Photo by Andres Gomez - Unsplash

In It: Chapter One, "The Losers Club," a group of outcast children banded together to defeat It, an evil force that plagues their town of Derry, Maine every 27 years.

Keep ReadingShow less

Kumail Nanjiani IS Stuber! With Dave Bautista as Vic.

Mark Hill; © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Most of us probably have an Uber horror story or two, but most of them probably don't end with helping an action hero save the day.

But if viral Uber stories were as fun as Stuber, there'd probably be a lot more five-star reviews for both drivers and passengers.

Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) drives for Uber to make extra money while working a day job. He also has plans to cosign his friend Becca's (Betty Gilpin) spinn business. Meanwhile, federal agent Vic (Dave Bautista) is on the trail of Tedjo (Iko Uwais), who killed his partner. The feds take the case away from Vic, but he has intel on one last drop Tedjo's going to make.

In "Stuber," Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani Rideshare the LaughsVic is a cop who plays by his own rules. Hopper Stone/SMPSP

Vic hopes he can still bring Tedjo in by himself, despite having just had Lasik eye surgery. Vic can't see well enough to drive, although that doesn't stop him from trying in a comic misadventure that luckily doesn't kill anybody. So Vic resorts to ordering an Uber and promises Stu five stars if he drives him around until he captures Tedjo.

This is a fun twist on the buddy action-comedy genre, and Stuber can certainly stake its claim on being the first Uber-inspired action comedy. Uber has become such a part of our lives that it's fun to see it represented in pop culture. The audience can appreciate the montage of Stu's bad passengers and empathize with the racist feedback some have left him. By comparison, "Stuber" is a relatively kind nickname. Stu is on the cusp of dropping below four stars and losing his Uber income, so it makes sense that he'd be desperate enough to take Vic's offer.

In "Stuber," Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani Rideshare the LaughsVic is used to this but Stu is just an Uber driver! Hopper Stone/SMPSP

Bautista and Nanjiani have great chemistry. It's obvious that a lot of the jokes in the movie were improvised, with lines like "Douche Lundgren" and "Cobra Kai" making the cut. Bautista embraces the basic comedy of a temporarily blinded man being over-the-top as he gracelessly navigates his surroundings.

Still, Vic and Stu each have something to teach each other. Stu has been a doormat for everyone, from women to his bosses and his passengers. The movie makes it clear that he needs to stand up for himself. Although the pressure people put on him to tell Becca he actually loves her comes dangerously close to making Becca a prize to be won by a white knight figure. Fortunately, that narrative resolves in a way that's fair for both Becca and Vic.

In return, Stu helps Vic see that he's been neglecting his daughter, Nicole (Natalie Morales). In the hands of the wrong actor, Vic could be a toxic character, but Bautista is so endearing that all of his bravadoes feel like an outrageous mask for the teddy bear underneath.

Unfortunately, director Michael Dowse and cinematographer Bobby Shore decided to film the fights and chase scenes in the shakycam quick cut style beloved by directors like Paul Greengrass. As a result, the action sequences of this action comedy fall short, because you can't follow any of the cool moves Vic uses on the bad guys. Any fights between Bautista and The Raid legend Uwais are unfortunately obscured. Gunfights fare a little better since they're simply shot back and forth. But the inevitable buddy brawl between Stu and Vic is so delightfully over-the-top that you can appreciate the absurdity even if the cinematography is unsteady.

In "Stuber," Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani Rideshare the LaughsAmazingly they were able to derive a still image from the shaky action of Stuber.Karen Ballers

Stuber is a funny modernization of the odd-couple/buddy-action-comedy, not only in its use of technology to connect mismatched characters but in its evolved perspective on how the stereotypical characters of the genre can grow. Nanjiani and Bautista each get their own spotlight, with Stuber (hopefully) serving as their vehicle to more leading roles.


"The Art of Self-Defense" Is a Scathing Satire of the Bullied Underdog Myth

"The Art of Self-Defense" warns about mistaking toxic masculinity for empowerment.

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is not quite The Karate Kid

Bleecker Street

Martial arts movies have traditionally been about bullied victims learning to develop their own power and defeat the bully.

Life's not as simple as the movies, though, and we've only just begun dissecting the ideals of toxic masculinity that well-intentioned morality story may be teaching. Thankfully, The Art of Self-Defense is a skewering satire of the martial arts bully myth.

