Release Date: July 3, 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, and William Jackson Harper
Mister Marquee Says: LEGENDARY
Hereditary director Ari Aster is back again with another deeply unsettling slow burn. Dani (Florence Pugh) is struggling with panic attacks and grief when she decides to go with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to visit their friend Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) home; a pagan commune in Sweden. The small commune is about to hold a Midsommar festival that happens once every ninety years.
Uncomfortably real people; that’s the real power of Ari Aster’s movies, and something almost completely missing from the horror genre. His characters are painfully real. The dark side of Dani’s mental state is so well portrayed by Aster and Florence Pugh that the reality of the situation amplifies the horror around her. Horror movies have a cartoonish view of mental health, so when an accurate portrayal of grief and anxiety are presented it makes it so much more unsettling. That stark reality breaks down the safeness, the popcorn face we’re used to in mainstream horror. Mainstream horror movies are treated more like an amusement park ride where teens jump from “gotcha” moments.
Dani and Christian’s deteriorating relationship is likewise startlingly realistic. Christian’s friends try to get him to break up with Dani, who they say is a never-ending crisis and demands too much of him emotionally. Dani, meanwhile, is going through terrible grief and severe psychiatric distress and just needs someone to be there for her. Neither is to blame, really, though Christian’s friends do come off as a bit callous. The social interactions, with the awkwardness and fake-niceties are so genuine. Aster is arguably better at drama than horror, and that’s what makes his horror movies a unique experience. That’s to say nothing of the cinematography, which is out of this world. The set design is excellent too, with the charming little cottages, folk art, and beautiful fields juxtapositioned with the unrelenting, visceral violence. We all know where this movie is ultimately going, and its debt to The Wicker Man is readily apparent, but Midsommar gets there in a slow burn that is much, much more than the sum of its plot points.
Midsommar and Hereditary both have horrifyingly realistic corpses and, when gore is used, it’s grotesque in its authenticity. The mainstream horror mindset is stuck in a repetitive cycle; a character hears a noise, investigates, a false-scare happens, then they turn around and a ghost jumps out. Boo, rinse, repeat. Everything is about misdirection and quick jumps. It’s the cinematic equivalent of playing peekaboo or dangling keys in front of a baby. Ari Aster takes the exact opposite approach. He draws his scenes out for an insanely long period, let’s you assume you know what’s going to happen, and just as you’re about to pass out from holding your breath in anticipation, he gives you what you imagined, only much, much worse. He lets you sit and stew in horror in a way that other directors don’t. Midsommar is still a home run, though not quite on Hereditary’s level. Then again, Hereditary is a moon shot. Midsommar is a different animal, but still a well-crafted, unsettling watch.