If you’ve been following the trends that the horror genre has been through in the past 8 years you’ll see there’s a pattern to it all. Midsommar in many ways is another film that weaves itself into the category of the modern horror genre. It’s slow, character focused, and dreary as all hell – these are now hallmark signs that a film is part of the modern horror renaissance. Midsommar finds itself to be a more simple film however – unlike director Ari Asters previous film Hereditary (2017), which functioned as more of a deep-dive into mental illness, Midsommar finds itself following a different trend altogether.
Directed by Ari Aster Midsommar follows the story of a girl named Dani (Florence Pugh), as she and her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) go on a trip with friends to Sweden to attend a small community’s midsommar festival. Unsurprisingly things go south for these characters, but not all is shock and horror; much of this film, as mentioned, is a slow-burn – with much of the journey involving the characters losing their wits in wild drug trips, unsettling traditions, and witnessing violent religious ceremonies. Oddly enough, much of this tends to be surprisingly comedic at times – Aster provides much more levity than I could’ve ever imagined he would.
On the surface this story entails a mighty clash of the traditional violence of old religion and the postmodernist values of today; in other words, we get to watch a bunch of young kids lose their shit when they find themselves in the deep end of scary old cult. If you know director Ari Aster, then it wouldn’t surprise you to find out that Midsommar unsurprisingly isn’t really about a Midsommar festival – it’s about the characters. Specifically Dani and her life, experiences, and mental state. The core of Midsommar is that Dani is clearly in a toxic relationship that she needs to leave. Like Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018), Midsommar shares a core similarity – both films are about grief. Midsommar just happens to be about a different form of it.
We see Dani go through many of the stages of grief – depression, anger, denial, bargaining, etc. But what Aster understands about grief is that it doesn’t truly happen in stages, it’s circular. One may go through denial, then anger, but then back to denial or depression again at any given moment – this process repeats, often at random, until the sufferer lands on acceptance. Aster aims to make these emotions explosive and messy, they don’t happen in logical order, but in messy sporadic strokes – like how real emotion functions. Whether Dani is trying to escape a haunting memory, face a fear, or is falling deep into a pit of despair – Aster has complete control over this character’s emotional progression, allowing for the audience to feel the raw pain that the character is enduring.
However, much of Dani’s potency is achieved via the outstanding emotional performance by Florence Pugh. Florence captures grief and emotional instability on par with many of the great actors working today – from her gut-wrenching despair, to her explosive scream-crying – this performance digs its nails deep into your chest and forces you to feel the pain with her. Jack Reynor plays the dim and toxic boyfriend, an addiction that Dani simply cannot shake. Jack Reynor’s dedication to this supporting role shows he could potentially have an interesting career ahead. Will Poulter again shows his range, this time in a comedic position, but not as a prankster, but as the lovable asshole.
The premise and execution of its story may not appeal to the masses with Midsommar but no one can deny it is a masterclass in its technical attributes. Aster closely collaborates with Pawel Pogorzelski to create a visual landscape that beautifully blends its dream-like fairy tale with misery and horror. The visual look of the film is incredibly bright and not to the point of discomfort, but instead creates an atmosphere allowing you to feel the beauty of summer. The composition perfectly balances everything in the frame and the camera movement smoothly pans to reveal new information in a way that is engrossing and unsettling. It is clear that Aster and Pogorzelski had challenges with shooting this movie but still, somehow, managed to achieve this.
Set to the backdrop of a Swedish village during the peak of summer where the sun rarely sets, the majority of shooting takes place in an open field. The set-design is interesting and compelling as it mixes traditional and contemporary architecture that supports the uncomfortable nature of the environment. The residents who reside in the Swedish village are dressed in bright white-coded costumes that indicate detailed research on Swedish history and folklore and this again, adds to the unsettling nature of the characters surroundings. The expansive orchestral score of Midsommar incorporates many different sounds and melodies to build upon its atmosphere that begins from the haunting opening towards the grand climax of the film.
Midsommar is a festival of many flavours to feast upon – an effective and potent story with detailed characters built upon an intricate paganistic cult. Ari Aster provides us with a haunting take that is as equally rich in visual detail as it is in narrative heft. While not as narratively dense and complex as Hereditary it still provides enough spine-chilling horror and derangement to keep me more than satisfied. Midsommar resembles a beautiful bouquet of fragrant wild-flowers – breathtaking in their floral beauty – but sinisterly accompanied by a sickening rot that runs from stem to root – in the best way possible.
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