Visionary director, Ari Aster, once again delivers an unexpected, very different, creepy as hell horror film that defies expectations. The writer and director of ‘Hereditary’ invites his viewers into a world so foreign and strange that we feel dislodged from any sense of normalcy as we watch his latest film ‘Midsommar.’
It’s the story of Dani and Christian, a couple on the brink of breaking up. Dani is seen as neurotic and on the edge and Christian seems conflicted about breaking up with her while his friends -- Pelle, Josh, and Mark -- push him to make a decision. But a personal tragedy keeps the couple together long enough for Dani to join the men to a trip to Sweden to visit Pelle and his family’s once in a lifetime midsummer festival.
Right around the time of the summer solstice, Sweden is awash with sunlight, even at 9 in the evening, but everything about the isolated farm that they are staying in and the strange rituals happening throughout the 9-day feast can keep you on edge because it feels so different. Everyone in the farm are smiling and happy. They are singing songs and wearing white robes and dancing. There’s a live acoustic band constantly playing music. But as the inhabitants of the commune speak primarily in Swedish -- and without subtitles except for key dialogue -- you feel the alienation that Dani and Christian and the rest feel.
It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of psychotropic mushrooms being passed around and Dani is suffering from the trauma of her personal tragedy. ‘Midsommar’ is an assault of the senses. The cinematography is exquisite, either opting to come in really close to capture all the little movements of the characters betraying what they really feel as opposed to what they are saying or going really wide to show the beauty of the location, the lush and vibrant natural beauty of the surroundings, but also highlighting how isolated they are.
Compounding upon that is the excellent sound design that really amplifies the eerie music that comes in when things get very uncomfortable and scary or it gets extremely quiet you could hear the reactions of the other people in the theater with you. It’s an amazing experience because of its full sensory barrage.
Completing the assault is how director Ari Aster takes his time to build this story, detailing every little ritual that comes into this 9-day festival in the middle of nowhere. There’s something that’s off, the relationships amongst the friends start to unravel, Dani is suffering from having little space to be honest about her trauma, and the effect of all of this so dazzling.
And then when the first sign of true violence comes in, the film becomes relentless in building up the weirdness.
Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor are magnificent as Dani and Christian. Pugh manages to highlight Dani’s struggle to try and keep everything together so as to not have an anxiety attack in front of others. She is always in a constant state of breaking down but trying to save face and hold on while Reynor’s Christian, a PhD candidate in Anthropology, is slowly getting seduced by this strange, foreign world. We can see him emotionally distancing himself from Dani while still trying to save face and be a good man.
And in the swirl of all of this, Ari Aster manages to create a commentary on communal behaviour, cultural differences, and maybe even religion. As strange as these events and rituals are, and even when they get genuinely frightening, never does Aster portray it as evil. This is their community and their traditions. The film never makes any judgment about their actions, even when we discover things that most civilized societies would find appalling.
‘Midsommar’ is not just an exercise in the horrors of isolation but it also gives us a glimpse into the mentality of groups bonded by a single ideology or faith. The shared belief systems and ritual practices define them so distinctly that it can repel or attract people into the fold. It’s not just Dani’s descent into facing her darkest feelings and trauma in the most horrific of circumstances, but also a study into the moral gray areas of religious freedoms and cultural respect.
At two hours and twenty-seven minutes, ‘Midsommar’ is an exhausting journey into dread. Even with its beautiful, bright, and often trippy cinematography, the film still manages to capture a kind of darkness that exists in broad daylight. The film is slow but detailed. It’s unendingly creepy and builds the terror primarily in your mind. It’s a masterful piece of work that might not be for everyone but it is undoubtedly going to be hailed as one of 2019’s best films.