While I may still be shaken by what I saw in the theater this past weekend I had to get some thoughts out on Midsommar. It’s beautiful, it’s shocking, it’s raw, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
I went to see Midsommar this past Saturday and I needed time to really let it marinate. When the movie ended, myself and the two other people in the theater didn’t move for a while. Eventually the ushers came in and loomed over us so we all got up to go but we really just needed a moment to try to comprehend what we just witnessed. Even after I got to my car I had to sit and reflect on life for a while. Honestly, the movie is shot in such a way that my eyes actually had to adjust back to normal light. In a good way. But we will get to that.
Midsommar is going to be the type of movie that challenges how I write reviews. I write to try to let the reader know if this is a movie that they’re going to want to watch. In doing so I try to point out the aspects that you may love as a viewer and the ones that may put you off to the movie completely. With Midsommar, there are a lot of the latter, and the former are mostly technical. Most casual moviegoers are not going to care much about the technical aspects so, while I have to consider Midsommar a cinematic masterpiece, I have to rate it lower on my scale because it will be viewed incredibly negatively by a large section of the population. With that said, I’ll do my best to break it down without spoiling anything.
If you saw Hereditary, think back to the last 30 minutes of the movie, then stretch that out over 2 hours. If you didn’t see Hereditary, Midsommar is a beautifully shot film that is 2 hours of dread within a peaceful (looking) setting. There are a lot of shocking/upsetting moments that will stick with you long after the movie ends. Again, it’s beautiful though!
Midsommar ratchets up the tension from second one. You are dropped directly into a crisis. Dani (Florence Pugh) has received an email from her sister that seems very cryptic and potentially suicidal. She’s worried, pacing, and frantically reaching out to anyone she can. Her parents don’t answer their phone and her boyfriend tries to calm her down. We then go to the boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and see him with his friends. He’s apparently been trying to end the relationship for a year but is staying with her because he feels sorry for her. Without getting into details, things don’t get better on that front and now we see them two months later, still together as he’s about to head out on a trip to Scandinavia. A few awkward conversations later and she’s going to Europe with them.
So first we get the relationship tension between the couple and then the trip itself. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has invited the group to his village for a special festival. He has not told them all of the details however including the location. That should have been a sign but the group goes along anyway. Christian and Dani simply need a getaway. Josh (William Jackson Harper) is happy to go to a remote village to learn a new culture as inspiration for his thesis. Mark (Will Poulter), meanwhile, thinks this is a great opportunity to pick up foreign ladies.
From the moment they arrive they immediately are offered psychedelic mushrooms. The community seems nice enough and while some customs seem a little odd you accept it as a simple cultural difference. This doesn’t stop you from feeling like something is coming every 5 seconds. Whether it’s a sudden yell, people running in a direction, people sitting weirdly, whatever it is, things feel wrong for the entirety of the movie. Our characters feel it too but again, they don’t want to look like they’re judging these people who have welcomed them into their village.
Man, from the start the visuals are great. If this movie is going to receive award nominations I’d expect cinematography to be at the top of the list. I immediately noticed all of the great artwork on Dani’s walls and thought that we’d learn at some point that she was an artist. We did not. When we arrive at the village the villagers in their all white, the sun being as bright as I’ve ever seen. The colorful buildings, white rocks, the flowers, and the artwork in the village are all amazing. These are all distractions from the peril that our characters find themselves in by the end of the movie however. That sort of leads into my next key feature.
Throughout the movie there is a lot of subtle and then some not-so-subtle foreshadowing. All of it was cleverly fed to you so as not to alarm you at the time but prominent enough that you’d definitely remember it when it came back up. On the not-so-subtle side there is one scene in particular where our other outsiders, Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekwe), walk past a clothesline while being shown around. They go one direction and the camera goes the other, panning across a row of hanging cloth with art on them (look, I didn’t want to call them quilts and didn’t have the energy to keep looking up the word, I’m sorry.). The artwork told the story of a man and woman falling in love but in a much more graphic, and disturbing way. Essentially it was a recipe for a love spell. At the time it was just some weird artwork but about an hour later we see why they showed that to us.
As I write this I’m realizing that there is a lot of death that is not subtle at all but when it comes to our core cast the deaths are subtle. I’m referring to our six outsiders that arrive in the village. Most of them occur off-screen and there isn’t some huge buildup leading up to most of them. They just happen. I thought this was neat because it made the movie feel less like a horror movie.
The Deal Breakers
Raw death scenes
All of the above elements sound like good things. However, it is the shocking parts that will define the experience for most. The movie, as I said wastes no time hitting you in the head. Within the first 10-15 minutes you are presented with a shockingly dark scene. From there we get what may be the most disturbing scene I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time. Not in the act itself but the way it is displayed. This happens early into the group’s stay at the village and would have been the end of my stay. After this the death’s start happening away from view and then it all comes together later in the movie. (I’m doing my best not to spoil it, I’m sorry.) The final scene in and of itself is pretty rough.
On top of that Ari Aster’s signature use of sounds hits very hard at the beginning, somewhat cools down in the middle and picks up again at the end. When Dani gets some bad news she lets out a wail and that wail was so loud that I thought that the speakers in the theater had to have been turned up too loud. This lasts for way longer than is comfortable also which was definitely intentional. He uses sound to affect your mood and disrupt your comfort throughout the movie and returns to this long, drawn out wail later in the movie.
I have to say the movie has a lot of great elements. On one hand, you really don’t care about the characters and only pull for them because you know they have no idea what they’re in for. While they aren’t necessarily likable, they’re still innocent. The way the movie ends and the themes throughout make it clear that Ari had a plan. While I didn’t like the way it ended up playing out I am noticing that with his two feature films there is an element of inclusion and community involved rather than just destruction. Ari is either crazy, a genius, or both and you can’t help but wonder what he’ll cook up next. I just hope he tones it down a little for my own sanity.