Have you ever been in a place very far north or south during the months when the sun barely sets? Unless you’ve already grown used to it, it’s both beautiful and frightening. In the unending daylight, brains accustomed to resetting themselves when it gets dark start to fuzz out confusedly; basic concepts on which our bodies depend, like time, no longer make a fundamental, corporeal sense. It’s disorienting and eerie, lending an otherworldly quality to everything.
Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a confidently directed and operatic follow-up to 2018’s Hereditary, situates its tale of grief, breakups, and rites in northern Sweden, at the height of its endless sun season. It’s a smart choice for the story he wants to tell. Midsommar is obsessed with the passage of time and the cycle of seasons, and the ways humans scramble to make sense of life’s big changes (like death, aging, and breakups).
Horror challenges our beliefs that the world can be controlled, and Midsommar knows just how to do it
The director doesn’t try to hide where the story is going; he knows that the viewer expects a creepy mix of gore and drug-induced debauchery, and that’s what he delivers. But Midsommar isn’t deeply concerned with why or how things are happening. Though the carnage unfolds in due time and is explained as needed, Aster is more interested in soaking up character interplay through the comical bumbling of these ugly Americans abroad. Much as Hereditary was really a kitchen-sink family drama blended with an occult-horror film, Midsommar takes the mundane misery of a disintegrating relationship and renders it as a Technicolor thriller.
Late in Midsommar, the bewildered American tourist Christian (played by Jack Reynor) finally blurts out the question he’s been holding in for his entire trip to the strange Swedish enclave of Harga. “Excuse me,” he asks a bearded townsperson. “What is going on?” He doesn’t get a straight answer in return—the man just claps in his face, sending Christian’s poor soul into yet another wave of psychedelic confusion. But viewers can appreciate what the writer and director Ari Aster has hidden in plain sight: a folksy slasher film with a wry sense of humor, playing out in unending daylight.
Christian and his friends have embarked on a remote Scandinavian holiday in search of cultural enrichment with a strong dash of hedonism. Along with Christian and his longtime girlfriend, Dani (Florence Pugh), the band of doofy Americans includes the anthropology student Josh (William Jackson Harper) and the thickheaded bro Mark (Will Poulter). The film begins with a deadly, insurmountably distressing incident in Dani’s family, which stalls the separation that’s been looming between her and Christian. When Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a Harga native and classmate of Josh’s, recruits the group for a trip to Sweden, Christian sees a chance to salvage the relationship: What’s better for romance than a simple commune where everyone pitches in on labor, wears flowing linen robes, and seems more than a little disconnected from the outside world?
Midsommar suggests existence is terrible, no matter how you handle it
As it turns out, they’re walking straight into a bloodbath, and Aster (who made his feature-film debut last year with the epically upsetting Hereditary) takes every opportunity to emphasize how clueless they are about what’s in store. As the group flies over the Atlantic Ocean, they marvel at the beautiful clouds outside the airplane window; Aster then moves his camera to the other side of the glass, where the wind is whipping and howling around their safe metal pod. It’s not subtle, and neither was Hereditary. In both cases, though, Aster wields his sledgehammer with extraordinary deftness. Midsommar is a culture-clash comedy, a breakup movie, and an homage to The Wicker Man all rolled into one, bursting with bright colors and wild, engaged acting. Pugh, in particular, has been poised for a Hollywood breakout moment since her arresting work in 2017’s Lady Macbeth, and this is it—the same kind of iconic performance Aster wrung from Hereditary’s leading lady, Toni Collette.
Midsommar is obsessed with the passage of time and the cycle of seasons, and the ways humans scramble to make sense of life’s big changes (like death, aging, and breakups). As it turns out, neither the modern approach of treating changes like tragedies to be mourned nor the more ancient, even pagan instinct to memorialize them with rituals and acceptance is more “civilized.” Human life is violent, nasty, and explosive. This is, after all, a horror film. It’s meant to horrify us. And there’s nothing on earth more horrifying than existence itself.
Yes, the movie says, but also no. If anything, the perspective of Midsommar is almost anti-humanist: People find ways to make the crude facts of life, the violence of acts of birth, reproduction, and death, seem less awful. But whether we celebrate the seasons of life or fight them, welcome the changes or mourn them, it’s still bad.
Here’s Review and trailer:
There’s no escaping the brutality of existence, no dark corner to hide in. The best you can do is look it straight in the eye and smile through the savagery.
Midsommar opens in theaters on July 3.