A BEGINNING, a middle and an end – great storytelling demands mastery of all three elements.

Writer-director Ari Aster came close with his debut feature, Hereditary, a silent scream of sustained tension starring Toni Collette, which only faltered in a hoary and preposterous final act.

The same fate befalls his eagerly awaited follow-up, Midsommar, which sends chills down our spines then takes its final, choking gasps with a hypnotic and psychedelic fever dream that is in equal parts silly and shocking.

There are similarities between the two pictures – both are gore-slathered meditations on bereavement and pent-up rage, anchored by an emotionally raw central performance.

Aster repeats directorial flourishes and elemental motifs, and he delights in close-ups of the human body in states of hellish disrepair with the clinical detachment of a surgeon.

There are moments of nail-biting perfection as the writer-director conjures terror in broad daylight in a similar vein to The Wicker Man.

Before the gorgeous sunshine and butchery, though, there are blankets of snow over American suburbia.

Christian (Jack Reynor) is poised to break up with his girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh) when she suffers a devastating loss.

Rather than twist the knife, Christian invites grief-stricken Dani to join him and pals Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a summertime trip to a commune in Halsingland where Pelle grew up.

After a long flight and a four-hour drive into the Swedish countryside, the friends emerge into a forest clearing dotted with large wooden structures and white-robed figures tending the land.

Soon after, matriarch elder Siv (Gunnel Fred) opens the great feast, which takes place every 90 years, heralding nine days of painful self-reflection that the outsiders will never forget.

Midsommar is a relentlessly creepy journey of self-discovery, which plays mind games as characters fail to heed warnings.

Oxford-born actor Pugh tethers our unwavering sympathy to her grief-scarred heroine and her fearless performance papers over some of the tiny cracks in the script.

After almost two-and-a-half hours of wide eyes, wincing and whitened knuckles, we certainly don’t wish we were here.

RATING: 8/10