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a 35-year-old accountant who lets his coworkers walk all over him. He has no friends, and nobody but his boss ever calls him. One day, while walking to buy dog food, a motorcycle gang beats Casey until he needs to be hospitalized. Whether it's The 36th Chamber of Shaolin or The Karate Kid, movies tell us that you should learn to fight to defend yourself. So Casey signs up for karate classes.

The Art of Self DefenseSensei (Alessandro Nivola, right) is no Mr. MiyagiBleecker Street

Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) and the children's class sensei, Anna (Imogen Poots), take karate very seriously. The tone of The Art of Self-Defense is intensity mixed with sincerity. It's not bravado, which would imply overcompensating. The characters are genuinely skilled and committed, but perhaps take things more seriously than they should. The whole film has a quiet intensity, a form of cringe comedy whereby you're waiting for a tension release that never comes.

Sensei, Anna, and other dojo classmates deliver absurd insults with unwavering deadpan. Sensei tells Casey to think German. It's an absurd philosophy but he means it. They also over-explain things and repeat unnecessary details, including Casey. It's funny in a quirky sort of way. Sensei keeps describing the full circumstances of Grandmaster's death when it's so absurdly specific, nobody is going to forget it.

Imogen PootsSensei Anna (Imogen Poots) hopes she can teach the kids to be better.Bleecker Street

Casey faces a sort of passive-aggressive pressure from everyone he encounters. He considers buying a gun, and when he decides he doesn't need one, the gun shop salesman says, "Well, I hope you don't get attacked by someone with a gun or a knife."

The Art of Self-Defense is a scathing satire about the dangers of empowering the wrong people, or empowering people the wrong way. The show Cobra Kai has also questioned the mythos of The Karate Kid. Namely, in reality, bullies don't just go away when you beat them in a fight, and sometimes bullied kids become abusers themselves when they get a taste of power.

As soon as Casey starts standing up for himself, he immediately overdoes it. He ends up attacking people who are nice to him and making misogynistic comments about their loved ones. We're certainly familiar with a misogynistic component to male empowerment. Self-proclaimed nerds used to enjoy their science-fiction and fantasy movies in private, or at best in small groups found locally. But as soon as they connected with a greater community via social media (and now that they are the number one demographic to whom Hollywood is catering), toxic fans began bullying stars of their favorite fanbases on social media. For instance,The Last Jedi's Kelly Marie Tran and Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown had to delete their accounts just to avoid aggressive trolls.

Power corrupts Casey (Jesse Eisenberg)Bleecker Street

I see a parallel when Casey takes on some misogyny. He learned it from Sensei, who looks down upon Anna. Karate is supposed to be grounded in sportsmanship, at least amongst your own friends in the dojo, and only used for self-defense against attackers. But Casey's martial arts lessons escalate and get brutally violent. Most adults would hopefully have the sense to leave a dojo that draws blood on a regular basis, but, for the sake of satire, it's poignant that Casey gets in so deep. Even if you feel Casey finds redemption in the end, he only obtains it after going so over the top that it's hard not to believe he's permanently corrupted by Sensei.

Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) is just teaching his students how to become bullies.Bleecker Street

The Art of Self-Defense definitely makes a point about mistaking toxic masculinity for empowerment. Depending on who's drawn to martial arts movies these days, the film may be preaching to the choir; but, hopefully the people who need to see it will be lured in by the promise of a modern day Karate Kid story, and hopefully they'll get the point: Sensei is just another bully in a hero's disguise.


"Spider-Man: Far From Home" Screenwriters Talk About Mysterio as a Trumpian Villain

Warning: we talk about spoilers with the writers of the latest Spider-Man movie, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Spider-Man went "far from home" this Fourth of July weekend.

Fans got to see what he was up to after Avengers: Endgame and returning from The Snap. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) takes a high school trip around Europe but ends up enlisted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to help Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) fight Elementals.

Screenwriters Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna spoke with Popdust about the many twists and turns in Spider-Man: Far From Home. So a spoiler warning to anyone who hasn't seen Far From Home yet. We do talk specifics with the writers.

This is the second Spider-Man movie for the writing team, and their fourth superhero movie after The Lego Batman Movie and Ant-Man and The Wasp. They've also written Community, The Mindy Project and American Dad! Spider-Man: Far From Home is in theaters now, as we discuss everything from The Blip to the very last credits scene.

Tom HollandHow Peter Parker (Tom Holland) spent his summer vacationCourtesy of Sony Pictures

When you got started on Far From Home, did you get to be privy to Avengers: Endgame early?

