should be seeing.

It all begins in the jungles of Peru. On the shore of a quiet river sits a lovely little timber house. There, Dora (Moner) and her archaeologist parents, Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), live quite serenely, shuffling through old maps, inspecting ancient artefacts and planning adventures into the deep dark forest. Alas, Cole and Elena’s latest quest to uncover the lost Incan city of Parapata is too deep and too dark for Dora, so they send her off to L.A. to spend some time with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg). They think a little city air and a season in an American school will do her good. She might even make a friend.

One look at Dora though and it’s abundantly clear that she’ll be happy to talk to monkeys and poisonous frogs for the rest of her life. Humans are too much work. Luckily, Cole and Elena go missing in the Amazon, which becomes a simple excuse to dump Dora, Diego and two of their classmates, Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and Sammy (Madeleine Madden), in the middle of the rainforest to find them. Never mind how they get there, or why Randy and Sammy have to tag along. What matters is that once the kids begin their rescue mission, the movie gets interesting. Think Indiana Jones meets Legends of the Hidden Temple.

At the end of the day, it’s Moner who is most effective. She seems to genuinely be having a great time, even when she’s about to be devoured by quicksand. There are thrills, spooky sounds in the night, dangerous animals, booby traps, jungle puzzles and even a secret society tasked with protecting the lost city of gold. It’s a grand adventure, populated perhaps by two teenagers too many, but it does the world of Dora some harmless service.

There are upcoming movies about pissed off birds and ugly dolls. For some reason the studios think children are going to enjoy them. I dunno, maybe they will. But if you’re reading this and you have kids, and you’re thinking of a family excursion to the movies, you could do far worse than Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is available in Australian cinemas from 19 September 2019

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – Angel of Mine

An interesting concept that gets bogged down by a lack of story progression.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

Angel of Mine is a fascinating character study of a woman who cannot overcome the death of her child. Director Kim Farrant sets up the film beautifully, showing Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) as a woman suffering through a divorce and struggling to make ends meet in a job she doesn’t enjoy. At a children’s birthday party, Lizzie spots Lola (Annika Whiteley), the sister of her son’s friend, and becomes convinced she is her daughter that she believed died in a fire. Lizzie befriends Lola’s mother (Yvonne Strahovski) and gradually begins to lose her grip on reality.

As soon as Lola is introduced, we start to see a shift in Lizzie. Rapace begins to outwardly express the grief Lizzie has bottled up inside, hinting that she may not be in the best emotional or mental state. She portrays her as a woman unhinged and deeply scarred from events that were outside of her control. While her actions are completely irrational, you can’t help but empathise with her. As Lizzie stalks Lola, Farrant carefully builds spine-tingling tension that lasts right up until the final moments.

Rapace’s performance is nicely contrasted by Strahovski as Lola’s mother Claire. Where Lizzie is quiet, Claire is loud and abrasive. When Lizzie is sneaky and passive, Claire is violent and angry. As Lizzie gets closer to her daughter, Claire becomes more and more paranoid and protective. The juxtaposition leads others to doubt whether Lizzie is actually insane and whether Claire’s accusations against her have any truth to them.

Angel of Mine may be led by two phenomenal performances from Rapace and Strahovski respectively, but it’s ultimately let down by its story. Farrant brilliantly sets the tone for the film, but the stakes don’t quite get high enough for the final reveal to pay off properly. There is a complete lack of momentum in the middle as the film becomes weighed down by its own character study. The final act is then rushed through, reaching a conclusion that is too quick and too perfect for the film to end on a memorable note.

Angel of Mine is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of R&R Films

Movie Review – It Chapter Two

Pennywise is back – and he ain’t clownin’ around. It Chapter Two is bigger, scarier and funnier than the first.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Clocking in at a staggering 1138 pages, Stephen King’s gargantuan 1986 novel It was always going to be tough for any filmmaker to successfully adapt. Not to mention it’s chock full of weird shit – from teen orgies to magical god turtles (seriously, look it up).

However, Argentine director Andy Muschietti has done exactly that, with It Chapter Two bringing this horror duology to a stirring, spooky and seriously strange end. Much like King’s novel, this second film is long, unwieldy and sometimes a slog – but what it lacks in structure it more than makes up for in thrills and spills.

It Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of the first film. The Losers Club have gone their separate ways, with all but one (Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike) leaving Derry and any memory of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) behind in the process. But when children start to disappear from Derry’s streets once again, Mike holds each member of the club to their vow of returning home to put an end to the evil clown once and for all.

James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader star as older versions of Bill, Beverley and Richie respectively. The whole cast wonderfully captures the unique ticks and quirks of their younger selves, but none more so than James Ransone’s hopeless hypochondriac Eddie.

The film’s overarching theme is one of repressed trauma and facing long-forgotten fears – struggling screenwriter Bill can’t find closure; Beverley has bounced from an abusive father to an abusive husband; and Richie is using stand-up comedy to hide a secret. The film takes its time to set the table and flesh out its ensemble, before splitting them up so they can each revisit and do battle with their nightmarish past. The character-driven narrative depends on its actors to lean in and bear the emotional burden, which they absolutely do – particularly Chastain and Hader.

Of course, It Chapter Two wouldn’t work without someone preying on these personal demons, and Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise is once again phenomenal. A seamless blend of performance and visual effects, Skarsgard gleefully goes all in on Pennywise’s head-spinning insanity.

In the first film, Pennywise preyed on childhood fears; now, he has years of repressed trauma and disenchantment to exploit. The result is something angrier, more primal and upsetting than before.

It Chapter Two is terrifyingly entertaining as well as just plain terrifying. Given the choice to ‘go hard or go home’, Muschietti has definitely opted for the former. At nearly three hours, this isn’t some 90-minute penny dreadful – it’s a sprawling cosmic journey that strikes a great balance between spookiness and King’s trademark strangeness. On occasion it struggles to stay afloat under the weight of its own ambition, but by and large this is a triumphant finale that sticks the landing.

It Chapter Two is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Kitchen

Widows 2.0… set in 1970s New York City.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

The Kitchen follows three women (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss) who must quickly learn to become independent when their husbands are incarcerated in an FBI sting. Upon realising the current racket leader isn’t supplying the support promised to local businesses, the women decide to take over. While expansion plans are underway, the husbands are released from prison early, threatening the empire the women have established.

In her directorial debut, screenwriter Andrea Berloff (Sleepless, Straight Outta Compton) effectively captures the atmosphere of the 1970s in Hell’s Kitchen. She successfully mixes the grittiness of the time and place with the sexiness of the fashion of the era, but ironically, it’s the story that lets her down.

Berloff struggles to capture the desperation of these three women. While it is suggested that they will be burdened by financial issues when their men go to prison, their circumstances never become dire enough to justify their turn to crime. In the end, everything is all wrapped up a little too nicely, making the whole story a little hard to believe. That being said, The Kitchen still has its good moments.

Elisabeth Moss ends up stealing the show as the damaged and downtrodden Claire who takes to crime like a moth to a flame. Moss expresses the essence of a woman who has served as nothing more than a punching bag for society, both physically and emotionally. Invigorated by her life of crime, Claire becomes a force to be reckoned with and finds her place in the world.

Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish each bring a certain level of gusto to their respective roles, but their characters don’t have the same level of depth or complexity. Haddish is definitely the weakest link, which makes sense considering this is a big step away from her recent comedic films. This isn’t to say she’s bad; she simply doesn’t carry her character as convincingly as the others.

Ultimately, The Kitchen is an interesting film about female empowerment, but it fails to bring anything more to the table. Its untimely release also means that comparisons are inevitably going to be drawn between it and 2018’s Widows, with the latter unfortunately being a far superior film. The Kitchen has all the components of a thrilling and entertaining film, but the end result is neither compelling nor memorable.

The Kitchen is available in Australian cinemas from 29 August 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Farewell

Lulu Wang explores the cultural gaps between East and West.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There are movies that speak to me on such intimate frequencies they almost seem to be whispering into my ear and no one else’s. The Farewell, the latest film by Lulu Wang, is tender and warm, and it speaks directly to me about my relationship with my grandma. I think we as moviegoers are fortunate when we encounter a film that knows how to reach us.

