Director: Ari Aster
Performers: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, and Vilhelm Blomgren
Now that we’ve experienced our fill of scary dolls this summer, it’s time to turn to the July horror phenomenon Midsommar (2019). From the director of Hereditary (2018), the film is high on scares in broad daylight and the danger of isolation –physically and psychologically. Starring Florence Pugh (Dani) as a young woman from a troubled home life struggling through college, the film begins immediately as a study in character dynamics under extreme pressure. When Dani learns her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is travelling to Sweden to visit friend Pelle’s hometown for a festival, Dani accompanies them. What follows is something you may think you’ve seen before, but you really haven’t. Midsommar will surprise you. But be warned: it’s not a film that slows down, explains itself, or apologizes. If you have a weak stomach or want a straightforward story, this one may not be for you.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Midsommar is a lavish love letter to folk horror, a term coined by Piers Haggard in a 2004 interview with Fangoria but a genre rooted further back in the fear and disillusion following the back to nature movements of the 60s and 70s. The difference here is that, while similar films like The Wicker Man (1973) do take place mostly in broad daylight, the colors are oversaturated, the daylight overexposed, leaving a strange, dreamlike look to the entire film. Flower and blood symbolism imply fertility, and we do see this in the focus on the crops. There’s a very awkward sex scene at one point, but it’s a ceremony that’s awkward for a good reason.
Rooted in research and folklore, Ari Aster knows the subject matter and rewards students of Norse mythology, runic alphabets, and pagan belief systems in general throughout the film. From the Futhark (old and new) runes to the carefully illustrated paintings in the boarding house, every detail is meticulous. Foreshadowing is everywhere if you’re looking.
One interesting thing about this film is that the characters aren’t really likeable. They’re relatable, but not likeable people. They have things that get annoying, weaknesses that the villagers exploit, and these are pretty easy to see coming from the beginning. In that sense, it’s like the old Grimm Brothers fairy tales: gruesome and with a smattering of moral lessons. Whether those lessons are exactly positive though is up to the viewer.
Aster called this a “break-up” film, citing his own deteriorating relationship and messy break-up at the time as a major inspiration. In a twisted way, it’s something of a romance. But that shouldn’t deter you. This is one of those films that’s going to have a massive following – it’ll get in your head. In a good way.