In July 2019, the horror film Solstice was released. The director, Ari Astaire, who previously directed Reincarnation, was again able to surprise the audience: the rating on IMDb is 7.1, the rating of world film critics is 7.6, most of the reviews of Kinopoisk are positive.
At the very beginning of the film, we are introduced to the main character, Dani (Florence Pugh). She recently lost her family and is now trying to recover from the tragedy. She is reluctantly assisted in this by her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Raynor).
One day, a mutual acquaintance of the couple from university, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), invites them to go to his native community, where the traditional solstice festival will be held. Taking a few more friends, the company goes to the north of Sweden. The closed community appears to them bright and carefree: people smile, wear traditional white clothes, walk and dance, everything around is decorated with flowers. Upon arrival, the youth meets Pelle’s brother, Ingemar, and his friends from Britain.
The turn of the first rite comes, during which two elderly people jump from a cliff and break. The visitors are horrified, but Pelle convinces his friends that these are the traditions, the old people preferred to die of their own free will, and not suffer from diseases and slowly fade away. The Americans trust the words of a friend, but Ingerman’s guests cannot recover from what they have seen and decide to leave the village as well.
Meanwhile, the celebration continues. Dani takes part in a key ritual: the girls literally dance until they drop. She proves to be the most resilient and becomes the May Queen. In parallel with this, Christian is drawn into another rite. He must impregnate a local girl who has reached the right age. After dancing, the newly-made queen accidentally witnesses this bed scene.
On the last day, the celebration reaches its climax: the inhabitants must sacrifice nine people. It turns out that four visitors are already dead. Two locals threw themselves off a cliff, two more volunteered. The ninth victim must be chosen by the May Queen between the resident of the commune and Christian. The guest chooses the last one, after which he, along with the rest, is burned in a sacrificial fire.
At the end, the picture becomes clear. Pelle and his brother Ingemar deliberately invited their friends to give their lives for the sake of the cult. One by one, strangers died, trying to leave or committing a misdemeanor. Christian lasted a little longer. He had the honor of bringing fresh blood for new offspring.
But he did not survive this trip either. As the last victim, a friend chose him, and not a random person. Why? A destructive relationship is a sign of her loneliness and helplessness. Now that in the community she felt like a part of the whole, she does not have to endure betrayal and try to please the guy. In the last shots, we can see that Dani is smiling.
Ari Arister carries the theme of “home” throughout the whole picture. In conversation, Pelle mentions a sense of “belonging” that the main character doesn’t know. She is alone. Her entire family died, and the relationship cannot be called healthy. After the tragedy, she clings to Christian as a lifeline for fear of being left alone, and only in the community does she understand the true meaning of the words “to be at home.” Even despite their terrible traditions, the commune lives very close together: together they go through the death of old people, together they experience the sexual intercourse of their pupil with Christian. When Dani catches a guy cheating, all the girls experienced her grief with her.
Characteristics of heroes
The heroine Florence Pugh is emotionally unstable and insecure. Even before the tragedy with her family, she became nervous and depressed. Her sister suffered from bipolar disorder and therefore harassed Dani with cryptic threatening messages. From the young man, instead of support, the main character received only instructions. When her sister committed suicide, taking her parents with her, the girl went completely mad. She clung to Christian, ready to endure the inconvenience, just to please the guy. But the feeling of annoyance and resentment accumulated in her all this time, as we can judge from the final scene of the film, where the burned Christian becomes a symbol of liberation from feelings of suffering and loneliness.
This hero symbolizes evil, over which victory is won in the final. He is bad both as a guy and as a friend. The young man treats his half with disdain: he forgets important dates, is in no hurry to participate in emotional experiences. From his conversation with friends at the beginning of the film, we learn that he has been wanting to end the relationship for a year, but is afraid to regret it. He is indecisive and tries to be nice to everyone. These qualities of his are confirmed by the situation in the commune, when Christian suddenly chose the topic of a friend for his dissertation. In order not to look like a “thief,” he told everyone that he was ready to cooperate in writing. The hero of Jack Reynor takes into account only his own interests, while trying to seem right, and this pushes the viewer away from the character.
According to Ari Astaire, he was inspired by Frazer’s monograph The Golden Bough, so it is not surprising that his work contains many references to real ritual actions. Each death corresponds to the cults of different nations.
The most attentive could guess about the events of the horror from the drawings: on the fresco at the very beginning, you can see almost the entire plot. Other images depict rituals and ceremonies that will take place.
Also in the picture there are clear references to the film “The Shining” by Stanley Kubrick. For example, the footage of a trip to the place of terrible events was filmed from the same angle: a plan of the road from above, which wags and turns over.
Solstice is an unusual example of how a deep life theme is expressed through the horror genre. Beautifully filmed horror with meaning will always find its audience.