Horror? More like a trippy, sun-washed nightmare of cults, paganism and… toxic relationships.
IMDB Synopsis: A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
Midsommar, the second film from Ari Aster, is one of the more disturbing films I’ve seen in a long time. And that’s a compliment. Not because of gore (there are some gross parts), and not because of the things that go bump in the night (the movie is so, so, so bright), but rather because it’s a portrayal of grief, trust, mental health, and relationships, and how truly fucked up people can be. And ultimately how you build yourself back up.
Early on, our protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers an unimaginable family tragedy early on and her asshole boyfriend Christian (Jack Raynor) and grad school friends invite her on their trip to Hårga, Sweden, to observe/participate in a Pagan ritual held once every 90 years. Ostensibly for graduate studies, it’s what gets the group to the idyllic setting of northern Sweden. Each of the characters arrives broken in their own right: Dani is fragile and looking for her way forward, Christian is a coward and looking for the path of least resistance, Josh (William Jackson Harper) is a shitty academic, and Mark (Will Poulter) wants to have sex with all of Sweden.
In Hårga the movie slows, plot-wise, but begins ramps up the character arc for Dani and the revelations of the true nature of the rest of the group. As we the audience are increasing put at unease by the cult-y goings on (there’s a cliff scene, some very odd meals, an inbred oracle, etc. etc.), and as the other characters mysteriously disappear, we find Dani slowly transform from an interested bystander to tentative participant to one undergoing a profound cathartic experience. Just in a very roundabout, really psychotropic nature. By the end, Dani begins to smile as her former life burns to ashes and she’s reborn with the help of the Pagans.
Watching this, I wouldn’t say my expectations were subverted, but there are definitely choices that Aster makes that are wtf-worthy, but also beautifully and painstakingly produced. The movie takes its time (147 minutes!) but it’s clear that Aster is less interested in a boogeyman (as the trailer might have you believe), and more about self-exploration and self-discovery in the face of inconceivable tragedy. By the end, Midsommar turns out to be less of a horror movie and more a portrait of mental health, toxic relationships, and moving on. If only all horror movies said half as much.
Highlights: The movie is very funny, which was a pleasant surprise. The sun-bathed setting is beautiful. And the final scene of the movie is worth the admission alone.
MVP: Florence Pugh as Dani. She has to do ALL of the heavy lifting in the acting department and she once again shows why she’s one of the brightest young actors around.
Should you see it: 9.5/10. I know that “horror”is not a draw for a lot of people, but it’s so very good and has a lot to say. I think it’ll connect with a lot of people personally.
Director: Ari Aster
Studio: A24 // Original release date: July 2, 2019