The Farewell is based on parts of Wang’s life, but I suppose, as someone of Chinese descent, it could also be about parts of mine. We meet Billi (Awkwafina), a young Chinese American girl living in New York with her mum and dad. One day, she learns that her paternal grandma (Zhao Shu Zhen) back in China is stricken with stage 4 lung cancer. Instead of bearing bad news, the goal for Chinese families is to make the patient’s remaining days as happy as possible, even if it means concocting an elaborate fake wedding to explain why the entire family has suddenly convened in her living room.

Billi is most befuddled by this deception. She moved away from China when she was very little, so she’s grown up adopting Western standards. She feels her grandma should be told the truth. After all, it’s what any of us would do, right? She might have affairs to settle, old disputes to resolve. The rest of the family remains obstinate. As Billi’s uncle Hai Bin (Jiang Yong Bo) explains, “It’s the responsibility of the family to carry this emotional burden for her”.

The Farewell is a fiercely elegant picture that would’ve seemed less so had it not been led by Awkwafina and Zhao Shu Zhen. The relationship between Billi and her grandma is the emotional centre of the movie. For the story to work, we must first be drawn in by their affections for each other. Awkwafina, with her candid face and slight hunch, is very good at seeming discontent with her own emotions. Zhao, meanwhile, is basically like my own grandma. Generous, doting, cheeky, stubborn, endlessly jovial. I swear, somewhere there is a factory producing little identical old ladies from the mould of a Chinese grandmother overlord.

And so, the entire family continues with its questionable charade. The cast in a movie like this must be very good, and it is, especially Diana Lin as Billi’s mother, who presents a strong appearance but falls apart whenever she has to remind Billi of what it means to be Chinese. Wang milks her cast for every last ounce of earnestness, which might not have been difficult since her story flows with ease and cleverly demonstrates how two cultures can be completely different without either being wrong.

There is one moment, however, that slightly jarred me from complete happiness. It comes after the movie has ended. I won’t say what it is, but it shouldn’t have been included. It snuffs out much of the emotional drama the film so patiently built. When we are told something, we want to believe it, not be fooled suddenly by a cheap trick. The rest of The Farewell is among the finest minutes of cinema this year.

The Farewell is available in Australian cinemas from 5 September 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Angel Has Fallen

 Gerard Butler kicks a lot of ass and spills a lot of blood in explosive action threequel Angel Has Fallen.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Presidential Secret Service operative and brazen one-man army Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself branded a fugitive and on the run after a drone strike attempts to kill President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and it’s Banning who is lumped with the blame. Determined to prove his innocence, Banning must outfox the authorities and reunite with a long-lost family member (Nick Nolte) to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

Starting out with 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, a gritty and claustrophobic action flick easily summarised as ‘Die Hard in the White House’, this series has followed a similar trajectory as the Die Hard franchise, with a stellar start making way for two half-hearted sequels.

Neither as good as the first or as bad as the second, Angel Has Fallen falls somewhere in the middle as a perfectly serviceable B-movie that offers loud, frenetic, no-frills action punctuated with the occasional semblance of intelligence or heart.

Butler’s Agent Banning, who starts the film suffering from insomnia and migraines, is more humanised this time round. He has a family, he’s starting to feel a little long in the tooth – it’s your classic ageing solder shtick. Daddy issues rear their head too, and cause a sprinkling of silliness, courtesy of Butler sharing some affable screwball chemistry with Nolte. It doesn’t always find the right tone, but it’s an interesting new caveat to an otherwise run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up.

With hushed whispers of a Russian conspiracy, lots of meaningless computer jargon and a seemingly endless private army with their own agenda, Angel Has Fallen’s screenplay doesn’t exactly reek of imagination.

The first hour, where Banning is being chased through thick woodland and hiding out in remote cabins, is essentially an updated version of Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive, with Jada Pinkett Smith in place of Tommy Lee Jones. Butler has the grizzled charisma to keep things interesting, but the various twists and turns aren’t anywhere near as shocking or clever as the film wants you to think they are – the ‘villain’ is pretty obvious from the outset.

