Ari Aster’s sophomore feature might be a career high.
Dani Ardor has some problems. Her sister has a severe case of bipolar disorder and keeps sending ominous and threatening emails to Dani, which gives her anxiety. Not to mention, she has relationship with a grad student named Christian on the brink of disaster.
Fortunately for Dani, a family tragedy keeps them together and she is reluctantly invited to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village.
The carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that are increasingly disturbing.
I have a confession to make: I did something bad. (Well, not too bad but still could be looked down upon.) I somehow managed to get a hold of a PDF-version of the script for this film and read through it about a month ago.
Yeah, I know…
And I’m going to admit, I disliked it. Not intensely, but the script was so focused on exposition of the culture portrayed and extremely unlikeable characters so much so that lost almost all of the interest I initially had.
There’s a running joke through film circles about AFI (American Film Institute) students and their misogynistic, poorly written scripts. It’s just a stereotype, but the script was exactly that…and Ari Aster is an AFI alum.
Now this was without the context of the film. This is why you should see the movie first, kids. The beginning ten minutes of the film consist of the worst kind of “bro talk” there is.
MARK: Dude. You could be getting that girl pregnant right now.
PELLE: And don’t forget all of the Swedish women impregnate in June.
It goes on and on like this for a good portion of the script. It comes off as genuine. In the film, it’s treated as a joke. You’re not supposed to sympathize with these toxic assholes. It wasn’t the only problem with the script, but it was a big one. That made me feel at ease, knowing that it’s played for comedy.
Or at least, as “at ease” as you can be in a film like this.
Performances and a unique singular vision are what buoyed Hereditary to extraordinary proportions and Midsommar is no different.
The main one to praise here is Florence Pugh, who really goes all out and brings the intensity that elevates what could’ve been a very one dimensional, annoying character. She obviously pushed herself to her limits to get the performance she needed, and we should commend her for that.
The supporting cast is filled out by younger up-and-coming actors like Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, and Will Poulter, all of whom are not given enough screen time to really stand out. They do stand in as solid supporting players. Will Poulter as the comic relief really works though.
Aster’s use of odd but symmetrical framing and gliding camera movements are prevalent in this film as it was in Hereditary. A perfect example was the shot in the trailer when Dani goes from a living room into the bathroom, only to put the viewer in the plane’s bathroom on the way to Sweden.
It gives the movie that extra oomph to make it unique. Aster pulls out more tools from the filmmaker toolbox that includes beautiful slow motion and the use of CGI to create a feeling of tripping on psychedelics, which was one of the best portrayals of it I’ve seen in film yet.
With last year’s Hereditary being such a revelation and easily a new horror classic, making comparisons between it and Midsommar is a given.
Let me start off by saying: this is Aster’s previous effort’s twin sibling essentially.
If Hereditary was the child who wore black all of the time and listened to metal and unnerve anyone, then Midsommar is the disarming, light child who listens to Fleetwood Mac and rides horses. There is something sinister brewing beneath the surface of both of them.
Both have something to do with the occult, mysticism, and the darker side of religion. Also, both are more concerned with the horrors of relationships.
While Hereditary was billed as a “family drama” by its director, this is more along the lines of a break-up film. Aster has cited Albert Brooke’s wonderful Modern Romance as an influence for the film’s relationship at its core.
Christian (Dani’s boyfriend) isn’t a terrible human being, but he’s lazy and really doesn’t care about her anymore because he thinks she’s suffocating him. He forgets her birthday, isn’t there for her when she needs him, and even doesn’t tell her he’s going to Sweden with his friends. You know, stuff you wouldn’t do to your significant other unless you wanted out.
The film, in its own messed up way, is about coming to terms with the end of a long term romance. For example: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which is more commonly known from the late Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainwright [Shrek]). It is a beautiful song. People constantly cover the song or play it at weddings when not even realizing that it’s about a relationship that’s gotten stale and boring.
Did I just compare this film to “Hallelujah”? Yes. Yes I did.
Let’s talk about the horror aspect. Within the first ten minutes, Dani is faced with a serious family tragedy. Like Hereditary before it, Midsommar deals with the themes of grief, family, and coming to terms with one’s mortality. Not to the extent of Hereditary, because that’s no the main focus here.
The horror in this film is–to say the least– shocking. It’s gory and fabulous at the same time. Hereditary was shocking at some points (mostly one point, you know the one I’m talking about) but that film focused more on creating a sense of dread and tension that never really fully released, even after the credits started rolling.
This doesn’t have that aura and I think it is to the film’s benefit.
If you’ve ever seen the excellent 1973 Nicolas Roeg film Don’t Look Now, it’s similar because horror is portrayed the same way. That film isn’t gory, but the terror is filmed in beautiful slow motion, which accentuates the scene and creates beauty in the midst of terror.
If I had to guess what the biggest influence of the film was stylistically, I’d have to look no further than the country the film takes place in.
Ingmar Bergman is often considered one of the masters in film nerd circles, including yours truly. Although he never made a “horror” film, some of his work can be considered–well, horrifying.
One comes to mind automatically when watching Midsommar, and that’s Cries and Whispers. Cries and Whispers is truly terrifying, the disturbing wails of the dying and the sense of forthcoming death are an obvious influence and the colors are so particular in both that it’s hard not to make the comparison.
In short, this film is more focused on unsettling the audience and scaring us through imagery. The tone that Hereditary had wouldn’t work on a film like this, because this film is actually pretty funny.
A24 is having itself a year. First, High Life and The Last Black Man in San Francisco were pretty incredible. The indie production house also has some highly anticipated movies coming out of Sundance and Cannes in The Farewell and The Lighthouse.
Along with the trend of A24 releasing skilled and critically praised films, Midsommar is no exception. It’s a new horror classic that defies all expectations. It’s twisted as hell, funny, and rather horrifying.
Ari Aster obviously seems to have his finger on the pulse when it comes to horror films. Even though he says that this is his last horror project that he’s doing, let’s hope that whatever genre he decides to tackle next yields the same results.