9 / 10
Florence Pugh … Dani
Directed by Ari Aster
Midsommar is not a movie for everyone. The bones of Ari Aster’s new film are certainly a battleground that most have fought on, a crumbling relationship that cannot survive stress tests, but that doesn’t make the movie an accessible outlet for all audiences. It even leans into similar territory as his previous film Hereditary, outlining a treatise on grief and how we move on, but manages to push it into new territory which never feels like a retread. They’re different films after all, and though they both maintain a sinister bite and an underlying humorous streak, they’re both excellent movies that tackle the same subject in different ways.
The film tells the story of Dani, played by Florence Pugh who is putting on a masterclass in acting here, a college student who is immediately a relatable character. In the opening minutes we learn everything there is to know about her including her family dynamic, how her relationship works, and in fact how her anxieties about all of those things meld and mess with her. After a tragedy, and months of grief, Dani accompanies her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to Sweden for a mysterious festival where things seem quaint and pleasant at first, but take a turn for the bizarre and perverse.
Ari Aster makes movies that on the surface are almost confrontational in their malevolent mischief, and Midsommar is just as in-your-face as Hereditary with its imagery and surprises. Some may be disappointed that it never quite gets to the outright visual scares of Hereditary, but the films aren’t even playing in the same sandbox. Midsommar spends a lot of time putting blinders on the audience, luring us into the festivities like the characters on screen, allowing us to see only what it wants us to and punishing us when our eye wanders. The horror of Midsommar is what happens in front of you and that which you’re unable to do anything about. Aster makes this clear by the way his camera focuses on the nature around the characters. This is a world filled with life, which literally breaths in its trippiest sequences, channeling Google’s Deep Dream program in parts.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, Aster is having fun here. A lot of fun. He’s having fun making the movie and crafting this world, and having fun with us as the audience. He’s put us on a ride we can’t get off for better or worse. Before the truly insane moments begin in Midsommar he even has a character telegraph it all by turning and looking right at the camera. “Here comes that shit you’ve been waiting for,” his glance seemingly says. It’s not subtle, but it doesn’t need to be. Midsommar also maintains a brevity throughout that is a highlight. Will Poulter’s Mark is hilarious, delivering what could be mistaken for inane and unintentionally funny dialogue but which is done so deliberately throughout that there’s no mistaking its purpose. This is a world you might find yourself in. These people are like you. Absurd moments in reality will likely be mocked, and it’s okay to laugh.
A real highlight of what makes Aster’s films work are the opposing forces he has frequently in sync, like the horrifying and the hilarious. The one that is most interesting is the handshake he has throughout that both lacks and embraces subtlety. If you’re watching Midsommar strictly for the plot, it’s all there. Tableaus tell the story frequently, broadcasting early on what will happen and who will be affected by this unholy tale. The story specific clues are fully on display and coupled with obvious camera motifs like the character’s world literally turning upside down. But from a thematic and character point of view, Aster isn’t as forthcoming. We can understand what they feel and their decisions, but ultimately it’s a gut instinct with its finale, invoking what some may not pick up on (or simply have no interest in thinking about).
Midsommar is a millennial nightmare through a Lynchian lens. The pillars of our existential dread are fully on display as the film attempts to wrestle the real-life dilemma of familiar, romantic, and education anxiety. It’s clearly a movie about personal experiences and the haze they create around us too. We can wallow in our pain or address it but the outside world won’t do that for us; in fact it will eat us. We can attempt to reject old traditions but it’s a cycle we will inevitably be caught in, yet we can still make it our own. The world will spin without us, it will continue to breath and thrive, but we can take our pain, our guilt, our anger, and our emotions, and we can feel them, express them, and use them for change, even if it’s just at the personal level.
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