I was late to the party with Ari Aster’s “Hereditary”. When I finally saw it, I was stunned at how brutal and unflinching it was. I had been conditioned to expect a haunted house flick with some jump scares throughout. Boy was I wrong. I was stunned that “Hereditary” was a theatrical release. In a world full of run of the mill possession films and remakes it was refreshing to see a film that stuck with me long after the credits rolled. As soon as I heard about his upcoming sophomore film “Midsommar”, I made sure to keep up with it and not miss it in the theater. As expected, the film was bonkers, and it affected me greatly. What I didn’t expect was the amazing balance of humor, horror and real issues such as grief, relationships and mental illness.
*Minor spoilers ahead* The film opens in the most gut-wrenching brutal way possible when Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers an unimaginable loss. Several months later we see her trying to manage her grief and move forward in her life. Dani joins her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends on a trip to Sweden to visit foreign exchange student Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) rural hometown during their traditional mid-summer festival. The festival initially feels somewhat silly and cultish and strange, yet harmless, but very quickly turns in to a bizarre nightmare of violence and depravity.
What really makes “Midsommar” work is the stellar cast. Every character feels completely genuine and believable. The standout performance is by far Florence Pugh as Dani. Her incredibly honest portrayal of a young woman trying to put her shattered life back together just to be thrust into a situation so bizarre that few would know act was phenomenal.
The film is set in Northern Sweden, which is not only stunningly beautiful, but during the months of June and July there are days of almost 24 hours of sunlight. This midnight sun phenomenon means the film takes place almost entirely in the daylight. Seeing these grotesque moments play out in broad daylight really makes it so much more unsettling. The pacing of the movie feels almost intentionally slow, but this just increases the tension and overwhelming sense of dread. The film tells you what is coming, but nothing prepares you for how intense it will be or how far it will go. When you think you know what is happening, it goes three steps farther.
I would classify “Hereditary” as a horror film, but “Midsommar” falls into a category of its own. A bizarre comedy, drama, and psychological thriller with horrendous violence coupled with the honest depiction of dealing with grief, loss, and betrayal make for a visceral experience that you will not soon forget. I have never really seen anything quite like it. You could compare it to other cult films such as the “Wicker Man” but the film really stands alone with its macabre imagery, unique theology and truly bizarre lore. “Midsommar” is a twisted ride that stays with you long after the credits roll. I can’t wait to see what Ari Aster has in store for us next.