The action set pieces feature some impressive choreography and stuntwork, but drag slightly in the third act, leaving the audience feeling a little shell-shocked and punch-drunk come the end. That said, as ham-fisted as it is, it’s hard to critique Angel Has Fallen too harshly. After all, it does come good on what it sets out to do, delivering punchy action, American jingoism, frantic firefights and a level of raw machismo on par with classic Schwarzenegger. It’s classic Dad fare, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Angel Has Fallen is available in Australian cinemas from 22 August 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent ups the ante to the extreme for her second feature, establishing herself as a masterful force to be reckoned with.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

In Tasmania, 1825, a 21-year-old Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is kept prisoner by British Officer Hawkins (Sam Claflin). She is forced to be his ‘nightingale’ and sing as entertainment for his military outfit. The solace she finds in her husband and newborn baby is completely shattered when Hawkins and his cronies brutally rape Clare and murder her family in front of her. A broken woman with nothing left but rage in her blood, she acquires the help of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, to hunt down the soldiers through the unforgiving wilderness and exact her bloody revenge.

As Jennifer Kent’s long-awaited follow-up to the chilling and brilliant The Babadook, her sophomore feature The Nightingale is a whole different breed of horror film. This isn’t about the horrors that go bump in the night or manifest in the mind. These are the horrors of what humans are capable of doing to each other, and more specifically, what they actually did in our own country’s history. It’s with this graphic depiction of the atrocities committed that Kent’s second film could be considered an important and possibly culturally significant one, even if its content means it probably won’t be screened in high school history classes.

Make no mistake, The Nightingale is a massively confronting and at times genuinely very upsetting watch. A number of people walked out of my screening alone in the first half hour, which has nothing on the thirty or so who caused an uproar at its Sydney premiere. While it’s easy enough to advocate toughing through the brutality for an enriching experience (which this is), there is a limit that this pushes even for hardened viewers. Sometimes it’s better to accept that this level of savagery is not for everyone, even if it is ‘honest’ and ‘necessary’.

That’s how the Tasmanian Aboriginal elders who collaborated with Kent on the story describe what is depicted. Anger and misery were no doubt their intended emotions to ignite within the audience.

They’re helped infinitely by a trio of brilliant performances, most impressively from Aisling Franciosi. Most recognisable from The Fall and a minor role on Game of Thrones, she carries all the cruelty and fury of Clare’s journey in one hell of a breakout performance.

Sam Claflin’s loathe-inducing rapist will make you forget all about the hunky goodwill he formed in the likes of The Hunger Games and Me Before You, and previously non-acting Baykali Ganambarr ensures he’ll probably land every indigenous role in Australian cinema’s near-future.

Some of the most beautiful shots of the Aussie outback ever captured are here through Kent’s lens, creating a contrast against the ugly events and helping to distract from a few flaws. There are a few unnecessary lags in momentum along the way that could have been trimmed.

This is very much your basic rape-revenge story. But it’s a rape-revenge story full to the brim with things to say about history and humanity. Kent’s second feature achieves its aim of appreciation, confrontation and division through lavish craft and stunning performances – and is that not what anything artful should do?

The Nightingale is available in Australian cinemas from August 29th

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Outrageous and frequently bonkers, Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film is a solid and sentimental throwback to a bygone era.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood immediately calls to mind Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). It also suggests a fairy tale, which usually involves a bodacious hero, a poor old distressed damsel, a castle and a big baddie. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is very much like a fairy tale, except the big baddie is seldom seen, the damsel doesn’t know she’s in distress and the heroes are a couple of clueless fading TV stars. It’s a long, meandering dream, the kind of pompous brilliance only Quentin Tarantino could get away with. It’s not his finest, but it might be his most affectionate.

It’s the spring of 1969. Hippie culture is an infestation. The old westerns of the ’40s and ’50s are a dying breed. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), once the hero of the hit western Bounty Law, is afraid his career is over.  His trusty stunt double, Cliff Booth, hangs around him like a valet, boxing coach and BFF rolled into a hunky Brad Pitt package.

The first half of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood seems to go nowhere. We follow Rick as he attempts to revitalise his career. We are invited into Cliff’s dirty trailer, where his dog Brandy waits eagerly to be fed. Elsewhere, Sharon Tate, who lives next door to Rick, is living life and inhabiting the body of Margot Robbie very comfortably.

