Will Poulter explores toxic masculinit­y in a seemingly serene setting

- by Laura Di Girolamo

ARI ASTER, DIRECTOR OF 2018’ S NIGHTMARIS­H HEREDITARY, RETURNS WITH HIS SECOND FEATURE, MIDSOMMAR, ON JULY 2, and it’s just as packed with emotional rawness and beautifull­y surreal terror. After a tragic incident puts a splinter in Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian’s (Jack Raynor) already fractured relationsh­ip, Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends ( Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper and Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to a midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. Once they arrive, it’s quickly apparent that something sinister is lurking underneath the placid faces of their welcoming hosts. After days of strange rituals under the neverendin­g sun, the dread starts to mount, and Midsommar unravels into a disturbing, visceral folk tale.

“Even though I was in it, I felt screwed up for at least two or three days afterwards,” says Will Poulter, who plays Christian’s friend Mark. “I had some of the worst sleep in my life.”

Midsommar explores a huge variety of themes, from fidelity to honesty and empathy. This last point is especially captured in the character of Mark, Christian’s caustic, chauvin

istic friend. “Mark projects something different than who he is internally,” says Poulter. “When you see him on his own or more emotionall­y vulnerable, that demeanor of a confident loudmouth disappears. He’s actually quite self-loathing and anxious.”

That character feels familiar in a world where young men bury fear and vulnerabil­ity beneath a swaggering facade. “Mark lives up to that stereotype — that I think is mostly true — where men struggle to communicat­e on an emotional level and mask it with bravado.” It’s what sets Mark apart from Dani, who is more open with her pain and draws the ire of Christian’s friends, but earns her the respect of the villagers. But the stress of witnessing “the beauty of these customs contradict­ed with the barbaric and ugly side,” according to Poulter, takes a dark turn for our protagonis­ts. “That was one of the things that disturbed me about this film. Everything that happens has a human motivation.”

It’s this ugly humanity that makes Aster’s films so fascinatin­g, no matter how trippy and strange. “It speaks to how much authentici­ty there is in the characters that Ari creates, and the way that he manages the narrative while being visually so stunning. It seems to be one of the signatures of Ari’s work — these relatable human feelings draw you into a world that’s very unfamiliar, but affecting all the time.”

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