Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter
Rated R | Minutes: 147
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Hereditary writer and director Ari Aster‘s Midsommar reminds us that, even though his films are redefining the genre, they aren’t for everybody. For his sophomore effort, he creates a world that on the surface looks bright and colorful, but deep down, hides something that is bizarre, strange, and visceral.
It is certainly a stark contrast to what he offered in his directorial debut in terms of vision and tone, but one that can be imbalanced because of its use of black comedy and an uneven narrative. Still, it is one trip that isn’t conventional and scares audiences to their core with the use of shocking imagery and terrific pacing. Check out my review below.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is a young woman whose relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is on the brink of collapse. But after receiving some tragic news, the normally detached Christian reluctantly offers Dani to join him and his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to go on a trip to a remote part of Sweden where they will be celebrating a one-of-a-kind festival at a commune.
Midsommar doesn’t waste any time setting the stage for what is to come for any of our characters. Within the first minutes of the opening act, we get to see all of the characters’ personalities and quirks. While Dani may come off as clingy and very emotional, it does come from a real place. Christian, on the other hand, is clearly uncaring and cold. He isn’t the type of person to even remember the smallest details of his relationship. As tired as he is of it, he cannot find a way to pull the cord and break up. Something that Josh and Mark suggest to do immediately. The only one who seems to care is Pelle, who offers his sympathies to a grieving Dani.
Once the group arrives, they partake in whatever the commune has to offer. This includes consuming hallucinogens, dancing around a maypole, and observing customs, some of which can be interpreted as deeply disturbing – at least to an outsider. But it’s hard not to be fascinated with what’s going on, no matter the level of shock it can deliver. Even the characters are somewhat intrigued by what is going on, and find themselves going deeper into the rabbit hole, not knowing that it is a hole they may never be able to climb out of.
A lot of that has to do with how Aster put this film together, along with Pugh’s stellar performance as Dani. She carries the film on her back with her steady and transformative performance. Through her, we experience all the horrors of a family tragedy and the internal suffering that crushes all emotions. So when we are hit with that heavy emotional blow in the opening minutes of the film, don’t be surprised to find yourself dropping your guard when you are taken to such a beautiful world that is literally full of sunshine.
The setting is not only constantly bright, but it also shimmers with greens that cover the grassy plains. People are adorned with colorful flower halos. All of that is juxtaposed with these strange trips that dull and warp the senses. It becomes hard to understand what is going on around your surroundings. And as much as people want to escape it, there is no escape. Because each trip is either worse than the last or reveals something that is awe-inspiring and beautiful.
Because this commune will serve as a catalyst to help Dani transform into a completely new person and find the closure that she desperately needs. It’s here that she can finally accept the truth about the things that she has long ignored, especially when it comes to her relationship with Christian and her relationship with her family. Though it may take a while for the film to get to that point, it is a purposefully slow-burning process that is filled with deeply disturbing imagery and sometimes humor.
That humor can be sometimes off-putting. It’s not as though it is a black comedy. Far from it. The humor here doesn’t necessarily break the tension that is in the air. Instead, a lot of it is used to point out the characters’ ignorance and sometimes blatant disrespect for the cultural norms of the commune. Most of which comes from Mark, who simply has a one-track mind and has no understanding of reverence. Other times it comes from mere conversations.
Still, one has to appreciate the allegory for grief and toxic relationships that are represented in Midsommar. Of course, horrors work really well when they are able to tell a far deeper and more meaningful story to coincide with the spine-tingling and skin-crawling factors. And Aster brilliantly and purposefully takes his time to tell that story with a slow-burn that goes from beauty to beast in a 147-minute runtime.
Sure, some patience is required. But in the long run, you’ll be glad you went on this trip.