When Ari Aster put Hereditary into the world last year, many were amazed at just how deranged the film got. Absolutely horrifying, an intense look into grief, and absolutely bathed in darkness, the film was a massive success. Whatever Aster was going to tackle next was sure to leave audiences in shambles, and Midsommar does just that, albeit in a much different vein. Both films delve into similar subject matters, but they couldn’t be presented more differently. Midsommar absolutely basks in the beautifully lit and colorful Swedish commune the film takes place in. Every frame is a beauty bursting from the seams with floral colors, lending a larger sense of uneasiness to the film as a whole. Because as soon as our tight cast of characters arrives at their destination, reality immediately starts to become distorted.
It’s evident from the very first moment of the film that Aster is attempting to capture the feeling of a fairytale. However, this fairytale is more akin to those with darker undertones than the prince and princess living happily ever after. Aster’s fairytale festival is a demented descent into madness, becoming further torn from actuality at every opportunity. What begins as comical culture shock slowly gets unraveled into something much more sinister. Aster’s success with Hereditary clearly had an effect on him, and the final product is evident of even more confidence from the directing chair. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski takes his work on Hereditary and twists it even further to the breaking point. Using some brilliant angles and framing, the film’s otherworldliness and embodiment of a storybook is front and center, and very much highlights a master in the making.
What’s most surprising about this film is not only how bright it is, but how comedic it is as well. If anything, it seems more intentional than Hereditary eliciting laughs, and best of all, there’s a satirical undertone seemingly in place that all great horrors deserve to be praised for. It’s also interesting to point out just how cathartic, and shockingly enough, optimistic, this film is. By the maddening finale, the journey feels wholly complete and entirely cathartic, for both the characters and the viewers being freed from Aster’s grasp. For 140 minutes, you’ll be trapped in Sweden with the rest of the cast, piecing together what you can understand alongside them. As everyone becomes more engrained in the culture being presented, it’s interesting to note the level of confusion only increases; yet by the time everything is realized, it’s far too late.
It seems Florence Pugh goes through every known emotion there is in this film, and each outing becomes more impressive than the last. This is her show from beginning to end, and while the rest of the cast is great within their respective lanes, none really get the same level of treatment Pugh got for her character, which is entirely understandable considering the themes of the film. It also seems relevant to point out the odd dialogue at times, and whether the delivery was intentional due to the off-putting nature of the film or not, it felt partially clunky, if only for a moment. It’s times like those where the immersion can be ruined ever so slightly, and for a film that roots itself in adaptation into another culture, that could be considered a problem.
Regardless, this film is still wildly engrossing and plays out like an immaculate, albeit hellish, visual folk tale about relationships. Its odd moments invoke a sense of The Red Room from Twin Peaks in a sense that’s truly otherworldly. It’s characters are very much out of place and by watching from an outside perspective, knowing everything will go wrong doesn’t make the impact any less grave. While the film may seem to be “predictable” at a surface level, it’s the rich subtext that will make Midsommar even more enjoyable with repeat viewings. To be quite honest, this film feels very unique in its presentation, and it once again proves that horror does not need any jump scares out of the dark to be terrifying. On the contrary, Midsommar shows just how horrifying a brightly lit field in the middle of the day can be when removed from one’s element.
Grief and catharsis clearly play a massive part in Aster’s film repertoire. And channeling those emotions that many decide to internalize is what elevates the filmmaker to new heights. Midsommar regularly forces its characters, as well as its audience, to confront everything we would rather bottle up. The revelations necessary to grow beyond the fear or grief will take a while to get to, and in Aster’s world, this is where the horror lies. If Midsommar proves anything, it’s that going down the rabbit hole is sometimes crucial for a better understanding of one’s self, regardless of how horrifying it may turn out to be.
Midsommar is being released by A24 in theaters on July 3rd.