“Midsommar” Review

Midsommar Poster.jpg Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster takes horror to a completely new level in his latest film Midsommar. Inspired by The Wicker Man and horror folklore, this film tells of Dani (Florence Pugh) who reluctantly decided to accept an invitation and go with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a festival that celebrates a midsummer in Hårga, Sweden (originally, the Midsummer Festival was a pagan holiday to commemorate the arrival of summer). On location, we, through the unsuspecting group of friends, slowly become immersed in the odd ways of life in this rural village in Sweden, slowly discovering its strange residents and their disturbing rituals. Welcoming and friendly villagers are only too happy to show their visitors around, as well as introduce them to their traditional midsummer celebration, but will our group of friends, as well as we, the audience, stomach what the villagers prepared for them and presented on their silver plate? In this gripping, “hallucinatory” film, we soon discover that, for the emotionally-vulnerable Dani, the stage has already been set for a showdown of her life. 

Midsommar has the same plot structure as the director’s previous film Hereditary (2018). The story starts innocently, paying attention to the female character, before progressing to display sporadically some shocking scenes, which play out in one truly unsettling atmosphere, with the final twenty or so minutes of both films containing scenes where “all hell breaks loose”. Magnificent Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth (2017)) really gets into her character of Dani, a girl who craves connection and understanding after just experiencing a traumatic life event back home. Dani’s distant boyfriend Chris, a student of anthropology, provides little relief, and she feels distant from both Chris and his friends. Then, Dani’s hopes begin to be pinned on a festival in Sweden during which she hopes to forget all her trauma and anxieties, and to mentally recover. Little does she know that she is about to undergo “a therapy” like no other. In a “slow-burning”, suspenseful fashion, Ari Aster ensures that it is both scary and fascinating to step into this world of odd traditions and macabre celebrations, into a place where the sun hardly sets, where the idea of communal living is taken to a whole new level and where morality has no adherers.

Ari Aster is a clever director/writer. It is true that Midsommar relies on outrageous displays to produce a reaction, but there is much subtlety in this film as well. The true horror in this film comes not from some shocking scenes, but from the main character’s slow realisation of the danger which until now has been cloaked in the strangers’ goodness and friendliness. Chris and Dani’s Swedish friend Pelle is one of the members of this strange commune and, if they trust him, they should trust all the others. Even when Chis and Dani cannot find some members of their initial group, there are no alarm bells immediately ringing. Chris also has a professional/academic interest in the activities of this village since he wants to pen his PhD dissertation on village activities.  From the “innocent” taking of magic mushrooms to the witnessing of a cold-blooded murder, the director would like to explore what impact some “celebratory” and ritualistic activities presented have on the main characters – as well as on us – his audience – since this film is a very immersive experience ,which will not leave anyone indifferent to what takes place on screen.

The power of a cult and brain-washing, psychological meltdowns, sex rituals and practices that have devastating consequences – the film is not for the faint of heart due to all of these aspects, and the director naturally leaves no theme unexplored in the film’s running time of two hours and twenty-seven minutes. Unapologetically long and uncomfortable to watch, Midsommar can even be viewed as a barely perceivable allegory in which a person tries to, distance herself from one unhealthy relationship; overcome grief; and to reach higher levels of self-awareness/discovery. Of course, the film would not have been as good if it were not for Florence Pugh, a real star giving the performance of her early career that can only be described as “devastatingly” brilliant.

Another notable feature of Midsommar is how immersive the film really is. In a way, the audience is invited “to participate” through the film visuals being tweaked giving the appearance as though we, as well as the characters, have drunk a concoction laced with hallucinatory drugs. The cinematography of Pawel Pogorzelski is stunning, and I was in love with each and every one of the shots in Ari Aster’s masterwork. A colourful palette of blue, green and white gives the effect of stepping into a fairy-tale that just about to take on more grotesque and macabre contours.

The ending of Midsommar is as revealing as the one in Hereditary. I especially appreciated the contrast between the beginning of the film and its end. The jokes that we see in the beginning coming Mark (Will Poulter) seem shockingly out of place in the final part of the movie, and Midsommar suddenly appears far from a romantic drama it was at first. At the end, it feels like the world, one’s perception of it, has changed in the process, values have been reversed and everything has been turned on its head. If in Hereditary I found this “change” coming too abruptly and events that follow “too unbelievable”, in Midsommar, it was all strangely “convincing”. Perhaps, as in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the events that start to take place at the end of the movie are so horrific as to somehow ring true. Also, if in Hereditary all supernatural elements were too fantastical for me, the horror that emerges at the end of Midsommar strikes home and its presence becomes painfully undeniable.