Just when their stories seem to be leading nowhere, Cliff picks up a lithe young hippie by the road and drives her to Spahn Ranch, where westerns used to be filmed. Now desolate and dusty, it’s populated by an eerie clan of youngsters who lurch about the grounds like zombies. Here, Tarantino relies on his audience’s pre-existing knowledge on 1969 Californian history, where names like Sharon Tate, Spahn Ranch and Squeaky should quickly surface horrible and gruesome images. The loose storytelling of earlier is swiftly tightened and given focus. Suddenly, the film has a trajectory.

Which leads me to Sharon Tate. She doesn’t appear very much in the movie, despite receiving hefty marketing. Her appearance here, as far as I can gather, is to let us know how undeserving of death she was. She was a promising actor, mysteriously gorgeous with a canny knack for comedy, and was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she and her four friends were murdered. She was a harmless victim of senseless violence. In Once Upon a Time, she is given one of the best scenes – a simple excursion to the cinema to watch one of her own movies, The Wrecking Crew (1969), where she’s cheerfully content to hear the audience laughing whenever she does something funny on screen. She seems happy just to be alive.

It’s moments like this that elevate Once Upon a Time above its own distractions. It’s a loving tribute to Sharon Tate, and to the westerns that surrounded Hollywood for years. Is the movie too long? The first half can certainly feel so. But thankfully Rick and Cliff are great fun to watch, and DiCaprio’s performance is perhaps the best of his career.

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is available in Australian cinemas from August 15

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Midsommar

Whatever you do, never drink the Kool-Aid. Here’s our review of Ari Aster’s shockingly gruesome sophomore feature, Midsommar.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

 A troubled twenty-something recovering from a devastating tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) chooses to tag along on a trip her apathetic boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is taking to Sweden with three of his mates – Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).

The trip sees the quintet visit Pelle’s humble hometown, which is essentially a rural community populated by dozens of peculiar Scandinavian hippies. Decked out in white robes, floral crowns and perfectly trimmed facial hair, the commune sits in what appears to be an idyllic haven. Dani and Christian’s already fractured relationship is put to the test when a series of ceremonies culminates in the scariest thing to come out of Sweden since Saturday mornings at Ikea.

Writer/director Ari Aster’s debut feature Hereditary was something of a dark horse last year. Spurred on by a powerhouse performance from Toni Collette, it was a suffocatingly dark piece of counterprogramming to your regular studio horror film. Midsommar shares a lot of the same DNA, with Aster’s passion for pagan ritual and myth even more evident here, and reoccurring themes around family, loss and depression making for an intriguing double feature.

However, the rustic aesthetic of Midsommar’s sunny Swedish glade couldn’t be further from the oppressive gloom of Hereditary. There are no dark corners where evil can lurk in Midsommar; everything is bathed in warm sunshine, illuminating every drop of blood and chunk of gore in piercing light. There is quite literally nowhere to hide, which makes the beauty and horror that lies within all the more arresting and confronting. This isn’t for the squeamish, that’s for sure.

From a technical perspective, Midsommar is a triumph; Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography gives the sunny setting an eerily welcoming glow, while frantic lutes from composer The Haxan Cloak float in and out, putting your nerves on edge. Aster amplifies the sensation of uncertainty by smearing the edges of the frame with a trippy heat haze effect. It could be the magic mushrooms, or it could be the unrelenting sunlight. After several days without sleep, who knows where, what or who we’re seeing anymore?

If you can stomach the punishing violence and the perplexing pagan rituals, Midsommar reveals itself to be a compelling and layered examination of pain, grief, doubt and fear. Personifying all four at once is Pugh, who runs the gamut of emotions – from frailty and fright to fiery anger. Reynor’s performance is more quietly impressive, while Poulter adds some levity as the loud American who speaks before he thinks. In fact, Midsommar offers plenty of laughs – although most of them will be out of discomfort or disbelief at what’s unfolding.

A more impactful and efficient film to Hereditary in almost every regard, Midsommar sees Aster continuing to hone his craft, creating some indelible imagery and spinning a yarn of stomach-churning horror in the process.

Midsommar is available in Australian cinemas from August 8 2019

Images courtesy of Roadshow Films