Ari Aster’s newest film, Midsommar is a movie I feel like I’ve never experienced before. It’s a 140-minute fever dream folklore, that joyfully plays against genre expectations. Although, defining which genre it is will be a test. It is as mysterious as it is dramatic and equally terrifying as it is funny. A friend of mine texted me the day he saw it and said, “I said “what the f—” to myself easily 20 times.” Par for the course.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is a girl who has a lot on her mind. Rightfully so as her sister, suffering from bipolar disorder, kills their parents and then herself in a bizarre opening sequence that feels more akin to his previous film, Hereditary, than it does to the rest of this film.
She is also in a toxic relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian says he loves and cares about her, but is not good at showing it. In fact, he’s been wanting to end their relationship for over a year. Christian is going to Sweden for a month with his friends to visit a commune during a period of the year where they celebrate the midsommar. Christan reluctantly invites Dani along. There’s a great moment with Dani and one of Christian’s friends that feels full of hidden malice. We know something doesn’t feel right.
Soon we are in the commune in northern Sweden, where the sun barely sets, time feels elusive and things seem too good to be true. This is where it will be hard to describe the rest of the film because it’s better to walk into Midsommar knowing as little as possible. But let it be known, that this movie goes off rails very quickly. Every 90 years, this commune acts out rituals over a 9 day period. Some of these rituals are extreme.
Very early in the 9-day celebration, a horrific event happens. Dani and her friends immediately discuss leaving, while one of them, who is writing his thesis on midsommar celebrations, wants to see how far things go, convinces them to stay. Bad idea. The writing is on the wall. In Midsommar’s case, literally. There is a key sequence where Aster sets up an entire subplot in the movie right in front of your eyes but does so with so much guile, you might miss it. I hope you’re paying attention.
For the most part, this is a fantastic experience. But there are some issues with the script and some of the characters. For one, pretty much all of the male characters are terrible human beings. Which means by the time the gore comes, you kind of don’t care. Also, some of the plot devices Aster uses to sew deceit amongst the friends are really dumb and feel cheap.
While the script isn’t as strong as Hereditary and the characters are harder to root for, the film more than makes up with in its presentation. For starters, the film is gorgeous. Working with his same cinematographer from Hereditary, Aster creates a visual wonderland. The use of focus I found illuminating and is something I don’t know if I’ve seen before. There are sections of the film that feel like Aster is shooting miniatures and feels out-of-body. It’s very disorientating.
The same goes for the production design and the visual effects. Combined they forge a bright, sunny nightmare that is inescapable. Extended sequences throw the viewer into drug-fueled visions that seem to never end. The results are hypnotic. Along with our heroine, we too, are under the sun-drenched spell her captors.
Midsommar is a step backward for Aster. It’s a far lesser film than Hereditary. But viewers who suffered through that previous film’s anguish and brutality will find a different trip here. Instead of the evil being hidden in darkness, it’s out in the sun, all around you. And while the evil in Midsommar has no place to hide, neither do you.
Overall Score 3.5/5