Midsommar (2019) Review
The feeling of a break up can be absolutely agonizing. Ari Aster’s Midsommar is able to take its audience through the horrific spiral that is a deteriorating relationship, in the most visual, gruesome and dynamic way. Telling a scary story in the dark is expected. But somehow the creepy tale does something unthinkable, it makes us fear the light. I will never look at a clear summer’s day the same again. And that says something.
On the surface Midsommar is about Dani, a young woman who is in a flawed and failing relationship. And even though her boyfriend, Christian, is urged by his friends to dump her, he never does - or doesn’t feel he can because a terrible tragedy sends Dani into a horrible depression. Christian’s friend from school invites him and two other friends to visit his hometown, a remote rural community in Sweden, for a summer solstice festival that is kept secret from the rest of the world [understandably so]. Christian decides to invite Dani to join. To the dismay of him and his friends, she agrees. Soon after arriving, the group witnesses many bizarre and disturbing rituals as Christian’s friends start disappearing.
The film hosts incredibly captivating performances, especially Florence Pugh’s performance as Dani. The first ten minutes - that depict the family tragedy that Dani undergoes - is in my opinion the most terrifying, disturbing, and upsetting moment of the film (even more so than an elderly man getting his head pulverized by a Looney Tunes-esque mallet). Which plays to the notion that human emotions, especially grief and depression - even more specifically after losing a loved-one, are far more terrifying than any cult ritual. We definitely see this theme in Ari Aster’s first film Hereditary as well. Pugh’s performance in the moment where her character first reacts to the tragedy is so incredibly powerful. Her sobs and screams still pop into my mind. They haunt me just as the tragic moments in Hereditary had haunted me for weeks. Aster certainly has a specific style.
The movie is digested in such an interesting way, it feels more like an experience. Throughout the film we see obvious hints to what will happen next in the film and during the Midsommar festivities. Around the community there are paintings and tapestries of what looks like medieval art that depict many of the events we see in the movie. It made the film feel more engaging and even interactive in a way. The film does an incredible job making the viewer feel like they are falling deeper into the madness along with our characters. Notably with the visual effects the filmmaker uses to represent the character’s psychedelic trips that play a key role in the movement of the story.
As the movie progresses and the characters start witnessing the festival events and the community’s traditions - the film explodes in unsettling and often gruesome imagery: From elderly people committing suicide by jumping off a cliff head first onto a boulder, to pubic hair pies and menstrual blood martinis, to human-face-wearing villagers, and the most disturbingly hilarious sex scene ever filmed. The movie is often so over-the-top it was actually hard not to laugh… I know that sounds disturbing, but just trust me. Even though creepy throughout and through-and-through, Midsommar does often present as more of a dark comedy rather than a traditional horror. It’s the feelings and emotions that the movie delivers that make it scary, more so than the visuals - which are equal parts grotesque, hilarious and actually quite stunning. The movie is shot so beautifully.
Being a fan of both fashion and film, when watching a movie, it’s hard for me not to notice the styling [fun fact: it was a stint in the film industry and costuming that started my love for fashion]. And I think that Midsommar is definitely a film with notable styling. The white, embroidered garments that the community members wear are both so eerie and beautiful. The symbols on their clothing have important meanings, assigning roles to the members in the community, making the film feel thoughtful and intricate. Even more impressive is knowing that all of the pieces were embroidered by hand and some even hand-painted. But the most incredible image of the entire movie - in all its unsettling and campy glory - was the May Queen’s dress that resembled a full and shapeless pile of flowers, seen in the final scenes of the film. [Ugh, it was so good! I want to sit around my apartment in that thing].
Very similar to Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man, Midsommar explores the darkness of pagan rituals, and intertwines them with cults and Swedish folklore, creating one nightmare-inducing experience. The film depicts all the classic elements of Swedish summer solstice celebrations, like flower gathering, dancing and maypoles. The community’s name, Hårga, is based on a Swedish folk story about midsummer revelers who dance until they died. The film is also peppered with real ancient runes that foreshadow certain twists in the story.
Henrik Svensson, the film’s production designer, recently told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that the rituals depicted in the movie have at least some basis in historical fact. Such as the oversized mallet used to finish the job when an older man attempts suicide by jumping from a cliff. “The mallet, we did a replica of the mallet from a museum we saw in Stockholm,” he said.
Midsommar definitely doesn’t include a lot of traditional horror film scares. It isn’t exactly terrifying, just really unsettling. You may squirm in your sit a bit, but you’ll never jump out of it. That being said, all together it’s worth seeing [and feeling]. It’s weird, hypnotic, unnerving, and honestly really fun.
Next time I have a break down I’m enlisting my friends to gather around me and scream with me in unison, while wearing gorgeous white frocks.