Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
If there is anything director Ari Aster wants you to know going into Midsommar, it’s that it’s a break-up movie. He goes on to call it a “Wizard of Oz for perverts,” and he isn’t entirely wrong about that. The folk horror primarily takes place in a remote, idyllic commune in Sweden where Midsommar celebrations are taking place. It’s a summer solstice ritual that only happens every 90 years. The mood is cheery and bright with its permanent sunlight. Everyone wears flowy, white gowns and elaborate flower crowns in honor of the festivities, and yet something is amiss.
In the 2 hours and 20 minutes that you never feel watching this film, you will experience this cult-like facade unfold. Director Ari Aster, who brought us the slow-burning masterpiece horror Hereditary last summer, has proven his talent in creating the kind of intensity in a film that has you at the edge of your seat without pushing off it until the very end. That said, this film plays more with your emotions and has you questioning if this is merely a cultural experience or a dream vacation gone wrong.
Midsommar begins in the dead of winter when a tragedy befalls Dani (Florence Pugh) after she receives a dark, cryptic email from her bipolar sister. Christian (Jack Reynor), her boyfriend of four years, discusses his displeasure in the relationship with his friends but doesn’t want to face the repercussions of actually breaking up with Dani. Especially after her misfortune, Christian begrudgingly stays by her side and drags around the corpse of this relationship that should have ended years ago. During a party Dani forces herself to attend with Christian, she hears about a month-and-a-half long trip to Sweden him and his grad school friends have planned without her knowledge. They leave in two weeks.
After a confronting argument between the two and some gaslighting on Christian’s part, he is guilt tripped into inviting her to join him and his pals. She accepts, hoping the trip will breathe new life and salvage their relationship. Little does she know this trip will provide her with a wishful fulfillment and clarity of sorts she wasn’t expecting.
The camera literally turns upside down as they drive through Swedish scenery and arrive in Halsingland where Pele (Vilhelm Blomgren), one of Christian’s friends joining them, is from. He explains it’s a sort of commune in remote Northern Sweden, and it looks like a utopian paradise when they enter through the golden structure-like entrance. Singing and flute playing greets the group, and they’re mesmerized by the warm welcome hugs and literal frolicking going on around them.
Midsommar soon takes an odd turn as they walk around getting to know the land. We, the viewers, are given subtle clues about what is coming next. Hidden in tapestries throughout the commune — as well as murals and paintings on the walls of buildings and their sleeping quarters — we will soon understand the meaning of the imagery surrounding them. Compared to the likes of 1973’s The Wicker Man — not the poorly done remake starring Nicolas Cage — this film tests the viewers as much as the protagonists in it and holds that folklore quality where scary stories are born from.
It isn’t until an hour or so into the film we are reminded this is indeed a horror — and a gory one at that as — the Americans witness their first real Midsommar ritual that is truly unsettling. The film spirals from there. This is not a film for the weak of heart. If you’re not one for gore, I would highly recommend you skip out on this one. Unlike Hereditary that builds up the intensity for the viewer, this film tricks us into almost feeling safe in the novelty of being in a different country, experiencing a new culture in an Instagram-worthy backdrop of sunshine and celebration. But it’s when you let your guard down that the worst can happen.
This film is like a tapestry woven of many threads told in a fairytale manner — partly thanks to the amount of hallucinogens taken in it. One big thread is Dani’s struggle to comprehend what is going on around her as she’s still processing major trauma from back home. However, Christian, who she is heavily leaning on for support throughout all of it, is not the guy to step up and give it to her. Florence Pugh’s performance is astoundingly raw and resonates with you. Her primal cries and carnal struggles are felt and not at all drowned out by all the chaos going on around her. Midsommar cautions us of the throws of co-dependency and living out our darkest fantasies to free ourselves of them. As enthralling and disturbing as this jaunt is, you’ll be grateful you get to go home afterwards.
Midsommar is filled with a lot of humor for such a dark film. I found myself laughing out loud at scenes that made others in the theater uncomfortable and gasp in terror. The film truly challenges us by pushing the envelope and making us stew in the discomfort of these awkward and sometimes immensely vexing rituals it shares with us. Some I discovered in a Q&A with the director were partly based on real elements from Swedish and Midsommar traditions and German and English mid-summer folklore. Others are entirely made up from Ari Aster’s twisted genius. Part of the fun watching this film and knowing this is trying to figure out which ones they are. Mexican poet and human rights activist Cesar A. Cruz said it best when he wrote, “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” This film does just that and is worth a watch if you enjoy a beautifully crafted horror.
Gore and graphic violence10.0/10
Interesting and disturbing midsommar rituals and traditions9.5/10
You're in a cult, call your dad...10.0/10
- Look out for Florence Pugh's raw and real performance.
- You do not feel the duration of this film.
- Visually beautiful film to watch.
- Stays with you for a few days after viewing.
- Serves as a cautionary tale on how to spot a bad relationship and a deadly cult.
- One of the most uncomfortable but hilarious sex scenes on film.
- Some really graphic and disturbing rituals that may bother some.
- Depending when you laugh you will get dirty looks.
- May deter you from wanting to vacation in Sweden anytime soon.