Ari Aster‘s followup to his 2018 horror spectacle, Hereditary, has arrived in the form of cult horror drama, Midsommar, a deeply unsettling horror triumph.
Midsommar follows a couple and their friends who travel to a remote community in Sweden to witness a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival they won’t forget. What begins as a pleasant Summer vacation quickly descends into a living nightmare.
Ari Aster has crafted a story here that is deeply unsettling and hits you right down to your core. It’s not a scary movie at all, at least not in the traditional sense. There’s maybe 2 minutes of gruesome content and no typical horror-like scares in this movie, so much so that I’d hesitate to even call it a horror film. Similar to Hereditary, it gets you with thematic horror such as with themes off loss, grief, entrapment and even unhealthy relationships and unloads all of that on you gradually with each passing minute.
This is undoubtedly the most unnerving, unsettling and sickening film I’ve ever witnessed. No film has had an effect on me as strong as Midsommar. The behaviours of the characters are unnerving and the practises and customs of this community are sickening, creating a story that is incredibly uncomfortable to sit through. But Ari Aster does something incredible where despite being deeply unsettling, you can’t help but continue watching, anxious of what’s going to happen next and in what unconventional way things are going to progress. The destination of this story is relatively clear, the setup of the story is slow, but the turns it takes to keep you willingly or unwillingly hooked are genius.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to put into words exactly what’s so disturbing about this film that induces a feeling of deep dread and make you feel physically ill. It’s in the way everything including the writing, characters, cinematography and score work together to create frightening results. Ari Aster is a force to be reckoned with in the horror industry because of how he’s able to craft these entirely original horror spectacles without resorting to typical horror jump-scares and cliches. How he manages to create a horror film that is not scary but deeply distressing at the same time is fantastic.
When it comes to the performances, Florence Pugh is the one who stands out well above the rest. As much as this is focusing on a group of characters, the story is all hers when you consider the emotional investment gained through what her character endures. She carries the bulk of the film with a stellar, emotional performance and really sells the horror of what she’s going through in this village. She delivers dialogue strongly, completely devotes herself to this character and tells a story of pain and grief through her facial expressions.
Jack Reynor has brief moments where he shines. His character is the ultimate douche from the outset so it’s hard to side with him, but Jack does a great job at conveying that to the audience. At times his delivery of the dialogue feels wonky, forced and unnatural, and does take you out of it for a moment. Whether it’s intentional or not it doesn’t blend well. Supporting performances from Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper and Vilhelm Blongren are good but don’t do much to get you engaged in their journeys. The ensemble performances of the cultists are great and really sell you on this being a real community with these exact beliefs.
Ari Aster completes this package through his fantastic filming and framing style that makes this stand out as top-notch filmmaking beyond a strong story. One element I need to mention is how Ari uses mirrors to cleverly frame his shots and keep characters on-screen during dialogue scenes without the need for constant cuts. It makes for some beautiful shots that hold all the information you need in an artistic fashion.
For all of the quiet scenes and sequences with minimal dialogue, Midsommar is a very loud film through both the chilling score and busy visuals. It’s a deeply unsettling story that you spend with a community that will make your stomach turn more and more with every moment you spend with them. The film isn’t immaculate, the story doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat the entire time as it does takes some dips in pacing here and there. It’s slow throughout, but some sequences are a little uneventful and hide behind the fact that it’s weird and distressing. Much like Hereditary, this isn’t a film for everyone and it’s not a film you’d willingly watch twice, but despite being deeply disturbed and sickened, I thoroughly enjoyed sticking through Ari Aster’s well crafted, harrowing journey.