By Bradley Lane
Midsommar is a horror movie that shuns genre convention. Nearly all horror movies drape their scenery in darkness to hide the horrors that lurk within the blackness of night. It capitalizes on the fear of the unknown by hiding information from the audience; but what is scarier? A monster concealed by shadows, invisible to the naked eye, or the horrific knowledge of being fully aware and cognizant of the threat in front of you? If this is the question, Midsommar is the answer. Directed and written by up-and-coming horror superstar, Ari Aster, Midsommar makes clear that Aster is here, and here to stay.
Ari Aster exploded onto the horror and arthouse scene last year with his debut feature film, Hereditary. Hereditary did not just shock me, it left me utterly speechless. I had to subject myself to multiple viewings to come to grips with the film. It was by no means an enjoyable experience, but the film was a technical marvel filled with soon-to-be iconic horror imagery, immaculately detailed character writing and rich and impactful themes including, but not limited to, loss, family, sacrifice, traumatization and ultimately, how we process grief. When all was said and done, Hereditary was not only one of my favorite movies of the year, but also a cornerstone in the modern horror canon.
Now, barely a year removed from Hereditary, Aster has released his follow-up film, Midsommar. The film focuses on Florence Pugh’s character, Dani, suffering through an unfathomably traumatic loss. In an attempt to find closure, support, or even escapism, she embarks on a trip to rural Sweden to celebrate an annual Midsommar festival with her boyfriend and his friends from his university’s anthropology department. However, soon after Pelle, played by Vilhelm Blomgren, leads the group to his small village in Sweden it becomes very apparent that they are in way over their heads.
Midsommar is a profoundly unique film, not in story or plot so much as its painstakingly detailed visuals and incomparable tone. Throughout most of the film our protagonists are on some sort of psychoactive substances that influence the look of the film by portraying the character’s specific type of drug-fueled subjectivity. Subtle distortion of the colorful, brightly lit background foliage and even slight facial manipulation put the audience in an uncomfortable perspective throughout the film. It never reveals itself as scary necessarily, but rather defines its horror through feelings of discomfort, paranoia and severe anxiety. No doubt feelings inspired by bad trips on psychedelic substances. These feelings build into a mind-bending final scene, which is sure to stick with you for days after viewing.
Midsommar is not without its flaws, however. Unlike its predecessor, Midsommar does not always show respect for complex character motivations, often inserting manufactured drama to serve the plot despite it not being in service to the film’s overall story or messaging. This can lead to some slower spots in the story, which can also be attributed to the film feeling slightly self-indulgent in its visual aesthetics. Additionally, Aster’s treatment of disabled and mentally ill characters was verging on problematic in Hereditary and takes a further step in that direction in Midsommar. It made me uncomfortable watching the film, a decidedly different discomfort than what was intended by the filmmakers.
Despite its flaws however, Midsommar stands as one of the most visually striking, and tonally unique, films of the year and should not be missed. 3.5/5