Review: Midsommar

This film is…unique. I liked it, but it seemed like it was me and one other couple out of the 20 or so people in our theatre who had something/anything other than disgust and disappointment walking out afterward. There are several films that came to my mind as I was watching: Suspiria, The Wicker Man, The Witch (or VVitch), and of course Ari Aster’s 2018 film Hereditary. His follow-up film to my personal favorite of last year is another story built to revolve around a pagan religion but underneath is meant to be so much more. Midsommar is a nuanced horror, almost more like a disturbing drama that focuses on relationships but then decides to tear them apart for a closer look (sometimes literally). What happens throughout is very unsettling, but it is also quite cathartic in it’s conclusion in a way that is very different from Hereditary. I won’t compare the two films a lot here because it wouldn’t be fair to Aster, each film is it’s own, but there are many similar qualities that I can safely explore. My recommendation for this movie is to those of you who like to chew on movies after watching them and really wrestle with what you just watched. The movie is also quite gruesome and sexual in a few scenes, so if you decide to give Midsommar a chance, be prepared for some graphic visuals.
My review here is going to be difficult (and incomplete) to write without any hint of spoilers, so although I will refrain from giving away anything specific, I am writing with an understanding that if you are reading this you have at least seen the trailer and know that there is something off about the small Swedish commune where it takes place. Or maybe you are just a fan of my writing and don’t care to see the movie but still read these anyway (*cue cheesy acceptance speech thank yous*). So a quick synopsis. The film focuses on Dani (Florence Pugh), a girl who at the start of the story we see is suffering through a heart-wrenching trauma. Several months later, her emotionally-distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and his three friends are planning a trip to Europe to visit several cities including the place where their Swedish friend grew up. Although still struggling with her grief, Dani decides to join the group as a way of holding onto her relationship with Christian. Once in Sweden, the group of friends are welcomed into the commune to celebrate the midsummer festival, but their traditions and ritualistic practices are very off-putting. In hopes of completing work on a dissertation and attempting to acclimate to a new culture, they decide to stay (big horror mistake). The hallucinogenic trip that follows them into the middle of a pagan cult is one that ultimately tests Dani’s relationship with Christian while also helping her to finally find the peace she has been searching for.
There are many things that I really liked about this movie. Where it begins with a feeling much like Hereditary, that is dark and unnerving and horrific, it quickly turns upside down into a movie filled with light, beautiful music, smiles and warm embraces. Yet it also makes you cringe from start to finish: graphic artwork on linens and walls; scissors placed beneath a baby’s pillow; guttural screams used in celebration. It is very different from other horror films you may see but it still plugs in and plays with many horror tropes, embracing them in the light. As a viewer, it is easy to see the horror coming for the characters ahead of time, but then you are almost pulled in with them as they don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.
It explores several aspects of a relationship simply in the way it is shot with a camera. Aster uses mirrors to show the fractured nature of being with someone but not entirely, as well as opening up the breadth of a scene. He begins the film with several long, unbroken shots of Christian and Dani that overflow with strenuous silence. He allows us to watch one character see something horrific without showing us anything but their reaction to it. Everything is extremely stylistic and makes the film stand out.
Like I said before, the film does focus on relationships which is one of the places where I think it finds it’s cinematic strength. Some of the friends are at odds with each other when they should be watching each other’s backs in a strange place. And Dani is desperately hanging onto the sinking ship of a relationship that she has with Christian. Surrounded by a place that celebrates death, I didn’t necessarily want to see her “win” anything, but I was also rooting for her victory in ending the relationship. Despite the surrounding Swedish summer foliage, there is nothing about them that is healthy or blooming, and the moment she realizes that is the pinnacle of the movie. Because the other relationship that is explored is that of family, and Dani is searching for the love and acceptance that comes with family. She wants a shoulder to cry on and someone to hold her close while she grieves, and she doesn’t find it in Christian.
The acting in this film is all around fantastic. Every actor plays their role perfectly, including the group of actors and actresses tasked with contributing to the appealing and revolting nature of the commune. Florence Pugh is a rising star to watch for. She takes the role of Dani to the next level, giving 110% at all times. But I’m not surprised since I just recently saw her performance in Fighting With My Family and not only the movie, but her part in it was very well done. Jack Reynor (Sing Street, On the Basis of Sex) played his difficult role extremely well as the guy we are supposed to hate but also empathize with. His two friends in the film, William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) and Will Poulter (We’re The Millers, The Maze Runner) brought a lot of the underlying relational tension as well as comic relief that helped to prevent this film from completely feeling it’s length of nearly 2 1/2 hours (seriously though, way too long to let my stomach churn…). Together, their group is a great representation of something that seems relatively normal on the outside but is crumbling beneath the surface.
Well, I think that is enough for now. If you happen to see the movie and want someone to talk to, I’m here for ya. Comment below or find me in person 🙂 Upon first viewing, I don’t like this film quite as much as Hereditary, but like that film I think I need to see this one a second time to go back and look for certain “wit-missed” clues (the kind you know you saw, but didn’t really see) along the way. Thanks for reading and continue to watch for my review of Stranger Things, likely to be finished this next week. Cheers!

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