Hereditary was a major hit for A24 last summer, quickly becoming one of the indie distributor’s most successful monetary investments off of the strength of some magnetic performances, a string of horrendously morbid set pieces, and an assured directorial debut from Ari Aster. A24 has put their hopes in Aster again, hoping that Midsommar can become just as fruitful.
Even with the success, however, there’s no question that Aster’s aesthetic is an acquired taste; just like Hereditary, there’s going to be many that will find Midsommar unwieldy and unnecessary. I am not one of those people, though, as Aster’s sophomore effort is quite the experience. One that is meticulous, odd, and surprisingly funny.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster
Dani (Pugh) is on the brink of a mental breakdown after a family tragedy; as a result, feeling trapped in their relationship, Christian (Reynor) invites her on a trip with his friends to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village.
What starts as a rather carefree and blissful journey quickly descends into chaos as the commune invites their guests to take place in a series of sinister festivities.
Ari Aster is Here to Rule Your Nightmares
Ari Aster has done the unthinkable: after two movies, he hasn’t included a single true jump scare.
Of course, jump scares have their place in horror filmmaking, even if many lackluster directors utilize them in a bad attempt at creating tension. But the lack of them in Aster’s films speak to his striking style. After just two films, Aster has a tempo and storytelling style that is completely his own, one that punishing in its thematic elements and virtuosic in its camera work. He’ll flat-out show you brutal carnage, never flinching as the awful images seep into your subconscious. I won’t remember Annabelle Comes Home for long, but I’ll always remember an Ari Aster film for its thoughtful depravity that transcends typical horror tropes.
Midsommar is an Experience You Will Not Soon Forget
I’m amazed that Midsommar exists in its current form. It’s a meticulously crafted film, so much so that its almost two-hour and thirty-minute runtime never feels like an obstacle, but an extra treat to spend so much time in this horrible nightmare. Midsommar is paced perfectly; I couldn’t tell you a single moment that I would take out to shorten it. Kudos to A24 and the film’s producers for having the guts to release the fully-formed version of Aster’s vision. The length of the film allows the viewer to become fully engrossed in this world and its characters, whereas most horror films only have time for one or the other. It clearly pays homage to a few horror classics (The Wicker Man being an obvious one) but it’s entirely its own beast.
By design, Hereditary was a miserable movie from start to finish as it commented on the inevitability of the horror coming to Toni Collette’s character and her family. Midsommar, on the other hand, is more of a rollercoaster of emotion, switching from complete misery and gnarly imagery to moments that are disarmingly funny as these characters acclimate to their strange surroundings. Will Poulter is spot-on as the ugly American of the group traveling to this remote location.
In a savvy move, the characters are built out to help the audience learn about this world too, in that they can organically ask members of the commune questions about their daily activities without derailing the narrative. You leave the film with a strong understanding of the pieces at play.
Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor are More Than Committed
Between being cast in the upcoming Black Widow movie and starring in Fighting With My Family earlier this year, Florence Pugh is on the rise, so you might want to jump on the bandwagon while it’s still cool to do so. Pugh is haunting as the lead, slowly losing her mind with every shocking revelation until she essentially loses all touch with her humanity. From the title sequence, you know that her character is in for a precipitous unraveling. In combination with the measured paced of the film, watching that fall from an already precarious start is anxiety-inducing, to say the least.
Her screen partner, Jack Reynor, is an outstanding facilitator of said anxiety as the wonderfully dickish boyfriend. With most movies, this kind of character is so overcooked that it’s impossible to understand why someone would date them in the first place; in Midsommar, Reynor dials it back, opting for an assault of passive-aggressive remarks and cold expressions towards Pugh’s character. Immediately, you understand that he’s now caring for her out of necessity, not out of love as he may have earlier in their relationship.
Your Bad Relationship is About to Get Worse
If you happen to find yourself in a rocky relationship, I would bow out of watching Midsommar for the time being. Aster wrote the film in the wake of a particularly difficult break-up; and to the girl that this story is based on, I am so very sorry. Midsommar feeds off of the need that one can have for another in a relationship and the dangers that come with that feeling not being reciprocated. This film understands that love can shift to entrapment in an instant when a relationship doesn’t have a strong foundation. That intoxication for your significant other wanes and all that is left is a shell of a former bond. The breaks begin slowly, but by the end, you break up, and you won’t be able to look at that person the same ever again.
We catch Dani and Christian at the beginning of this fall; the events that transpire in Sweden only make this divide more pronounced. The horror in Midsommar stems from this psychological break, in how relying on someone else can send you on a downward spiral with no other support system in sight when it goes wrong.
I’m still amazed that a movie like Midsommar is going wide into theaters; the idea of a random individual strolling into a theater, hoping for a fun, little horror film, unprepared of what they’re in store for, in complete shock of this film’s third act tickles me like nothing else.
Midsommar is a trip, further proving that Ari Aster is one of the most exciting, strange, singular, morbid, depraved, and skilled young voices in the industry. I will continue to process this movie for quite some time, contemplating its inner workings and intricacies — there’s definitely a LOT to ruminate over here. But I do know one thing: I won’t forget this experience. Ever.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Midsommar? Comment down below!
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