Erik Sommers: Yes, Marvel was well aware that we had some bills to pay in terms of the fallout from Endgame. So they were very good about keeping us in the loop as to what we would need to deal with and what we wouldn't so that we could move forward with our story.

Was there anything you were still surprised by in Endgame?

Chris McKenna: We didn't know about the Pegasus. If we'd known about Valkyrie and the Pegasus we would've used that. We knew the plot points but we did not know the detail, so then we actually didn't see the movie. We were supposed to see it like two weeks before the premiere and then we were still doing reshoots. It kind of worked out where we didn't even see it until the actual premiere. She comes out in the Pegasus, Erik and I were like, "Oh, we could've referenced that. That would've been a fun thing to reference." They wanted us to know what we needed to know and for good reason they keep things pretty close to the vest so that loudmouth fans like us don't ruin things. We had what we needed for the movie, obviously. We had The Snap, because we started working on the movie even before Infinity War came out. So we knew what happened at the end of Infinity War and we knew what happened in Endgame, the time transition and obviously the very end. Those were what we had to work with as we moved forward, but their main mandate was: Yes, we have to pay these bills but also to make a really fun Spider-Man movie because we're coming off a very dark, emotionally draining two movies.

How many different names did you brainstorm for The Snap?

CM: It's funny, I seem to recall someone I thought from Marvel calling it The Blip and we just sort of adopted that. I don't know if The Snap was something that happened, [if] that would be what it was referred to, while they were making Endgame. I do think it's kind of nice that we didn't have to follow, that the world almost came up with its own name for it, their own ground level name for this crazy thing that happened so it doesn't have to necessarily line up. It feels more organically real that the world would have this crazy thing that they call The Blip that happened.

Spidey Sense has been well established in the comics, so how many alternatives did you think of before you landed on Peter Tingle?

ES: We knew that Spidey Sense was going to be a factor and something that we would be using, but it was definitely a question of what are we going to call it? Should we call it anything at all? We did many, many iterations of giving it different names, giving it no name, the different ways people talk about it. And then it was relatively late in the game that I think [director] Jon Watts pitched Peter Tingle and it immediately made everyone laugh, so that's what we went through.

CM: We just wanted to make it awkward. We wanted to make it funny and we also wanted to make it this thing that is kind of nebulous but it takes like your aunt or your mom to come up with a name and sometimes it's the most embarrassing name ever.

Spider-Man: Far From HomeSpidey hanging around London in his new suit. Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Tony Stark was such a big part of part of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Even with Tony gone, was it important to still find a post-Tony way to deal with Iron Man, with his legacy lingering over Peter?

CM: It's so hard to not. He's so infused in Peter's life in terms of discovering him in Civil War and obviously being such a part of Homecoming in terms of becoming a surrogate father, [so] we knew Peter would be dealing with that. It would hang over the movie and it gave us the opportunity to do the inverse of Homecoming. Homecoming is about him trying to prove to his surrogate father that he's worthy and is able to step up. The trauma of Endgame sends Peter into a spiral and makes him question his own abilities and what his place in the world is. And he therefore is running away from it. That's why it's Far From Home. He is running away from the safe home that he thought he had after the first movie.

Was it fun finding some callbacks to early Iron Man movies, like the guy who worked for Obadiah Stane?

ES: Yes, it's always fun to be able to draw upon previous movies in the MCU and it helps weave them together. It makes them more rich. The audiences love it and we, the people making the movies as fans, love it too. An opportunity like that comes up and someone on the creative team says, "Oh, you should use that flashback of Obadiah shouting at William." Everyone in the room gets really excited immediately because we know it's going to be fun and we hope the audience will think that's really fun too.

When Mysterio reveals his plan, is he sort of a Super Trump, because he's talking about how people care more about showmanship than qualifications?

CM: He's definitely a narcissist and a con artist. He has a very high self-regard, but I think he's also the kind of guy who believes that whatever he says can go and he can spin the truth. So make those parallels if you will. We're definitely taking advantage of a chaotic world, a world where half of the universe can get swept away and then heroes can disappear. He seeks to take advantage of that. I think he thinks that the world deserves him, but he also knows that in order to get what he wants, in order to get the power and the authority, he's going to have to convince the world in his own way.

Jake Gyllenhaal Jake Gyllenhaal finally got to be in a Spider-Man movieJay Maidment

ES: Mysterio's really preying on insecurity and confusion and doubt and fear. The world is feeling those things in the aftermath of Endgame and Peter is feeling those things in the aftermath of losing his mentor. So Mysterio is preying on that to get what he wants.

