Ari Aster’s directorial debut got off to a great start with 2018’s Hereditary. The movie was smart, engaging, and horrifying. Much like his first movie, the trailers for Midsommar have not given away much. A group of friends take a trip to Sweden. They attend a festival held once every ninety years. The idyllic setting proves to be anything but as the group soon discovers. Can Aster repeat the success he had with Hereditary or was his first movie a one hit wonder?
Most horror movies cut straight to the heart of the matter. Someone is killing people, serial killer is beaten at their own game, end movie and wait for inevitable sequel. Midsommar’s story never tricks the audience into thinking it is anything more than what it looks like. A fine piece of folk horror complete with all the ingredients associated with the genre.
Where Aster’s film excels is in how it manages to weave in different themes fluidly. Dependence, denial, love, and loss are just some of the subjects Midsommar touches on. This is not a movie that wants to scare as its audience as much as it wants to make them feel uncomfortable. Obviously, there is an element of horror, but the film wants to examine the human condition also.
This willingness to delve deeply into the psyches of the cast of characters leads to unexpected moments of levity. Make not mistake about it: this is no dark comedy. Midsommar is a horror movie through and through. That does not prevent the writing from presenting a more realistic view of the four friends. Gone are the endless jump scares and loud screams. The script also does not sink to toilet humor or corny jokes. The laughs that come may seem out of place, but they are actually very natural.
Perhaps most obviously, this is a story about dealing with grief. From the very beginning, the story shows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) as a troubled young women. Her grief is brought on by various things. Some things may seem more trivial than others, but everything takes an equal toll on Dani. Though she does not seem to get more screen time than her friends, Dani’s struggle with the sadness she feels is clearly the central part of the story.
What makes Midsommar’s story so compelling is how many viewpoints it is willing to examine Dani from. She is a clingy girlfriend, a person reaching out for help, a victim of gaslighting, and the aggressor. The writing never manipulates its audience and lets them decide for themselves what to think about her. Dani’s trip to the festival is one of gradual growth and is very interesting to watch.
The look of Midsommar may stand out more than anything else. The best horror movies are all about the atmosphere they manage to create. Aster’s film is no different, but it creates a setting unlike any other horror movie. Part of the intrigue of horror is the fear of the unknown. Literally keeping the audience in the dark is part of Scary Movies 101.
Midsommar may well be the brightest horror movie of all time. Giallos are known for their lush colors, but even then it is the use of dark reds and blues that stand out. Almost the entirety of Midsommar takes place under the bright summer sun. Everything is in plain view of the audience. There are few jump scares since there are not many hidden areas. There is yellow, orange, and green and the entire thing looks very lively.
As the trailers have shows, not everything is as it seems in Midsommar. The moments when the travelling friends are not 100% lucid are well done and disorienting. A scene shortly after the group arrives in Sweden, immediately lets the audience know they will have to pay close attention. Inanimate objects seem to breathe as if they are alive. Sound effects come from various directions. Overhead shots show off scenery but do not allow time to find footing. And this is not even including the many drawings the audience is never given enough time to fully examine.
Midsommar is one of the most compelling and uncomfortable movies of the year. The script tells a strong story about its lead character. Audiences are let into the mind of someone who is trying to deal with a number of things. The plot is an intriguing one that will keep people guessing the whole time. It may not be the most frightening movie of the year, but it may well be the one that leaves people feeling the most uneasy.