Midsommar: The Joyous Return of Cult Horror
Within the first ten minutes of Midsommar, two things are made very clear. First, director Ari Aster is already cementing himself as one of the most distinct voices in horror. Second, this is not going to be an easy ride. Unlike Hereditary, which was rated 15, Midsommar carries a somewhat rare 18 certificate, and no time is wasted in justifying this to the audience. In the interest of a spoiler-free review I’ll refrain from saying too much, but easily shocked viewers beware that the horror herein starts hard and fast.
Whereas Hereditary riffed off the ‘supernatural family drama’ trope, Midsommar mixes ‘deadly college vacation’ with ritualistic pagan horror. The film follows college student Dani, who after a tragedy tags along with her boyfriend and his friends on holiday to a remote Swedish community, at the invite of their Swedish friend Pelle. Those who have seen Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man will notice several key similarities in the plots of both films. Both films follow an outsider or outsiders as they navigate an outwardly friendly community that
harbours sinister secrets, and explore the effects of each community’s rules and practices on their protagonists. It’s in this latter exploration that the significant differences between the two can be found, however; the filmmakers clearly knew the comparison was inevitable, and Midsommar wastes little time treading the same ground as it’s spiritual predecessor. Aster’s direction and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s eye combine to douse the piece with a paralyzing serenity, marrying symmetrical framing evocative of Wes Anderson with the ever- present daylight of the Swedish summer. In this way, the two redefine nightmarish settings; violent scenes are lit so well as to throw their disgusting nature into question, the horror trope of veiling gore in darkness upended in favour of frank realisation of death in full colour. One can do little but gawp with shocked awe as image after uneasy image dances across the screen, caught in the same morbidly-curious trap as the main characters. Special credit can also be given to the film’s innovative portrayal of psychedelics, inanimate objects seeming to breathe and faces melting as the audience witnesses dances and rituals through the eyes of the drugged protagonists.
The runaway performance of the film is that of Florence Pugh. Supporting characters have experiences of their own, but it’s through Dani’s eyes that the audience explores much of the film. Throughout, her portrayal of Dani’s grief and growing unease is electrifying, her growing confusion accentuating the increasingly distressing goings on of the festival. There’s a surprising amount of humour throughout. Will Poulter is relied on throughout for comic relief, though his playful remarks do little to rid the characters of their growing unease. Moreover, many scenes are injected with a comedic undertone, as if Aster seeks to highlight the asset, allowing the audience equal time to laugh, shiver, and by the end not know which to do.thin line between laughter and terror. Indeed, in its absurd-ism Midsommar finds its greatest asset, allowing the audience equal time to laugh, shiver, and by the end not know which to do.
With Midsommar, Aster proves he’s far from a one trick pony, deftly balancing comedy, tragedy and gut-wrenching horror in a carnival of carnage that bodes well for his future.