Directed by Ari Aster.
Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe and Will Poulter.
A dysfunctional couple travel to Scandinavia with friends to take part in a midsummer festival which occurs every 90 years. Upon arrival however, their trip turns into something much more sinister.
Bursting onto the scene with his critically acclaimed audience-polarising debut Hereditary, Ari Aster has quickly become a horror filmmaker to watch. Of course, with such a hit right out the gate, expectations were high for his follow-up. And with Midsommar, Aster delivers a more ambitious, colourful experience that has divided audiences even further.
The story of Midsommar is one of a relationship on the edge of collapse. Dani and Christian have been together for several years and, according to nearly all of their friends, need to break up for each other’s sake. Ultimately, it falls to a sinister cult that the pair encounter to help the couple move on from each other, albeit in an obviously twisted fashion that I won’t spoil here. However, underneath the relationship plot is the real meat of the film, a story showing how cults will find and latch onto emotionally vulnerable people and successfully indoctrinate them into joining. It’s a depiction made all the more sinister when you consider that the cult doesn’t indoctrinate by using violence or fear but with a smile and a welcoming hand. While I wish I could go into more detail, to do so would reveal far too much.
The performances are superb, particularly Florence Pugh in an exhausting performance as Dani, the actress projecting a raw and moving emotional vulnerability. The opening scenes of her quiet tearful worry about her family that give way to painful-sounding howls of despair are as haunting as any ghostly scream. The later moments of her anguish and grief changing to an almost calm serenity are perhaps my favourite, with that smile on her face at a crucial juncture being as haunting as it is contagious.
Midsommar has a beautiful visual style with Aster and his cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski creatively using colours, lighting and camera placements to create an atmosphere that leaves you feeling constantly unsettled, almost like you have an annoying itch in a place you can’t scratch. This is complemented by the production design that emphasises the mystic artwork and architecture of the cult, with your eyes constantly being drawn to the ominous yellow triangle building that looms large throughout the film.
I especially love the contrast in how colour and light are used, with the early bleak scenes shot in dull, muted colours before shifting to brighter hues when the cult enters the film, their white costumes appearing almost blindingly bright in the near-constant sunlight. This culminates in the colourful climax that shows a near rainbow of bright colours (such as the flower-adorned May Queen dress), reflecting an almost optimistic mood of peace and happiness, contrasting with the nightmarish horror of what is being shown on screen.
While there are some traditional horror scenes with surreal nightmares, smatterings of gory violence and a horrifying gut-punch of an opening, much of the film prefers to stick with the slow-burn approach. And it does so with an almost playful and pleasant nature that only makes things all the creepier, especially with how friendly the cult seems to be. They don’t act evil. They don’t even look that evil. They’re just so… nice, and that’s what makes them scary.
The music by Bobby Krlic is terrific throughout and is possibly my favourite aspect of the film. While featuring the obligatory horror movie high-pitched strings, there is also a plentiful supply of folk music that is pleasant and strangely relaxing. I particularly love the brief piece that plays over a static shot of a mural that opens the film. It possessing a creepy yet soothing quality that, coupled with the images, hypnotises you instantly. I adore the contrast between the music of the opening credits and the climax. The dark and traumatic opening sequence is scored with a loud, scary bombardment of strings and percussion, while the ending, which is arguably even more horrifying, serenades you with a much calmer sounding medley of strings that adds a strangely uplifting yet still unnerving vibe to proceedings.
Even in its shorter theatrical cut (which I watched for this review), Midsommar, compared to most modern horror films (which tend to run for about 90-100 minutes), is unusually long, clocking in at nearly two and half hours. And with this runtime in mind, it’s surprising just how thin the story is, with the central conflict of Dani and Christian’s relationship often seeming to take a backseat for long stretches. Most of the film refrains from showing us constant horrific scenes and seems perfectly content to show the various rituals of the cult in minute detail. The entire finale, in particular, is essentially one very long, strange and nearly uninterrupted ceremony that goes on and on.
Yet, despite its lengthy run time, thin story, relative lack of explicit horror and heavy focus on rituals, I was never bored. Almost like the characters, I was hypnotised to keep watching. Eager to discover more about this unusual community and to see more of their strange rituals. If anything, I found Midsommar to be a surprisingly easy watch, with the delicate pacing and smooth camera work allowing me to sink deeper into its weird world. By the end, I left the film with a big creepy smile.
Midsommar, as with Aster’s previous work (and much of studio A24’s output), is another case of a horror film that viewers are deeply, sometimes angrily, polarised on. So, while I recommend everyone to check out Midsommar if you haven’t already, I understand and expect many of you to come back to me with angry comments calling me an idiot for recommending it. Quite simply, it’s not a film for everyone.
If you can’t tell already, I loved Midsommar. I loved it so much that I had to cut an embarrassing amount of material to make this review readable. I loved its slow dream-like pacing and visual beauty that sucks you into its creepy, weirdly comforting style. Add a stunning central performance from Florence Pugh, and you have yourself a perplexing, ambitious and wonderful film that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★