Midsommar is a horror film executed to perfection. Its visual brilliance is matched by its macabre atmosphere and gripping, even if slow to be presented, turns of events. The visionary director immerses us into one reclusive community whose celebration is at first a feast for our eyes and later a conglomeration of disturbing elements. Florence Pugh’s committed performance ensures that Midsommar is a truly insane ride into the dark recesses of a society where one could find hope at the cost of losing everything. Shocking, provoking, but also deliciously “hallucinatory” and mesmerizing, Midsommar just needs to be seen to be believed, being one of only a few films out there watching which can really be equated with having an experience. 10/10

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18 thoughts on ““Midsommar” Review

    1. Well, yes, this movie was simply my cup of tea and it ticked all the boxes for me. I enjoyed it immensely, but given its length and some elements, I understand the contrary view, too.

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  1. Pugh surprised me here. Because prior to this movie, I’ve seen her only on “Malevolent” and that was a horrible movie. I was pleasantly surprised by her range, particularly the accuracy of her character’s anxiety attacks.

    I think this is stronger than “Hereditary” exactly because the ending worked for me here. Although the all-hell-breaks-loose approach is similar, to me, it is more fitting here. However, on Aster’s next work, I hope he changes it up. I don’t want him becoming a one-trick pony.

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    1. I have not seen “Malevolent”, but Florence Pugh blew me away in “Lady Macbeth”, so I knew that at least acting in “Midsommar” will be of the highest standard.

      I completely agree on the ending to “Hereditary” and for me too the “Midsommar” ending worked better. Looking at it as a whole, it is as though Aster did his homework after “Hereditary”, evaluating what worked and not and produced this “perfect” film, but done in his own style, of course, which may not be to everyone’s taste. And, yes, let’s hope Ari Aster does something different next time!

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    1. Thanks! You made the right decision then if you did not like Hereditary that much. I definitely will buy a Midsommar DVD. Regarding the length, I guess I just did not care because I wanted to be inside that weird village for as long as possible!

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  2. Great review. I really liked Pugh here, but honestly Aster lost my in the final act. I felt he pushed things way over-the-top and really went for weird and shocking over storytelling. It’s a shame because I loved SOOO much about the film up until that one crazy point (which I won’t spoil).

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    1. Yes, many people said the same thing about Hereditary’s final act, too. I guess after Hereditary I expected something like this in Midsommar and was actually looking forward to it. Like Franz said above, I thought also that over-the-top sequences were somewhat fitting. I agree though that they were very different from the rest of the film.

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  3. Well written review. Yep, Dani’s “therapy” is like no other 🙂 I agree about the “participation” aspect of the audience and realism compared to Hereditary, although I’m in no hurry to rewatch Midsommar due to the uncomfortableness.
    I wonder how much sleep deprevasion from the daylight plus being in the communal room with crying babies affected the characters’ decision making. Some took sleeping pills, others did not I guess. Pelle is so nice it’s scary.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I think the main characters must have lost touch with reality due to the factors you mentioned and also being forced to view pain and death inflicted on others – it psychologically changes one.

      I tend not be harsh when rating horror – like comedy it is difficult to produce quality because unlike drama or thriller, people have certain preconceptions and are expected to be scared. Six years ago I was reviewing only James Wan’s films and everyone moaned how we only have old movies, sequels and remakes in the horror genre. I guess I am just grateful that the tide is turning for horror and we now see such names as Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers, who, through their work, say that horror can also be an excellent quality film and not just a ridiculous flick.

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  4. Hello. Quite disturbing indeed and you are right that it can be equated with having an experience. Perception is the key word for this movie since Aster really tries to change the perception of the audience through his direction just like Dani’s. Too bad that the secondary characters are jerks who are not really fleshed out (serving as counterpoints for Dani really) as if they were just in the movies to be killed (as is the case in many horror movies)

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I have to say you have an amazing film blog. I love to read your critique of Tarkovsky, Chabrol, etc. and works of American directors too – love the diversity. You taste in books is as superb. My French reading skills could have been better, but I understand a fair amount.

      Yes, I agree about the secondary characters in Midsommar. But then again, there was still an attempt felt to make something out of them – for example, I enjoyed and remember all the humour coming from Mark (Will Poulter) and we see some personality of Josh (William Jackson Harper).

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      1. Thank you very much! I just try to reflect the diversity of cinema and I see that you do the same on your blog. I can read English and your reviews are pretty good.Yes, there is humour coming from Mark, but not because he is funny. He is a horrible human being and you guess from the beginning that he will be the first character of the group to be killed.

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        1. I love the diversity of cinema and French-language films in particular hold a special place in my heart. And English is not my first language either. My native language is actually Russian. And, I guess, I am a bit ashamed that I am not reviewing films by Russian directors more on my website. Hopefully, I will be reviewing Tarkovsky’s Solaris on my blog too this month. Though it is not going to be an easy review to write at all. And, yeah, you are right about Mark from Midsommar.

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          1. Interesting. Yes, it is not easy to review Tarkovski’s films. I have reviewed three of his films so far (Andrey Roublev, Solaris, Stalker) although I’ve seen them all. I will read with interest your review of Solaris.

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