Midsommar, directed by Hereditary’s Ari Aster, is a truly disturbing film, but undeniably beautiful and expertly crafted. Both its beauty and disturbing nature lie in the same vein, a horror film which almost entirely takes place under the bright, white Swedish sunlight. The plot is filled with people who have committed terrible acts, have malicious intentions, and traumatic pasts.
Midsommar takes place in the aftershock of the death of Dani’s family, who were killed in a murder-suicide by her sister. Meanwhile, Dani’s boyfriend Christian doesn’t want to be with her but feels obligated to stay due to her trauma and grief. Out of pity, he invites her to join him and his friends on a trip to Sweden, where they plan to witness the Swedish midsummer tradition for their anthropology PhD theses. A series of events unfold and reveal not only the dark and gruesome traditions of the Swedish commune but also troubling issues within Dani and Christian’s toxic relationship.
There’s a certain type of film that feels completely motivated, as in you can tell the director and filmmakers put thought and effort into every frame. Everything is truly there for a reason. I was lucky enough to have seen Midsommar in its two forms: the theatrical release and the director’s cut. One thing I can say for sure is that Aster uses perfectly planned out and motivated camera movements to lure the viewer into the film. Aster takes advantage of a bright colour palette to lull you into a sense of safety for most of the movie’s runtime.
Plus, nothing can go wrong in the light of day, right? The setting is well-chosen to bring the characters and the audience into a location that feels simultaneously isolated and welcoming as the characters are surrounded by bright green grass and friendly people in bright garments. Along with the stunning cinematography, Aster directs this film with intent, purpose, and a slow but compelling pace. Although the film does feel slow in the middle, especially in the director’s cut version, every second of the footage feels important regardless of the pacing.
Florence Pugh plays the main character, Dani. Her incredible performance is genuine and heartbreaking. Pugh constantly keeps Dani’s grief directly under the surface and you can see it pour out or slowly seep through in every shot. Her strained relationship with Christian, played by Jack Reynor, is also effectively portrayed to show that trust and love have been long gone. The supporting cast, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter and Vilhelm Blomgren also stand up to the challenge. Harper plays a convincingly stressed and defensive PhD student while Poulter acts as the selfish, inconsiderate but funny friend who’s only coming to gawk at Swedish women. Meanwhile, Blomgren remains a kind and mysterious figure who possibly has ulterior intentions for his friends’ trip. However, Reynor’s performance doesn’t match up to Pugh’s in terms of emotional believability and depth. Out of the cast, he feels like the weakest link.
Some have expressed discontent for the film, due to its disturbing, confusing and uncomfortable nature. However, I would argue that these things are what make Midsommar so fascinating. Aster was able to manipulate the audience to feel these emotions in such small but impressive ways. Something as simple as not cutting away from a shot changes a movie from being simply frightening to distressing.
What I have learned from watching Midsommar is this: just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means that the filmmakers did a good job of using the medium to make you feel a certain way. It also means that this could be a good time for you as a viewer to reflect on what you saw, think about what made you uncomfortable, and why. Are you distressed by the graphic violence? Or are you distressed by Christian’s treatment of Dani? And why are these different?
Midsommar allows us to examine a relationship from the inside out while also dealing with the disconcerting series of events occurring outside of them. Overall, this film is well-crafted, full of artistic motivation, great performances and sickening feelings. Since both the objective and subjective aspects of Midsommar were of great quality and because of how deeply it fascinates me, I give this film 5/5 stars.
Graphic by @sundaeghost, feature photo A24 films