From the beginning of his career, director Ari Aster built a reputation for hiring inventive composers. After working with Colin Stetson, whose Hereditary score was terrifyingly effective, Aster embarked on a more involved collaboration with the Haxan Cloak's Bobby Krlic for his second film, Midsommar. The director wrote the screenplay -- in which a troubled young American couple goes to Sweden to participate in a psychedelic midsummer pagan festival that occurs once every 90 years -- while listening to the Haxan Cloak's Excavation. In turn, he and Krlic worked together closely on the music performed during the festival's rituals (which used the key harp, hurdy-gurdy, and other traditional Nordic instruments) as well as the film's score. On Midsommar, Krlic creates a language of strings that's fluent in classic horror movie tropes, the lushness of mid-20th century orchestral pop and Disney movie soundtracks, and the sudden, wonderfully sickening plunges of The Haxan Cloak and Excavation. The aching tones and brutally thudding percussion of "Gassed" will sound familiar to anyone who's heard those albums, as will the slow-building drones and sinking dread of "Attestupan." Elsewhere, Krlic branches out in entertaining ways: "Hålsingland"'s jump scares don't feel cheap, while "Ritual in Transfigured Time" combines classic, spine-tingling strings with trippy sound effects and the heaviness of Krlic's previous work with fascinating -- and unsettling -- results. Later, on "Hårga, Collapsing," the strings scurry but can't escape the inevitable doom-laden climax. As masterfully as Krlic delivers Midsommar's scares, the moments most unlike his previous music are the most revelatory. "Prophesy" may be only 30 seconds long, but its fairytale harp and spun-sugar strings create a fantasyland of midnight sunshine that's worlds away from Krlic's other music as a composer or the Haxan Cloak. He develops these luminous mirages further on "The Blessing," a track whose radiance evokes Edvard Grieg, and the seductively soothing "The House that Hårga Built," which is strikingly beautiful and strikingly different than anything he's done before. "Fire Temple" -- the first piece Krlic and Aster worked on together -- unites the score's loveliness and menace, layering sorrow, relief, fear, and catharsis in a stunning nine-minute finale. Midsommar's shadows would be nothing without its sunshine, and its balance of beauty and terror is an impressive achievement for both Aster and Krlic.
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