Directed by Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter
Since 2013, mainstream horror has entered an artistic renaissance. Starting with The Conjuring and reaching the pinnacles of Get Out, A Quiet Place, and The Invisible Man, we have seen even cash-grab films like Ouija and Annabelle produce surprising, meaningful prequels. Among these cinematic achievements reign Ari Aster’s Hereditary and his follow-up Midsommar.
As a horror fan, I leapt at the first opportunity to see Hereditary… and despised it! Hereditary has since received universal acclaim, making the friend whom I saw the movie with and me part of a razor-thin minority. Imagine my surprise, then, when the same friend and his wife saw Midsommar and adored it. Praise from anyone else would’ve fallen on my deaf, snobby ears, but his insistence had me more intrigued than a villain in a Tarantino flick.
Separately, I reviewed a classic love story last week, so here’s a black valentine to balance things out.
Dani Ardor is going through a lot. Her sister just killed herself, taking her mother and father with her. Christian, Dani’s boyfriend, was on the verge of breaking up with her, but feels guilty doing so given the situation. Instead, he invites Dani on a trip to a Swedish summer solstice celebration with his anthropology colleagues. Together, along with a couple of tourists from Britain, Dani’s group becomes witness to bizarre, occult ceremonies. While viewers see increasingly obvious “nope” signs, Dani begins to believe that she needs to participate in order to rid her life of her traumatic events and toxic relationships.
Yes, but only once every 90 years. This film transcends the term “long” and enters the realm of “artistic pilgrimage.” At 150 minutes, Midsommar is worth the journey, but will test your patience and leave you spent. Should viewers simply check out Hereditary instead and save themselves the time? I personally don’t think so. Aster’s direction and vision felt more refined here. Unlike Hereditary, which I found too akin to Rosemary’s Baby, Midsommar pays homage to its influences, primarily The Wicker Man, then creates something new.
This novelty is primarily expressed by its abundance of color and light. In film school, I was taught that darkness is necessary for horror, so as to conceal and surprise. Of course, when any artist is told that something “must be done,” that artist will almost assuredly set about to prove that rule wrong. Aster has done so in Midsommar, using an overabundance of light to create blinding harshness, hide sinister details, and produce shocking moments. These moments hit even harder since the audience is conditioned not to expect scary things in the light. This element alone marks an important novel step forward for the genre.
It certainly isn’t for everyone, but there’s much to enjoy. Midsommar marks the second film in Florence Pugh’s breakout year (Fighting with my Family and Little Women are the other two). The film, though artsy, employs plenty of horror tricks—one scene with a ceremonial hammer is particularly gruesome. Even viewers craving exploitative nudity will have their wishes granted, though perhaps not in the way they expect or desire.
To say the least, I was impressed by this film—so much so that I wonder if Hereditary isn’t worth a revisit for me. I watched Hereditary with my friend in a packed theater and sat in front of a trio of high-school girls. The entire film, these young ladies asked pointed, logical questions: “Why didn’t she know about her mom’s occult past? Why is the grandma dead but still using devil magic to seduce the girl? Wait, was the son the main character?” In contrast, I watched Midsommar on the couch with my friends. We purposely allowed the movie’s dream logic to wash over us, and the result was much more satisfying. I still agree with those high-school students: Hereditary, to say nothing of Midsommar, isn’t logical, but horror oftentimes ISN’T logical. That’s part of what makes it horrifying.