As I'm sure all of you are aware, I'm a big fan of studio A24. When it comes to horror movies they seem to hit home run after home run so naturally any time a movie comes out of that studio I'm immediately excited. Midsommar is the latest from A24, and writer/director Ari Aster's follow up to Hereditary. This is a movie that I've been excited about for a long time but didn't get the chance to see in theaters. Well I've seen it now, and since we're officially entering Halloween season I couldn't think of a better movie to kick us off. Let's jump in and for anybody who hasn't seen it yet, spoilers ahead.
Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, and Will Poulter, Midsommar is about a group of students that travel to Sweden to observe a once-in-a-lifetime festival. Naturally since this is a horror movie things aren't what they initially appear to be and things go very south but there are also a lot of themes at play in the movie as well that we'll get into later. Midsommar sits at an impressive 83% approval rating from critics and 63% approval from audiences which honestly does not surprise me given the quality of films that come from A24, but this is a lot of praise without actually talking about the movie. Let's get into the meat and potatoes of the film and see if it lives up to the hype.
Midsommar primarily focuses on Dani (Pugh) and her relationship with Christian (Reynor.) The movie starts with Christian and his friends talking about how he's wanted to end his relationship with Dani for a long time, while Dani talks with one of her friends on the phone about how she fears that she has become a burden on Christian due to her reliance on him for emotional support while she deals with her mentally ill sister who has left a cryptic email with no responses. Dani then discovers that her sister has killed herself and their parents by pumping car exhaust into their house. This traumatic experience forces Christian to stay with Dani and invite her on a trip to Sweden that was supposed to be just him and his guy friends to score with "hot Scandinavian chicks." Once they arrive in Sweden Christian acts like a total asshole, pressures Dani into taking shrooms which sends her on a bad trip, steals friend Josh's (Harper) thesis idea, and cheats on Dani, which leads us into the first theme of Midsommar: male entitlement, and maybe more specifically American entitlement as we see this not with just Christian, but with Mark (Poulter) and Josh as well. Josh takes pictures of the village's sacred texts after the elders had expressly told him not to, and Mark relieves himself on an old tree which is considered sacred by the village. This ties into another theme of female empowerment, as by the end of the movie, Dani is the only one of the group that is still alive and she seems pretty happy about having freed herself from her bad relationships, but more on that later.
The group arrives at the village and everything seems normal and pretty chill until the actual festival starts. The very first activity that they witness is a ritualistic suicide where two old people jump off a cliff. One of them botches it though so the villagers have to go and finish him off by smashing his head in with a giant hammer. Just like Hereditary before this, Midsommar pulls no punches and shows you everything in grizzly detail. The imagery is horrifying and will probably stay with me for days.
Following that people start disappearing. First, one of the other foreigners who was brought in by another villager, then his girlfriend, then Josh, and finally Mark, leaving just Christian and Dani. Christian ends up getting drugged and lured into a very questionable sexual encounter while Dani is crowned May Queen after winning a festival competition. Dani discovers Christian in the act and is heartbroken. It is then revealed that everyone who has died or gone missing has been part of a Pagan sacrifice and that Dani, as May Queen, gets to choose who the final sacrifice will be, either Christian or one of the villagers. She chooses Christian who is then stuffed into a bear carcass and burned alive in the village temple which ties us back into that theme of female empowerment.
So the story itself is unsettling, disturbing, and very effective, but how well did the actors bring that story to life? In my opinion all of the performances in this film were very good, although I wouldn't pinpoint any of them as particularly great. All of the characters felt like real people, and the actors did a good job of making the relationships come to life in a realistic and memorable way.
Where this movie really excels however, is the imagery. The suicide scene I mentioned before is just one example, but the imagery of Dani's sister and parents was also extremely unnerving, and the visage of her dead sister can be seen multiple times during the film because Ari Aster decided to hide dead faces in the movie like, everywhere. Don't believe me? Take a look at the upper left corner of this picture and tell me what you see.
That right there, ladies and germs, is the face of Dani's dead sister in the trees, complete with exhaust tube still in her mouth. That kind of subtle imagery is absolutely all over the place in Midsommar, which makes this a very re-watchable movie because I guarantee each time you watch it you'll find something new. Another great thing Ari Aster does with the imagery is during any time someone is on hallucinogens. Objects in the frame subtly twist and contort making you feel like you're on the same kind of drugs that the characters are on. It's a fantastic aesthetic choice by Aster and it makes the already unnerving atmosphere even more unnatural creepy.
Just like Hereditary before it, Midsommar is an absolute home run for Ari Aster, who has now gone two for two as a director in my opinion. And even though we still have a couple of months to go as of the time of this writing Midsommar has shot to top of my list for 2019 movies. That's just my opinion though. If you haven't seen the movie you definitely should, and then come leave me a comment with your thoughts! What did you like, what didn't you like? Do you agree with my overall assessment? Let me know and we'll talk about it!