In Theaters: Midsommar

Florence Pugh; Jack Reynor DSCF2781.JPG

Midsommar (2019)
Directed By: Ari Aster
Written By: Ari Aster

Trying to review Midsommar feels like a near impossible task. Maybe in a few years I will have sorted through all of my thoughts about it and be able to better articulate them. Right now, it’s still a little difficult. I have seen this movie referred to as everything from a film about a cult to a slasher film (obviously by someone who is not a horror fan, it’s not a slasher film). Writer-Director Ari Aster himself has called it a breakup movie and says he was hired to write a torture porn film in the vein of Hostel when he initially took on Midsommar. So let’s dive in and see what I can sort out at this point.

The story centers around a group of friends who are invited to an isolated compound in Sweden to observe a festival that only occurs once every 90 years. The group friends consists of Dani, Christian, Josh, Mark and Pelle. Before the trip to Sweden is even brought up Dani is struck by a tragedy that turns her world upside down. Christian is her distant boyfriend, who was on the verge of breaking up with her before the tragedy struck. Josh is a friend who is excited about the trip to Sweden because he wants to write his thesis about this self-sustaining colony of people. Mark, another friend, seems to just be along for the adventure and the hope of getting laid. Pelle is from Sweden and grew up as part of the commune. As you can imagine this doesn’t turn out to be the ideal vacation that they all had hoped.

Midsommar feels like a grand film but it is told on a small stage. There are very few locations in the movie and once we hit the compound we never leave. It’s full of ideas that make it feel enormous. It’s clear what Aster means when he says that it’s a breakup film and on an even larger scale it feels like an examination of grief. If Hereitary is a film about grief tearing people apart, Midsommar is a film about how grief can push people together, even if it’s not in their best interest.

The film looks incredible. The vast majority of it takes place during the day, which is an interesting choice for a horror movie. Most of the time we are afraid of what will happen in the dark and there is a sense of security in the light. Midsommar flips that on it’s head. When the sun goes down and everyone heads to their sleeping quarters is when things feel the safest. During the day it feels like anything can happen. Once you realize that this community is completely isolated, and that they are capable of rationalizing any action, the waking hours become the most frightening. This is used to great effect in making the movie look great. The landscape is beautiful and it looks phenomenal in broad daylight. An idyllic setting to contrast hideous actions.

Making the daylight scary isn’t the only thing that Aster does well in Midsommar. This could have easily turned into a movie that saw the main characters band together in an effort to escape. They could have taken off into the surrounding forest and been hunted down by members of the commune, effectively turning this into another entry in the Wrong Turn franchise. This never really comes up though. There is a couple from England who have also been invited to visit for the festival and they plan to leave but no one in the main group of friends ever brings it up, even after witnessing some terrible things. All of them have a reason to want to stay and those reasons become more clear as the story unfolds.

This is a divisive film in the horror community already. Maybe even more divisive than Hereditary was when it was released. I am in the camp of people who absolutely loved it. There was one thing that bothered me though. I felt like there was a little too much humor in the movie. This film works so hard and does such a masterful job of creating a menacing atmosphere but it undercut that too often with comic relief. In fact, the character of Mark could have been cut entirely out and it wouldn’t have made any difference except for cutting down on the comedy. He is the one character that seems to have no purpose being there other than to crack jokes and add to the body count. I understand wanting to occasionally ease the tension but it didn’t need to happen as often as it did.

When Hereditary was released I wrote a so-so review for it. After seeing it a couple of more times and having some time to think about it, it finished in my Top 10 movies of the year. I fully expect for my opinion to shift and my thoughts to expand regarding Midsommar in the same way. This is a dense movie with a lot to uncover and I don’t think I have even scratched the surface. At the moment I have no problem calling it essential viewing for horror fans and it may well turn out to be Ari Aster’s masterpiece.

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