Horror movies often capitalize on darkness, gloom and things that go bump in the night. In Ari Aster’s Midsommar, the main action happens where there is almost no night. This summer solstice festival in remote Sweden is full of bright, dazzling sunshine, flowing green grass and flowers in full bloom. It’s an idealistic pastoral setting, with everyone smiling, clad in white linen. It can be so hard to run from something so perfect, even as horrific events begin to unfold around you.
After a heartbreaking opening that I wouldn’t dare spoil, Dani (Florence Pugh) is depressed and probably longing for some purpose or escape. Her inattentive boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), is all she has, so when he decides to go with his friends to Pelle’s village in Sweden for their midsommar festival, she tags along at the last moment. A quick cut from her being near tears in a friend’s apartment to fighting off a panic attack in the airplane shows the grief she’s hiding and fighting through all alone.
Out in the middle of nowhere Sweden, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) introduces Dani, Christian, Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter) to his brother and a nice British couple he brought along. They take some psychedelic drugs in the middle of a field before going to the village. Mark’s reaction adds some comedy, perfect for his American idiot character. Dani does not have a good trip. That image of grass growing out of her hand gave me chills.
Once at the village, things start to pick up speed. There are short explanations about the village rituals, an elaborate meal and a couple gruesome deaths. It’s all part of the festivities, and with Josh and Christian being anthropology students, they try to keep an open mind, while the British couple are horrifically shocked, appalled and ready to leave. Dani is shaken but seems numb to it. It’s only the beginning, there’s still a drug fueled dancing competition, pube pies, grotesque mutilation, the worst one night stand ever. Like Burning Man, it ends in a spectacular fire.
While I felt like the first hour dragged, I was always invested. There was always a building sense of dread, even in the slowest scenes, that kept me hooked. And soon, the big events of the film were coming quick and building the adrenaline along with the dread. The Maypole dancing scene was one of my favorites, with the music and dancing starting and stopping and getting faster every time. Dani loses herself in it while Christian broods before deciding to drink his tea, sealing his fate.
The visual effect that made the trees and flowers seem to breathe while Dani was under the drugs was one of my favorite moments in the film. I was so captivated and disturbed by that effect, it really helps us understand frightening, yet exhilarating high Dani was feeling.
Everyone is comparing Midsommar to Aster’s previous film, Hereditary. They tackle similar subjects and bring about similar results, but they are night and day. Literally. Visually Midsommar is so bright and spacious while Hereditary is so dark and cramped. And to be honest, I didn’t find Midsommar nearly as scary, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. There are horrific and disturbing images, but nothing nearly as creepy as the last few minutes of Hereditary. But I guess that depends if you’re more afraid of the supernatural or tradition. That said, I guess Midsommar is more realistic and plausible of the two and that can be pretty damn scary.
“Ignore the bear.”