MIDSOMMAR Review – Grief That’s Devastating And Darkly Funny
Starring Florence Pugh, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor
Written by Ari Aster
Directed by Ari Aster
Note: spoilers are unavoidable here, so please read at your own risk.
Kicking off with a devastating opening that cements Florence Pugh as an award-worthy actress, Midsommar heralds the anticipated return of Ari Aster, whose debut film Hereditary catapulted him to the upper echelons of modern horror royalty. Much like how Jordan Peele’s Us proved that concern for a sophomore slump was unwarranted, Aster’s latest hits. And damn does it hit hard.
Once again, Aster uses a foundation of grief for his story. Pugh plays Dani, a young woman whose sister commits suicide but not before taking their parents with her. Wracked by guilt and utterly devastated, she still frets that her pain is a nuisance to her boyfriend, Christian (Reynor), unaware that he has long been seeking a way out of their relationship. He is plagued by cowardice and guilts Dani for making him feel “attacked”, oblivious of his manipulation or unwilling to admit it. You decide. It’s a searing lens that magnifies the bullshit women put up with and repress in order to make men feel at ease.
It certainly doesn’t help that Christian’s grad student friends, Mark (Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), are all trying to convince him to leave her, dangling the prospect of all the sex he’ll be able to have on their upcoming trip to Sweden as some sort of reward. It becomes apparent that the group, minus Pelle, have their own dismissive views towards women; Mark sees them as little more than holes for his dick; Josh can wax intellectual and prove his intelligence by psychoanalyzing everything around him; Christian uses passive-aggressive tactics to weasel his way out of facing any sort of consequence. These antiquated views come into sharp relief as they enter Halsingland where they, quite literally, have their world turned upside down.
The remote Swedish burg where Midsommar takes place is picturesque, a quaint collection of small, antiquated buildings surrounded by gorgeous, rolling hills covered in verdant trees. Production designer Henrik Svensson creates a stunning location, where each building has its own distinct characteristics, some straight out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and some so ordinary as to seem forgettably safe. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski captures Halsingland in all its rural majesty, long zooms unfolding the breadth of geography amidst the unending sunlight and close-ups exposing the cracks in the facade. The hamlet is brought further to life thanks to the brilliant sound design while composer Bobby Krlic’s score toes the line between folk beauty and dissonant unease.
Bathed in warm sunlight, Midsommar exposes Dani’s grief against drug-fueled undulations as bright, vibrant colors splash the screen, challenging the notion that horror must be all doom and gloom. This is a dreamlike phantasmagoria that Aster cleverly manipulates, lulling the audience into a hypnotic state that allows the 140-minute runtime to pass by with unfettered ease.
As with Hereditary, Aster doesn’t shy away from extreme gore. However, he picks and chooses placement with laser precision, eliciting gasps and nauseous groans from undeniably shocking visuals, some reminiscent of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. And while the scares aren’t as overt as his previous title, Midsommar is awash with tension, every scene oozing with the trepidation of what comes next.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about Midsommar is also how damn funny it can be. Poulter’s Matt as the boorish American is specifically there to laugh at and not with. Harper’s Josh is the pseudo-intellectual who wants to impress everyone but fails. And Reynor’s Christian is impotent without a woman in his life, a pathetic man baby who needs help in what may be one of the most awkward yet arresting sex scenes. All this humor feels perfectly natural as Aster manages to tread a very careful line where the film’s impact isn’t lost for the sake of a handful of laughs.
All said, the film isn’t perfect. The breezy runtime does stagnate occasionally and some beats feel predictable. But through it all is Pugh’s masterful performance, one that will holds the film together through thick and thin.
There is a great deal to unpack in Midsommar and I strongly suggest multiple viewings. It will certainly be as divisive as Hereditary but there’s no denying that it will be one of the most discussed, dissected, and analyzed films of the year.
A breakup movie at its core, Midsommar doesn’t evolve the folk horror genre in too many ways but it certainly twists and bends it to its harrowing will. You will be shocked, you will be devastated, and you will think about it long after the credits roll.