I saw Midsommar on a Wednesday afternoon in a theater with five other people—two duos, and one brave individual. When the credits rolled, the woman sitting by herself approached my friend and I to see if we were okay. She checked on the other pair next. None of us were okay. We walked out into a sun blasted Oklahoma afternoon, and wished it was nighttime. Every person in that theater that afternoon was shook. Ari Aster’s second film, Midsommar, is next level horror.
The film opens with about a minute long shot of a piece of art divided into four seasons, moving from a death skull over a winter all the way to a sun smiling unsettlingly over summer. It’s beyond foreshadowing. It’s a depiction of the film’s entire emotional arc. Aster did something similar in his phenomenal freshman effort, Hereditary, by showing a page of the grandmother’s book explaining what Paimon needed to do to move to a new body. He telegraphs his entire films early on, then lets viewers stew in it.
Midsommar, also like Hereditary, opens with a tragedy. Dani (Florence Pugh) has gotten an ominous email from her sister. Aster brings the audience into the room with Dani when she gets the call informing her that her sister has suffocated their parents and died by suicide. The camera follows firefighters as they trace the hoses (seen holding three faces together in the opening art piece) hooked to the exhaust pipes of two family cars in the garage through the dark house.
It’s shot beautifully, with stomach cramp inducing realism, but is most notable because once Dani leaves New York for an authentic Swedish Midsommar celebration, there are seldom scenes that aren’t oversaturated with sunlight.
Dani is joining her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his best friend Mark (Will Poulter), who are tagging along on Josh’s (Willam Jackson Harper) thesis research visit to Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) village for “an authentic hippie midsommar at his yodeling farm.” When they arrive, Dani wants to “settle in” before doing hallucinogenic shrooms, but Christian and Mark pressure her into it.
The scene is indicative of the emotional conflict of the movie: Dani and Christian’s relationship is toxic. While both of them have every reason to leave, neither has. Christian’s friends tell him to. The only friend we see Dani talk to tells her that if Christian can’t help manage her family problems, then he’s not worth the trouble. He gaslights her repeatedly, downplaying her sister’s email and threatens to leave whenever Dani confronts him. For her part, she capitulates whenever he seems the least bit angry or upset, terrified of losing him.
The physical conflict is what’s actually going on in this community. Everything seems idyllic, but the perfection of the sunny days and white outfits is punctuated by outbursts of extreme violence. Some of it the audience watches with the characters, and other parts are implied.
What sets Aster and Midsommar apart from other horror films is how well he writes his characters. To paraphrase from Poulter in “Let the Festivities Begin: Manifesting Midsommar,” none of the characters are there to be the objects of violence and then disappear. When something happens to characters, even the ones that are easy to hate like Poulter’s wisecracking Mark, there’s a weight to it. These aren’t the hapless teens from slasher films: they’re people with hopes and dreams, brought to life with stellar performances.
Poulter is excellent, as are Jackson Harper and Blomgren, but Pugh and Reynor steal the show. Pugh howls when her character finds out about the deaths of her family, tearing at viewers hearts. Every step she takes in the film after, every word she says, is informed by that searing grief. For his part, Reynor perfectly exudes Christian’s worst-boyfriend-your-friend-has-ever-had energy. He plays the kind of s***bag that made me start giving flipping the TV the bird whenever he made his way on screen.
The Blu-ray doesn’t have a ton of special features. Most significantly, it doesn’t have the extended cut of Midsommar that popped back into theaters in August. There is the hilarious “Bear in a Cage” promo, as well as “Let the Festivities Being: Manifesting Midsommar,” documentary. The featurette runs a little less than a half hour and collects comments from Aster, some principal crew members, and the film’s stars.
Midsommar is an excellent film. Ari Aster has rocketed to being one of the best directors in horror, in no small part because of his willingness to challenge his viewers instead of spoon feeding them. While I have reservations about the way he portrays characters with physical disabilities, I can’t wait to see what he does next. You can catch Midsommar on Blu-ray now!
Wicked Rating – 9/10
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper
Release date: October 8, 2019 (Blu-ray/DVD)
Studio/Production Company: A24, B-Reel Films
Run Time: 140 minutes