Two films deep, I’m pretty sure we can crown Ari Aster with the [Paimon] crown as king of grief-stricken cinema. After stunning audiences in his pitch black debut Hereditary (2018), audiences have been eager to step into the sunlight to see what terrors Aster would conjure in shallow shadows, warm cotton-to-cotton embraces, and frolicking, flower-crowned townfolk. Midsommar again finds Aster pulling double-duty as both writer and director – so all the terror, tension, and establishing of jaw-dropping traditions rest firmly on his shoulders.
After stunning audiences in his pitch black debut Hereditary (2018), audiences have been eager to step into the sunlight to see what terrors Aster would conjure in shallow shadows, warm cotton-to-cotton embraces, and frolicking, flower-crowned townfolk.
Dani (Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth) is a young adult struggling with family, mental health, and finding comfort in the arms of her distant and aloof boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor, Transformers: Age of Extinction). As Christian plans to plan to break up with Dani, or perhaps just ghost her, family tragedy strikes and Christian’s soft-boiled feelings are put on the back burner as he inherits the role as Dani’s only emotional support.
Grief doesn’t seem to bring the two any closer together, because winter melts towards summer and Christian is aloof as ever. After being the zoned-out arm candy at a party, Dani learns Christian has made plans with his pals to head to Sweden for a month and a half. In two weeks. And he’s already bought a plane ticket.
And, as the master of confrontation we know him to be, push comes to shove and Christian reluctantly invites Dani to tag along. Because we definitely want to see this relationship prolonged anymore than it has already. Definitely.
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Our American pals are soon whisked away to Sweden to the rural (and definitely culty) homeland of artist Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to celebrate a midsummer festival that only occurs once every ninety years. What could go wrong? Along with Dani and Christian are fellow student Josh (William Jackson Harper, The Good Place), who’s decided to use the village’s customs as part of his thesis, and tagalong Mark (Will Poulter, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) who is definitely more interested in the drugs and fair maidens the Hårga have to offer.
It isn’t long before dread and unease set in, even in the unlikely, sun-drenched Swedish countryside. Green grass, flower crowns, and plait braids won’t keep us from being fearful for long – because the Hårga’s customs quickly go from being a mind-opening experience to a life-altering one.
Though Midsommar and Hereditary paint with completely different color palettes, Aster has proven confidence in his brush strokes. The two films are familial to each other; we see the same concrete visual language in both. We recognize the eye behind the camera. Though establishing his own style, Aster is not afraid to explore the visual and ethereal fluidity of Midsommar and its characters, with their varying and often drug-induced mental states. The camera swirls and twirls in a disorienting dance, and weaves and bobs throughout maypole dancers, ready to catch every ritual and custom happening out on the grass.
As much as Midsommar belongs to Aster, Dani is owned by Florence Pugh. This film hinges on our connection to the grief-ridden and anxious outsider, and Pugh perfectly conveys the emotional current running under a woman constantly trying to keep herself on lockdown. Perpetually on the verge of a panic attack or emotional breakdown, we watch helplessly as Dani struggles to keep control over her physical and mental state. Like Hereditary, Midsommar is a horror movie. And also like Hereditary, horror is only an avenue for which to explore grief and relationships. Without Dani, Midsommar is just a rehashing of The Wicker Man. But with Dani, our journey is hers.
The culty aspects are the Jaws of Midsommar, and do their job of getting butts in seats. Girls dance around maypoles, beer is drunk, feasts are feasted upon, and sacrifices are sacrificed. In terms of originality, there isn’t much juice left to be squeezed from this lemon. Cult films have had their day in the sun, and we’ve carved the formula into stone. The Hårga never had the element of surprise on their side, because their story is being told to a suspicious audience – one that’s already wary of May Queens, jesters, bears, and fire. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love a day spent in the sun. Even if it’s a beach we’ve been to before, a field we’ve danced. Horror audiences don’t get a lot of daytime – so we should relish every opportunity for a change of scenery.
Midsommar is a nightmare resting gently on dewy grass, the lingering unease of being an outsider among those closest to you.
Despite Midsommar never pulling the wool from under us, it succeeds as being a beautiful and emotional journey. Midsommar is a nightmare resting gently on dewy grass, the lingering unease of being an outsider among those closest to you. Thanks to the conflicted Dani, expertly portrayed by Florence Pugh, we are engrossed in a story that sometimes already feels familiar to us. Whether we’ve danced this dance before, whether these flowers are new or not — one thing’s for sure — we never want the dance to end.