Runtime: 147 mins
In the wake of a family tragedy, Dani decides to join her boyfriend, Christian, on a month-long trip to Sweden in an attempt to forget her own trauma and to keep their crumbling relationship intact. Their mutual friend, Pelle, comes from a small, pagan commune that invites them to join their midsummer celebrations. However, something doesn’t seem right about the community, and Dani’s group struggles to chalk everything up to cultural differences, especially when things turn bloody.
“Midsommar” is Ari Aster’s second feature-length film, debuting a year after his first movie, “Hereditary.” Because “Hereditary” was my favorite movie of 2018, I was beyond excited to see what Aster would produce next. From the looks of “Midsommar,” the director is sticking to what he does best: capturing painfully human emotions.
The entire cast does a great job, but Florence Pugh (Dani) definitely steals the show. I was impressed with every scene, whether she was meekly trying to appease her boyfriend, gleefully dancing, or uttering gut-wrenching sobs. One of my favorite things about Aster’s films is that he’s not afraid to let his actor’s get ugly – in fact, he seems to encourage them to contort their faces to show intense, visceral emotions. Another notable cast member was Will Poulter, playing one of Christian’s friends (Mark), who brought a surprising amount of humor to a very dark movie.
As with “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” is a commentary on grief. The film begins with events grounded in reality, but gradually becomes more surreal as the plot progresses. The bizarre, cult-related events allow the story to symbolically discuss the real-world problems presented in the first half. At its core, Aster calls “Midsommar” a breakup movie. Though it might not be immediately apparent, the film follows a pattern of conflict, misery, anger, and – ultimately – a strange sense of release. This emotional journey, combined with the nightmarish cult practices, culminates in a truly unhinged experience.
The dark content starkly contrasts with the bright, beautiful cinematography. Traditionally, daytime is a “safe” time in horror movies, so keeping most of the horror in the sunlight added a sense of eeriness to the film. Much like “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” doesn’t rely on traditional jump scares for its horror, instead using disturbing visuals and implications. While not traditionally scary, “Midsommar” still had to fight for an R rating instead of NC17 due to “disturbing ritualistic violence, grisly images, and strong sexual content,” so consider yourself warned.
Despite the similarities, “Midsommar” didn’t captivate me the same way “Hereditary” did. Though I was invested in the story, certain elements only felt included for shock value and others felt completely unrelated to the plot. It’s possible the symbolism of some scenes went over my head or the unknown is meant to scare the audience, but either way, “Midsommar” was definitely not as straightforward as its predecessor. I also felt “Midsommar” was a little too long, coming in at two and a half hours.
That being said, I did enjoy the movie. Aster pours a palpable amount of care into his work, which makes each story unique, passionate, and thoughtful. I love his films because they haunt you; they keep you thinking about hidden details and meanings long after you’ve left the theater. While I’d love to wholeheartedly recommend this movie, I know it won’t be for everyone. If you don’t mind heavy symbolism and graphic imagery, definitely check out “Midsommar” this summer. You’d be supporting a bold piece of work from a budding director.