Midsommar marks Ari Aster’s second venture as a director post Hereditary – which left many shocked, bemused and frightened.
This film also promises to be just as creepy (if not more) as the makers fuse Sweden’s real midsummer festival, which is a fun/family time with some elements of dark Swedish folklore.
Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart.
But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village.
The carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a murky turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that are increasingly sinister.
Ari Aster’s Vision as a Filmmaker
From the very beginning, we are thrown into the crux of the film.
Instantly, we get the understanding that all is not well between the main protagonists.
To showcase the distance between Dani and Christian, the camera-shots competently display the disparity between them.
For instance, during a confrontational scene, we see Dani by the door, whilst Christian’s reactions are seen through a mirror reflection.
It is such visuals which really determine how distanced the pair of them are and gives more prominence to Dani’s perspective – given that she is a tormented soul.
At times, there seems to be a strong Stanley Kubrick influence on Aster’s filmmaking style.
The overhead shot of greeneries is reminiscent of the opening credits The Shining, whilst the extreme wide-shots and rotating/spiralling camera work remind one of A Clockwork Orange.
But having said that, his attention to minute detail and command as a storyteller is first-rate.
As a result, the visual appeal of Midsommar is enhanced by Pawel Pogorzelski’s picturesque cinematography and Lucian Johnston’s crisp editing.
Unsettling From the Word Go
Given that light is what usually safeguards viewers in Horror movies, Aster uses this to scare us in the most unnerving way possible.
In comparison to other horror films out there, Aster steers furthest away from the routine jumpscares and mundane tropes.
The feeling of unsettlement is established from the very first frame when somewhat angelic yet haunting music plays during the opening credits.
Would we have ever thought that a remote but scenic Swedish village surrounded by nature could be scary? But Aster proves otherwise.
When it comes to depicting a cult, we expect the barbaric rituals, but this film takes it to another level.
Like Hereditary, this one is a slow burner but the horror snowballs steadily, though macabre moments are constantly thrown at us, leaving the audience feeling sickened to the core.
There is a particular scene which is darkly humorous, humiliating and perturbing… I won’t mention what it is, but you will know once you’ve seen the film.
Once you have seen these visuals, it becomes difficult to unsee them. Midsommar leaves a mark on your psyche… Forever.
I have observed a few parallels between characters in Hereditary and Midsommar.
In Hereditary, Annie the main female protagonist (played by Toni Collette) is a suffering soul, engulfed by familial tragedies and so is Dani in Midsommar.
Similarly, Steve (played by Gabriel Byrne) proves to be an uncompassionate husband and Christian in this film is an inadequate boyfriend.
Collectively, it is interesting to see how Ari Aster combines human emotions and suffering with horror. He seems to have mastered this balance.
As such, there are some incredible performances. Florence Pugh essays a mentally disturbed character effortlessly.
To portray such a layered character is not at all an easy task but she carries it off like a pro. This could definitely rank amongst her best performances yet.
Jack Reynor gets it right as the supportive yet indecisive boyfriend. There are moments which enrage us due to his ego and idiotic behaviour.
Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper are brilliant in playing Christian’s friends.
A special mention goes to Vilhelm Blomgren. His seemingly compassionate, innocent nature is completely unsettling and you don’t realise this until the second half.
The cast in the cult is also on par. They execute these idiosyncratic behaviours and antiques in a chilling manner.
What Could be Improved?
When it comes to cinematic appeal and unsettling the viewer, Midsommar scores big.
However, the slow-burning pace might not be to everyone’s taste. Unlike other mainstream horror films, this one takes its time in establishing the characters and narrative foundation.
Speaking of taste, this movie is definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted. It is not advisable to watch this movie for those unable to tolerate the sickening gore and shocking premise.
It will also take time for the brave-hearted and thick-skinned to digest and overcome the visuals exhibited in this movie.
Overall, Midsommar is one of the most disturbing and quirky horror films to be viewed, of recent.
We can appreciate that Hollywood has finally found a filmmaker like Ari Aster who knows how to spook viewers in an unconventional but realistic manner.
The film leaves you unsettled and you’ve witnessed this, there is no going back… But more than anything, it feels so real and that itself is scary.