Ari Aster’s second venture in to directing and writing a full length horror film, “Midsommar,” is a slow burn, meditating on how we associate with others when set in the context of a secretive commune’s macabre rituals.
Aster’s first full project, “Hereditary,” came out in 2018 and it focused on a family experiencing trauma and loss while being manipulated by a satanist cult. Throughout the film, the relationships of the characters dissolve as they lose their trust in each other’s sanity and motivation.
In the same vein, “Midsommar” focuses on people and their interactions as the situation around them violently falls apart.
The main duo throughout the film are the protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) and her self-absorbed boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian hides his initial desire to leave the relationship, and he guiltily supports Dani while she experiences a horrific family trauma.
His guilt continues as he begrudgingly invites the still suffering Dani to come along with his friends to Sweden, in order to study midsummer celebrations in a traditional commune.
It is in the Swedish countryside that the striking bright and floral visual palette of the movie unfolds and is contrasted with the violence that emerges around the callous American visitors.
It is the style and sound of the movie that is ultimately Aster’s masterwork. The movie seldom shows traditional horror movie staples — such as figures hidden in shadow or unexpected scares— but still manages to convey menace in the smiling and friendly faces of the members of the Hårga commune.
Violence and brutality are depicted, but it is not used as a crutch to shock the viewer into discomfort. By subtle tilts of the camera and psychedelic visual effects, the film is able to communicate the isolation and helplessness of the visitors more effectively than through overwhelming blood and gore.
Rich in ritual and symbolism the film does not try to hide the inevitable conclusion to the experience, but rewards close viewing of the detailed background with forewarning that the characters in the movie don't understand.
While the film masterfully creates an atmosphere of foreboding, it departs from many other horror films by also having the tension relieved throughout. The antics of the modern Americans contrasted with the self serious and foreign beliefs and actions of the Swedes is played effectively both for horror and fun.
Aster’s pedigree of examining people who are together in trying times is as important as his ability to create incredible visuals.
While it is impossible to separate this movie from its incredibly filmed setting, the focus remains on Dani and Christian distancing themselves as they both interact with and are changed by the things they experience.
The film probes belonging and sympathy with other people and within the wider world in a way that is trademark of Aster’s style of film. It is uncomfortable and unflinching, giving the viewer much to think about without shoving any interpretation to the foreground.
The many currents of feeling which pass through Dani and Christian are excellently shown by Pugh and Reynor as well as the other Americans, Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper). Pugh especially shines in her ability to portray crushed emotions and the physical act of weeping.
“Midsommar” is an incredibly striking movie that slowly builds to a frenetic crescendo, crushing many of the viewer’s ideas of how they relate to others and to themselves along the way.
Colin Peña is a freelancer with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as on Twitter @penyacolin