Midsommar - 2019
Director(s): Ari Aster
Writer(s): Ari Aster
Cinematography by: Pawel Pogorzelski
Editor(s): Lucian Johnston
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe
Last year, Ari Aster made his feature film debut with Hereditary. It was a highlight of the year for me (even though it was a bit divisive amongst horror fans) - so when A24 announced that his sophomore film was coming out this year, it instantly became one of my most anticipated of the year (sadly, a tiny list this year). Walking out of this mushroom laced love letter to folk horror (mainly The Wicker Man), and shitty relationships - it took awhile for it to fully sink in (as did Hereditary) - since Aster is not interested in making you jump. He is instead interested in crawling under your skin and making you feel uneasy and unsettled for the rest of the day. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Dani (Pugh), a college student dealing with intense panic attacks, and emotional trauma triggered by recent within her family. Her boyfriend, Christian (Reynor) feels trapped within the relationship and doesn't have the guts to break up with Dani. When he is invited by his friends to go on a trip to Sweden and take part in a midsummer celebration of a small commune (the Hårga) - he brings Dani along to his friend's chagrin. Once in Sweden, the group partakes in psychedelic drugs at the request of the commune, as it connects you with the influence of nature, giving Dani a bad trip due to her condition and the events of her family. Things do not get better for her and the group once the celebration kickoff, and they are not what they expected, sending them down a path of no return - especially for Dani and Christian's relationship.
Aster's screenplay on the surface may seem like a rehash of The Wicker Man – a cult commune inviting an outsider to take part in a celebration to their gods that include feasts, songs, dancing, and a little human sacrifice - you know the usual. But by setting it in the backdrop of Dani's trauma, grief, and her deteriorating relationship – it becomes a vehicle for her growth as a person. I loved how slow and methodical every conversation, ritual and outcome were, making the audience sit and wait in anticipation – not for the "twist" but for the foregone conclusion we see a mile away. The anticipation of the dreaded known makes you shift in your chair and stare in discomfort, knowing what is going to happen to our characters. Also, you can see Aster's love and care with the religion he is depicting on-screen, and his attention to detail elevates the experience.
Quick note: this film is also hilarious, and it is weird to say that considering how disturbing many of the images depicted on screen are - but Aster injects moments of levity that allow the audience to breathe and re-group as they prepare for the next onslaught of tension.
Aster and cinematographer Pogorzelski also keep this tone and pace through their deliberate camera movements - making them feel dreamlike and ghostly, adding another layer to the aesthetic of the film. The use of mirrors to create distance between Dani and Christian makes for multiple visually compelling shots. The production team knocked it out of the park - everything from costume to set design is beautiful - taking the beauty in nature and architecture and clashing it against the gore and horror of the cult's actions. I also need to point out the score composed by The Haxan Cloak - as I found it deeply disturbing, and it added a layer of anxiety to the events.
Florence Pugh, just like Toni Collette in Hereditary, is put through the wringer and gives a fantastic performance of a woman dealing with seemingly insurmountable grief during an unnatural situation. Pugh's pain, grief, and despair are heightened through the psychedelics drugs consumed throughout the film, creating an overwhelming experience for her character and the audience. Reynor is the perfect passive-aggressive, well sorry the language, asshole that stays in a relationship because it's the "right" thing to do, even though he is causing more damage than helping. The entire commune is filled with actors just being creepy if I am honest, and their overly lovely smiles and welcoming nature only adds to the uneasy feeling you have throughout the film.
Midsommar is an ambitious film by Aster, that tackles grief, depression, and relationship drama set in the backdrop of folk horror. Dani's journey of finding someone to love her and help her carry the load grounds the cult elements, even when you as an audience member are just disturbed and confused as to what will happen next. Aster delivers one of the most beautiful films of the year, with sequences that defy the consensus that scary things only happen in the dark. I should say that just like his debut film, Midsommar is not for everyone, and it will probably be hated by audiences expecting jump scares and pure "horror." I flat out loved this film, and I hope you do too.
Midsommar is Why I Love Movies.
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