When he reveals his holographic powers, was it fun to create effects that play on Peter's insecurities?

CM: Absolutely, I think the whole fun with Mysterio is when we can look down a lot of different paths with Mysterio. Ultimately, there's so much in the early comic books of Mysterio that really are fun, that we can draw upon. This person really does think of himself as someone who should be a hero and who does like, I think, manipulating people. As much as on one hand he has a certain fondness for Peter, he can understand on a certain level that someone like Peter is unworthy and undeserving of the affection and the technological prowess that Tony has bestowed upon him. In his eyes he's unworthy and the only worthy one is himself.

ES: When the truth about Mysterio is revealed and we know what he really wants and we get to that illusion sequence where he really attacks Peter with the illusions, doing that sequence was just such a pleasure. Jon and the visual effects team had come up with so many amazing, cool illusions that he was using against Peter. It was really just a challenge for all of us on the creative team to try to refine them and think of which [ones] are the best that, as you said, would speak right to Peter's insecurities and what Mysterio is feeling about everything so as visually amazing as it is, it could really serve the story and Peter's arc.

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) isn't himself in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is though.Jay Maidment

Did you get to write the codas as part of your script?

CM: Yeah, the first coda - the mid-credit ending - was the original ending. It wasn't a coda yet. It always switched around, like oh, is this going to actually be a tag? We were just going to play it as the very, very end of the movie, pre-credits. Then that turned into the mid-credit tag. Then the post-credit tag came up very late in the game. I actually think that was a Watts idea. There were certain ideas like being a con artist [or] there's going to be one last twist and oh, will this also help with shedding some light on why Nick Fury was acting the way Nick Fury was in the movie? If anyone had any issues with Nick after all these movies, would he fall for a con artist like Mysterio? We thought it was a really fun way to call back Captain Marvel, call back that great Ben Mendelsohn character and also explain why Nick would actually fall for a guy like Mysterio.

Was it always your idea to reinvent the Daily Bugle as a sort of Alex Jones/Infowars?

ES: I honestly don't remember whose pitch that was but it was early on that the creative team decided that if we were gonna go back to the Daily Bugle [and] using J. Jonah, it should be in a different form. That seems like a perfect way to do it so as soon as someone floated that idea, we all latched onto it and that's what we did.

Did you know who was going to play him?

CM: No, I think Watts was even talking a bit in the last movie about some clues to J. Jonah in Homecoming. This time around, again I don't know who pitched it but it was one of those ideas that oh my God, it would be incredible to bring back J.K. but with this whole new post-Whiplash spin on the character.

Spder-Man: Far From HomeThis spider flies now.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

You've done a few funny comic book movies. Is there a different sense of humor you use in the Spider-Mans than on Ant-Man or Lego Batman?

ES: I don't think so. I think any project where we're writing jokes, you have to try to adjust to the tone a little bit so that's going to depend on the characters and the actors and the director and just what everyone feels like the vibe of that movie is going to be. So it always changes a little but I don't think there are any huge conscious shifts that we decide on ahead of time or anything like that.

CM: We've been writing comedy now for a long time on different shows. We always are able to adjust for each character's voice and situation. I think you have a character like Lego Batman who is full of himself and yet also has crippling insecurities but surrounds it with bluster which is a totally different character from Peter Parker or Scott Lang. Even though Scott and Peter have similarities, they're different enough and also the actors are different. We try to channel their voices and their personas and have fun with them. It's always different.


Will Poulter of "Midsommar" Unpacks the Ugly American Tourist Trope

There's more to Poulter's ugly American tourist than comic relief.

Mark (Will Poulter) is having non of Harga's traditions in Midsommar

Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

Will Poulter has done many different genres since his debut as a child Stallone fan in Son of Rambow.

He was in the YA franchise The Maze Runner, the good old American comedy We're the Millers, historical dramas The Revenant and Detroit, and the groundbreaking non-linear sci-fi of Black Mirror's Bandersnatch. He hasn't quite done horror before, although The Little Stranger has light horrific touches, and he was slated to play Pennywise in It before director Cary Fukunaga dropped out.

Midsommar is Will Poulter's first official horror movie. He plays Mark, a grad school student excited to join his friends on a summer trip to the remote Swedish town of Harga. Mark must be the class clown, because he certainly chimes in with quips. Hoping for a summer of taking mushrooms with his friends and British visitors Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekew), Mark isn't quite ready for what happens in Harga.

