Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Ari Aster made his mark in 2018 with his directorial debut – the stunning and frightful Hereditary – and just twelve months later, he’s returned with another striking and memorably strange sophomore effort Midsommar.
The film is centered around Dani, a young American student whose life is upended when her sister commits a double homicide/suicide, ending her own life and taking that of their parents.
Dani leans heavily for support on her boyfriend Christian, who, unbeknownst to her, has long grown tired of the relationship and finds Dani to be emotionally draining and bothersome. He is encouraged to end things by his group of friends Mark, Josh and Pelle but he never does. This decision seems to be mostly driven by procrastination or conflict avoidance. The relationship plods along, with Christian half-arsing it every step of the way. In a film that is loaded with extreme, over-the-top material, the low-key shitty nature of Dani and Christian’s relationship in the first half of the film is written in a surprisingly grounded fashion. I think everyone will recognize a couple that they know whose relationship has run its course, that feels similar to the way Dani and Christian interact.
The following summer, Pelle organizes a trip for the boys to visit his hometown Halsingland in Sweden to observe the annual celebration of Midsummer. This year is of special significance as the commune will be participating in rituals observed only once every ninety years. Christian lands in hot water with Dani when she learns of this trip and realizes she is not invited. Christian scrambles to make amends with Dani and hastily decides to invite her along, much to dismay of Mark and Josh.
Midsommar is part of that rare sub-genre of film – the folk-horror. Probably the best known example I can think of is The Wicker Man, another film about visiting a remote commune, set largely in broad daylight, where the chills are drawn from the fact that something feels off about the inhabitants.
As anyone who has seen Hereditary will anticipate, once the big reveal is made about the nature of the commune, you are in for a ride and Aster’s imagination is able to conjure up some truly disturbing and mentally scarring material. What makes his films such a unique experience is the way he disorients the viewer and draws them in. The lengthy running time, the cinematography that draws your eyes to strange little details on the edge of the frame, and the off-kilter dialogue all set you up to be bowled over once the madness takes over.
It took me quite a long time to process exactly what I saw after the credits rolled for Midsommar. It’s so strange and fucked up. If I’m honest, I’d be hard pressed to say what the film is about exactly. I guess you could describe it as the most unpleasant break up movie of all time? In a film where a lot of horrific stuff goes down, at its centre is Dani and Christian and their dreadful relationship circling the drain.
I can’t see myself revisiting this film as I did with Hereditary. I don’t know that it has much of a rewatchable quality to it. However, I did admire Aster’s craftsmanship in making this film and Florence Pugh is a highlight as Dani. I do think Midsommar cements Ari Aster as a noteworthy film maker who obviously has a wild imagination and is brimming with ideas. After Hereditary and Midsommar, lord only what he comes up with next.