Released: 14th August
Seen: 22nd August
In 2018, Ari Aster burst onto the scene with his critical darling Hereditary. It’s possibly one of the most tension-filled films in recent memory with a performance by its lead that can best be described as “Should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination and would’ve if the Academy had anything resembling a functioning brain”. It was a delightfully terrifying film that I ended up giving a three out of five because the ending really threw me. With over a year to think about that, while the ending really did spoil the tension for me I have to admit it deserved at least a four from me so keep that in mind as I’m going to be pitting Midsommar against Hereditary, because Ari Aster is such a unique filmmaker that his current work can only be properly compared to his other work.
Midsommar follows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and she’s been going through a lot. Not only did her sister kill herself, but the sister also killed mom and dad leaving Dani a complete wreck. If Dani had a good support system she might make it through this but unfortunately her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) isn’t exactly close, in fact it’s quite clear to everyone that they’re at the tail end of their relationship. This is made abundantly clear when Christian plans to go with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to Sweden to experience a midsummer celebration at Pelle’s commune. Since Dani is clearly distraught, Christian brings her along and so begins the vacation in a commune… because nothing ever goes bad when a bunch of American college students go overseas, nothing whatsoever.
So, Midsommar has the same brilliant tension that Hereditary had except Midsommar isn’t going to make you wait an hour before it twists the valve to let out steam. You barely get an hour in before it becomes abundantly clear that there is something wrong with this group. This film is a lot more willing to let the audience have a chance to breathe, throwing more shocks and viscerally disturbing moments out so we can wince and unwind. It’s certainly not as tense as Hereditary was, but it makes up for that by being a lot more shocking. Yes, his first film didn’t exactly lack for violent moments (I mean, a child got their head lopped off by a signpost as the inciting incident, not subtle there) but this one just goes for broke with some of its more gory moments.
The thing about this film that genuinely impressed me more than anything else was that it takes place, almost entirely, in a brightly lit clearing in what looks like the middle of the day. That’s not something that happens often in Horror. It’s insanely rare for a film to try this, and for it to work so well. There’s nowhere to hide, the horror isn’t what you’re imagining but what they’re putting right in front of you. You can’t brush this off as a shadow moving or you not seeing something right, the film makes you stare at the horror. It’s almost clinical about it, this is just what’s happening now and you have to see it unfold because that’s what happens at this time of year.
The entire film is just following this lead couple of Dani and Christian as they slowly grow further and further apart, going through a breakup without ever actually calling it that. It’s where the power of the film comes because they are trying so desperately to fight to get through this rough patch, thinking it’ll pass, but the more the film goes on the more it becomes clear that’s just not happening. They are never ever ever getting back together and by the time the movie ends, you don’t want them to.
Most of this film just relies on Florence Pugh to carry it through and she is incredible. I genuinely hope people push for her to get awards as they did for Toni Collette last year and while I know she won’t get it because, again, the academy is very dumb about this kind of thing, she deserves it. Hell, she deserves it for the last reaction shot of her in this film alone. When you get to the end of this film, stare at Florence’s face because it is a master class of emotional acting.
I will admit, there is a part of me that does wonder why everyone isn’t just running for the hills after a certain point. They do try and explain that by having two characters appear to make a run for it, only to reveal that it didn’t quite work out for them, but why no one just tried to run from the commune on foot does bother me. They lean in heavily on this being about trying to write a thesis about this community, even after seeing them do things that no one would be OK with. I know it’s a staple of a certain genre of horror for the main characters to stay in the creepy place even after the place has shown why it’s creepy, every found footage movie ever is basically about characters who don’t know the meaning of “GET OUT!” but here it does feel particularly silly for no one to try and run for it, though everyone’s probably being drugged and without it we’d have no story so I guess I can let it slide even though it’s irritating.
If I’m being honest, I like this film a lot more than I liked Hereditary. Midsommar is proof that Ari Aster is one of the new voices in horror that we should watch closely to see what he does. Midsommar takes the audience on a ride filled with bursts of overwhelming emotion, a culture clash narrative taken to the extreme, some of the most shocking violence on screen this year AND a cute bear that has absolutely nothing horrific happen to it at all. It’s a stunning film that will make you feel like you took some hard drugs before you stepped into the cinema, and it’s going to take a while to get over the effects of this one.