Midsommar is from Ari Aster, writer/director of Hereditary, so you can bet the traditions of Harga aren't just a summer flight of whimsy. Their deadly ceremonies are especially hard on Dani (Florence Pugh), who was just coming along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to get away from a family tragedy back home.

Poulter spoke with Popdust about the real roots of Mark's comic relief in Midsommar, which was actually filmed in Hungary to mimic Sweden's 24-hour summer days. Midsommar opens July 2.

Midsommar will poulterMark (Will Poulter) arrives in Harga with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) Gabor Kotschy / A24

Will Poulter: I was just checking out the website. It's really cool.

Thank you, and I know you're on a schedule so I'll get right to it. Mark clearly has the best lines and the most laughs in Midsommar, but there's a lot more to him than comic relief, isn't there?

WP: I'd like to agree, only because I saw Mark as one of those characters; unfortunately, probably everyone knows a Mark or has interacted with a Mark. That sort of mean sense of humor actually speaks to a kind of internal insecurity and self-loathing. I think part of the reason Mark detracts so much from everything around him and other people around him is because he's insecure and not entirely confident in himself. So I thought that was interesting. It's probably fair to say he projects one thing and feels something very, very different inside.

I completely agree and I definitely know Marks. At the same time, does that comedy provide a misdirect from the horror, or even a release of tension?

Yeah, that's interesting. Potentially, it's funny because I feel like he exists in a friendship group with people who are far more analytical and really just smarter, who all have an appreciation for culture variations far more than he does. So it's weird, because it kind of creates a sense of weakness. I think that his defenses are up from the beginning, and he's never going to assimilate to any of their practices or the Hargan way of life. He's just immediately dismissive of all of it, so that means that he's never really at risk of being lured in. At the same time, he's so busy not taking any of it seriously and laughing at it all, or making fun of it I should say, that he doesn't ever see that there is something more sinister going on. He just thinks it's all very, very weird, but weird in a kind of funny way as opposed to weird in a sinister way, if that makes sense. Potentially, it can contribute to a false sense of security for the audience, but I think that much of the experience is aligned with what Dani is going through.

Midsommar will poulterMaybe don't eat what the Hargans are serving you. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

So how does Mark justify staying after it turns deadly? Christian (Jack Reynor) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are staying for their thesis, but what makes Mark stay?

WP: Well, after Connie and Simon, the story that they are encouraged to believe by the Hargans is that Connie and Simon left. I think Mark genuinely lacks the level of perception or observation to be able to ever really bring that into question. I think he just sort of buys that. That's also because I think, in my mind, Mark always thought the Brits were a little bit weird. Obviously, that's kind of fun to play in a sense because I know British people can be weird or what the British idiosyncrasies are that might lead an American person to think that a Brit is odd. So in my mind, Mark always thought Connie and Simon were a bit weird. When Connie and Simon left, he didn't question that. So really, it doesn't turn deadly before it turns deadly for Mark in my mind.

I know you've turned down horror movies like It in the past, that director Andy Muschietti said you disengaged from playing a dark and terrifying character. Did you find during Midsommar you had to stay in a dark psychological place for months?

WP: Respectfully, my reasoning for not doing It wasn't necessarily solely because of the psychological impact it might have on me. I think that was certainly a consideration in whether I was going to do it or not. But, I think playing a character who didn't really allow for the, as I say, sinister elements of what you see on screen to permeate through his consciousness and just remain a detractor of it all meant that I didn't necessarily have to go to a dark place with this one. Certainly, watching the movie, I appreciate how dark it is and also how dark it was at times for many of my co-actors.

I think the darkest thing that I explored with Mark is this idea of being a really self-loathing and insecure individual and that manifesting itself as mean jokes and detracting comments [about] the people around you. There's something very dark about that to me and also something very real and authentic. I think that's due to the strength of Ari's work as a writer/director. Everything that is disturbing and sinister on screen has a very real, organic, and/or human explanation. A lot of the terrible things you see in this movie are motivated by human instincts. There are no real science fictional elements. Even when things get really trippy and seemingly science-fictional, it can be explained by the fact that mushrooms have been taken or certain herbs have been ingested or one's own mind has turned on them. The really cool thing about this film is that authenticity runs through it like veins.

Was it really light out all night?

WP: Because we were in Hungary, it wasn't quite, but I went to Sweden this time last year for midsummer to research the project. It was sunny for about 19, 20 hours of the day which is kind of crazy and unique, unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I've actually been to Iceland and experienced pretty extreme levels of daylight, but this is the most I'd ever experienced. It was good to get a sense of what a real midsummer tradition is like.

