With Midsommar, the director of Hereditary delivers his second fantastic horror film in two years
As Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth) deals with a possible incident with her bipolar sister, her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, Kin) sits around a table with his three friends, debating when and how he will break up with her. Dani calls her boyfriend to ask for comfort but, instead, is treated to his usual casual behavior. We only watch her face as we hear him tell her to stop worrying and that she is being dramatic. Tears and anger and horror cross Pugh’s face in an unbroken shot, one of many long and sweeping moments in the film that capture Dani’s fragile state and Pugh’s immense talents. Yet at the end of this brief prologue and the reveal of a family tragedy, I realized I had been holding my breath for minutes. Midsommar enchants you like that. Petty domestic squabbles and attempts to find a family in the middle of nowhere wind up becoming a backdrop for a nightmarish fable, one with an incredible amount of scares and themes that need to be seen to be believed.
Ari Aster’s second feature film following the extraordinary Hereditary from last year, Midsommar is a brilliant sophomore effort, with Aster’s script and direction again living up to the hype. The music and cinematography are hypnotic, and there are some sound design choices that are viscerally upsetting. The score from Bobby Krlic is incredible, and a reunion with Hereditary cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski is mystifying, capturing both the brutal horror of the film and the gorgeous landscapes of Sweden in equal measures, and occasionally overlapping the two in a number of mushroom-induced hallucinations.
The story of the film follows Dani and Christian as they accompany his three friends to a remote village of Hårga in Sweden for an annual custom called “Midsommar,” a nine-day festival during which the sun does not set on the village at all, resulting in scary scenes in broad daylight. Hårgan resident Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has been studying anthropology at an American university and invites Christian, along with the academically minded Josh (William Jackson Harper, “The Good Place”) and the freewheeling Mark (Will Poulter, Detroit). When guilty Christian invites Dani along, his friends are angry, having hoped they had been rid of Dani by now.
These four gentlemen are, without turning to profanity, terrible people. All of them treat Dani like innocent trash, guilting her into a drug trip more than once. They arrive in Hårga and instantly start to ruin the pristine nature of the village. Introduced in bright and verdant colors, the three American men enter and ruin things immediately, with Josh too obsessed with turning this culture into a doctoral thesis to pay attention to the needs of the village. Mark, meanwhile, treats this vacation like spring break, resulting in scenes of him vaping in the face of village elders and urinating on an ancestral tree. All the while, Dani attempts to make the most out of a bad time by embracing the culture and people of Hårga as Christian instead considers embracing some female Hårgans who catch his eye.
Yet all the while, the Midsommar ceremonies begin to become more and more sinister. Disappearances, people being where they shouldn’t be, secrets and more build over the 140-minute runtime, approaching a fever pitch by the film’s end that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and left me equally terror-struck and giddy. It is just that kind of a nightmare.
Walking out of this film at 8:30 pm to sunlight was one of the scariest additional aspects of this film that Ari Aster couldn’t have predicted. But it led my mind to consider the deeper themes of the film as well. Climate change is a constant undercurrent, the destruction of nature and the environment for the purposes of others being equated with a global form of self-harm. And the finger is pointed constantly at America (and England) for how they are culpable for both creating the environmental problems we face, as well as pointing at the history of how both enter the cultures of others and attempt to change it. The cultural tourism of our four American characters is what results in their eventual downfall, with the cultural neglect by Mark and the intense interrogation by Josh treated equally.
Yet at the center of this film will always be the relationship between Dani and Christian. Both speak a similar line at different points in the movie, referring to taking mushrooms: “I’m worried I’ll have a bad trip.” And this bad trip to Hårga is what makes for such a great film. Florence Pugh, an actress that will certainly be at the center of Oscar discussion this year and will soon be seen in both Little Women and Black Widow, is absolutely extraordinary. She can convey emotions with a single glance, and she delivers each line beautifully.
If Hereditary is a family drama that looks like a horror movie, then Midsommar is a romantic drama inspired by Pan’s Labyrinth. And it’s amazing. Fans of Hereditary will likely adore this film, and I can safely call Ari Aster one of the best filmmakers working right now after making two movies this excellent in a row.
Midsommar will be in theaters starting July 3rd. From writer/director Ari Aster. Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, and Will Poulter. Rated R for… a lot of things.