Midsommar is a masterstroke. Writer/director Ari Aster carves his name onto the top of the list of spectacular indie directors with the visually stunning (and equally upsetting) thriller, Midsommar.
I wish there was a better way to describe this movie without the word horror. Perhaps indie/horror or thriller are better boxes to force this film into, but Ari Aster manages to put together an overly tense movie that is entirely free of jump-scares and cheap gimmicks. It’s absolutely refreshing to spend time with a film that clearly sets up every terror it has in store for you. As a viewer, watching the director lay breadcrumbs at your feet is rewarding, rather than being bludgeoned by the awkward foreshadowing as is the case in many horror movies (and bludgeoning is the right word for this movie.) Each element in the story of Midsommar establishes the next, and with the commanding performance of Florence Pugh, each moment of tension is well crafted and everything eventually pays-off.
When Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invites his fellow classmates to attend an authentic Swedish mid-summer festival, they decide to experience the quirky celebration with open minds. While Dani (Florence Pugh) is grieving over a family tragedy, she decides to tag along with what was originally supposed to be a ‘boys trip,’ thus ruining her boyfriend and his friends preexisting plans to have sexual escapades across the countryside.
Midsommar is a well paced thriller from start to finish, capturing the audience’s attention from the opening sequences, and never letting you quite relax into your seat. Again, how wonderful it is to leave a the theater and feel as though every piece of the puzzle was created, developed and methodically given to the audience, and for the first time in a while, a movie in the horror genre that does not have 3rd act problems.
Ari Aster gained fame after the release of Hereditary, which will no doubt draw consistent comparisons from movie-goers, but Midsommar seemed to reward me in all the ways that Hereditary let me down. The third act of Hereditary felt rushed, poorly paced, and I didn’t have enough time with the final moments of the film to feel that those same moments truly ‘landed.’ That is not the case with Midsommar.
Some of the best moments in Midsommar are it’s most subtle, with Florence Pugh playing a grieving character that, while having a few monumental emotional moments, plays a character who is trying to hold it together, rather than in full-on-freak-out. But the moments that rang the truest for me were the well portrayed altered state-of-mind moments. Throughout the film, its main characters are constantly taking hallucinogenic drugs, but the actors all seem to do an amazing job portraying the reality of a drug-trip, instead of falling into the trope of movies like Dazed and Confused. The characters express fear, and oscillate between that fear and enjoyment of the moment of being high, and it really helps the movie feel reality based and grounded.
The kindness and acceptance from each of the characters to what horrors they begin to witness also rings true. Strangers sitting idly by as a culture that isn’t their own pushes them further and further into what is obviously unacceptable behavior. Each character exudes a believable tolerance for allowing the chaos around them to continue, because who are they to judge.
And to contrast the subtle moments, the most striking part of the movie must then be its overwhelming score. Never have I heard music used as such a weapon, wielded expertly by The Haxan Cloak (Bobby Krlic). In scenes where the music is meant to confront the viewers, there is no mistaking its presence or intention. I was thrilled to experience the amazing contrast the sound and music created, with nearly silent and under-produced moments placed closely to loud and unsettling music, which makes the assaulting feel from the music more pronounced.
Like many aspects of the film, it is surprising that the pieces of Midsommar fit together as well as they do. I need to remind myself constantly when watching the work that Ari Aster that he is a youthful director, because his vision and attention to detail are things you would expect from a more experienced leader. Aster is so beautifully able to weave together a true tapestry in Midsommar, with each thread placed in the exact right moment. The entire film industry should be grateful for the amazing work that Ari Aster is providing to us all.
Midsommar (2019) – Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) meets Hereditary (2018)