PD: Was the dinner scene very carefully choreographed so everyone sits down and picks up their forks on cue?

WP: Oh yeah. I think that shot alone or that setup rather took several hours. It was a long day trying to get that right.

Midsommar will poulterDinner in Harga Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

Did you stay in an American accent on Midsommar like you have for other films?

WP: Oh man, you are so well-researched. That's amazing that you know that. Yeah, I did on this. I didn't when I came back to the hotel or whatever, but when I was on set I did. It's just one less thing for me to have to think about. I find [when] transitioning out of my natural accent into the American accent, I'm liable to make mistakes in transition. It's just one of those things that makes it easier for me. Then I think being around other American voices, like William Jackson Harper's for example, it just helps me improve my own. And obviously other members of the crew, like Ari himself. When it came to being off set, I dropped it because it's one of those accents now that I hope I'm growing more comfortable with. Whereas, if it had been a more challenging accent like, say, an Irish accent, which is what I did when I did Glassland with Jack Reynor, actually, I [find] myself having to stay in it the whole time just because it was so challenging. I couldn't really afford to go back into my English accent and risk slipping up when it came to trying to change back into the Irish one.


Daylight Slayings in "Midsommar": Ugly Americans Get Theirs

Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster goes to the next level with his daytime cult horror film.

Writer/director Ari Aster experienced a roller coaster of feedback after the release of his first feature film Hereditary.

At Sundance it was heralded as the scariest movie in years, but horror fans were surprised to find that it wasn't the typical gory slasher film. That reaction led defenders to include Hereditary in the category of "elevated horror." Now that "elevated horror" is a firmly established buzzword, not to mention the brand of horror A24 is well-known for, perhaps everyone will know what to expect from Aster's follow-up film, Midsommar.

Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers a family tragedy, and her emotionally distraught state leads her to become dependent on her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). All of Christian's friends advise him to break it off, but instead he invites Dani on their summer trip to Sweden at Pelle's (Vilhelm Blomgren) remote commune, Harga.

Aster builds up the Americans' arrival and the commune's anticipation for the Attestupan ceremony, a momentous occasion they only have every 90 years. Bros like Mark (Will Poulter) mock their traditions, while we see hints of weirdness, like a woman trimming her bikini area and focus on her bleeding.

So the Americans are actually surprised when the Hargan ceremony eventually turns deadly, while we just wait for Dani and friends to realize exactly what they've gotten themselves into. Like Hostel, this film starts out as a romp before turning terrifying.

Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom's got nothing on the Attestupan in Midsommar. Aster lingers on gory shots, too, and not just once: He cuts back to the bloody aftermath and even creates dreamlike montages of carnage.

At this point, sensible audiences will think, "Why don't the Americans just leave?" Well, some try to. This isn't Harga's first rodeo, so they know how to deal with outsiders who witness their Attestupan. Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are writing a thesis about the commune, so they use that to justify staying, and Dani is stuck with Christian. The shocking ceremony seems to only make the festival more enticing for Mark.

There is a sort of devilish fun to these ugly Americans thinking they can get away with desecrating sacred artifacts and photographing the evidence. There's even a sense of raunchy comedy to discussions of the commune's explicit traditions, which both break tension and misdirect the audience from other threats.

After all, once Dani, Christian, Mark, and Josh decide to stay, who are they to condemn the further traditions of Harga? Not that they could have easily escaped, but they didn't even try; so on some level they've implicitly condoned the commune's extreme acts. Most of the horror comes from the group's off-kilter, taboo-breaking acts. While they use psychedelic drugs and we see some CGI-enhanced trippy imagery, those aren't the most troubling images. Gory rituals and a suicide make human behavior the film's most disturbing aspect. Placed in the permanent daylight of Harga, Midsommar is an heir to The Shining for showing terror in broad daylight.

At 140 minutes, audiences may feel like they spent the whole summer in Harga, but the running time moves very quickly. The Harga tradition is riveting, and the Americans' drama is made compelling by the tense in-fighting between Dani, Christian, and Josh. Some of the awkward preamble of getting to Harga could be shorter, but once the friends arrive, the action doesn't stop.

Midsommar is a level above Hereditary. Hereditary had shocking gore that impacted the rest of the psychologically thrilling story, but there's even less of a supernatural element to Midsommar. Perhaps once Aster hooked up with A24, he realized that he didn't need to couch horror in the supernatural, so he created an unflinching look at the evil humans are capable of.