Film Review – Midsommar
Writer/director Ari Aster’s first feature film, Hereditary, was a breakout hit and solidified him as a budding master of breathing new life to the horror genre. Given his success for Hereditary, the hopes are high for his second film, Midsommar. In blunt terms, Midsommar is the story of a tremendously sh**ty Swedish friend.
The story centers on Dani (Florence Pugh), a college student who from the start is characterized as a clingy girlfriend of Christian (Jack Reynor). His friends don’t like her, and it seems like he wants to break up with her but can’t bring himself actually to do it. Any plans to break up with her are put on the back burner as Dani suffers a family tragedy in one of the worst possible circumstances. After the tragedy, Dani is awkwardly invited to go to a midsummer festival in Sweden with Christian to visit Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) family at their commune. Fellow friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) are also going on the trip. Dani is the fifth wheel on guys’ trip which is probably meant to be one of drinking, drugging, and hooking up. These plans all comes slowly to an end at the arrival of Pelle’s home and a festival that only takes place every 90 years.
Midsommar is a bit of an anomaly in the horror genre because the majority of the film takes place in the light. Viewers are quickly told into the fact that this rural Sweden commune’s location only receives a few hours of darkness each day; thus, the majority of every frightening thing happens in the sunlight. There is no way to hide much unless it is in a building or the woods. The audience is quickly inaugurated into the horror of this commune, which is really a screwed-up cult. In broad daylight, they witness what kind of people really inhabit this place and what traditions they intend to carry out during this festival.
Midsommar plays with an idyllic setting, costumes, and supporting cast at Pelle’s home. The opening prompts the thought that this may be a take on a fairy tale, but it turns more into a pagan nightmare. Like Hereditary, the story has to do with a cult, and there is plenty of foreshadowing for what is coming for Pelle’s American friends. There is also a particular breathing sound in the film that echoes the tongue-clicking noise that Charlie (Milly Shapiro) makes in Hereditary. It may be a way to cleanse the soul of the cult’s followers, but it is never fully explained.
Ari Aster seems hell-bent on making the audience uncomfortable. Do you remember Annie (Toni Collette) trying to decapitate herself in the attic in Hereditary? I did not need to see that, and it went on for far too long. Aster hits the first horror note in Sweden in Midsommar by having the audience watch what happens to the elders. I could see what was coming, so I looked away, only to be shocked some more, which caused me to look at my friend until it was over. During Dani’s dream later that night, Aster flashes the aftermath of this previous scene, which frankly was something I did not need to see and could not avoid. He is trying to make the audience empathize with Dani and the others, but it also made me slightly annoyed with how he is making his audience see the gore when they least expect it. It is off-putting, to say the least. Speaking of uncomfortable scenes, there is plenty of senior nudity in this film as well, and it does dissolve into comedic elements at certain points which are appreciated.
The difference between Ari Aster’s two films is that Midsommar is not scary, not in the slightest. Midsommar uses a cult to dissolve and heal Dani’s insecurities, depression, and jealousy, revealing who she will become. The film uses hallucinogens more than any film in recent history to heighten the senses and exaggerate the feeling of unfamiliarity. It might be the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for those in the audience on a psychedelic trip. There are things to appreciate with Midsommar, but in the end, the best way to describe it is just being a f***ed up film.