Director Ari Aster certainly has a style he is going for based on his masterpiece debut last year with Hereditary and his latest project, Midsommar. I had high expectations due to his first film, becoming one of my favorite horror movies of all time. While the two films share a lot in common in themes and tone, this is a unique, artsy drama-thriller that misses a few beats, but nails its premise.
Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian’s (Jack Reynor) relationship is in turmoil, mostly because of her family drama putting too much stress on Christian. As a getaway, he decides to invite her on a trip to Sweden with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) who is the one to initiate the idea by wanting his friends to see a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a mid-summer festival that his family celebrates. The festivities turn out to be an ancient ritual that turns this vacation into a nightmare. A slow burn that never picks up the pace when things go dark while still keeping much of the impact with the grim twist of Sweden’s real mid-summer festivals.
The characters all satisfy their roles in the narrative, even all of the members of the Hårga cult feel fleshed out. Mark is certainly a highlight with his comedic relief, whether it is playing off of an ignorant American tourist or having genuine jokes. The real centerpiece of everything outside of the horrifying Pagan rituals comes from the rocky relationship between Christian and Dani. I felt the tension between the two during cold silences along with their happier moments that filled the air with their love for one another.
The acting, for the most part, is quite stellar. Pugh steals the show with her impressive display of raw emotions. The supporting friends are not given too much, but manage to do well in their scenes. The weakest link comes from Reynor, who feels flat in some of his line delivery. He saves much of his problematic performance by leaning on his costars to pick up after his mistakes.
Aster took inspirations across Europe to create this cult. The influences from Sweden are more peaceful with flower pickings and paintings, while the horror aspects come from a mix of other European Pagan history and the director/writer’s own twisted mind. With all of that research, the Hårga clan get the time and care to become believable.
The film holds plenty of similarities as Hereditary like pacing, tone, and its focus on relationships. It is poignant about trauma, mental health, and the connections we hold with our friends, family, and significant other. However, the pacing here feels too slow compared to his previous endeavor. The other elements remain just as strong and in some cases, even more impactful.
A lot of stylistic choices are made in this artistic film. Whether that is cinematography, editing, or even world building, I don’t fully understand every decision, and that is okay, nobody is supposed to get everything in this horror flick. Everything feels like a purpose with its creative ideas and the bread crumbs about the twists to come along with developing its characters and lore.
The significant difference that separates Midsommar and its rivals in the genre comes from the daylight. Almost the entire film takes place in a beautiful village that houses Pelle’s family. Color pops from the bright sun and gives me a false sense of safety, it is a brilliant choice that feels refreshing for horror as it usually lacks any eye candy.
Enhancing the drama, suspense, and beauty is the music. From a grand orchestral score to the many folk songs played throughout, a lot of the emotions I felt through my viewing was elevated by the incredible tunes that highlight every moment.
Midsommar falls slightly short from my expectations due to Aster’s 2018 supernatural horror movie, but it rises above most releases this year. It is brilliant with fully realized ideas while delivering the best music and visual effects of the year so far. It lacks the right pacing, along with some unimpactful moments that should have been executed better. What falls short gets picked back up by the higher quality elements in this untraditional, psychedelic folk horror journey that left me uncomfortable for two and a half hours.
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Image via A24