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A Filmmaker's Guide: Ari Aster's 'Midsommar' (2019)

by Annie Kapur 2 years ago in movie review

Establishing and Depicting Major Themes

Midsommar (2019) Poster

(Note: In order to get the most out of this article, it is recommended that you watch the film in question all the way through at least once. Notes are not required on the topic above, but encouraged).

Midsommar (2019) is a folk horror film directed by the visionary Ari Aster and involves a "Wicker Man"-esque cult in which the 'festivities' take place with people dying and doing some pretty weird stuff.

What we're going to have a look at today is the themes that are established and depicted, why they are so and what this does for the effect of the horror (or rather 'folk horror') in the movie. The real question is: Why are these themes so effective in the film?

It is very important to look at the themes because these are the atmospheres that will be built on when horror and tension is being created. These are the themes we'll be looking at:

  • Nature
  • The Body

Let's get on with our analysis then...

Section 1: Nature

Extreme scenes of nature are not uncommon in this film and in fact have their own little place of serving as the main focal point for some scenes. These extravagant scenes of nature are made to establish the entire point of this cult that the friends are travelling to. The cult talks about how humans are one with nature and so, nature being more extreme than what the friends are used to is essential for creating that tension that causes them to run away and that meaning. Also, it gives the effect of entrapment, you can't run if trees and trees and more trees are all around you for miles.

Check these out:

Notice how the wide shots almost always shows how far back nature goes in the scene. How does it depict the pointlessness of running away?

Finally, look at how they dress their 'May Queen.' How does this show nature to be of higher purpose than humans?

Nature is obviously a big theme in the movie and if you watch it closely, you'll often see times where nature is just as expansive, but not as 'pretty'. Nature, at the beginning, can be dark and dingy, somewhat terrifying and the wooded plains are long and uninviting. This gives us a sense that nature, like the cult, has two sides. One which is beautiful like the flowers on the May Queen and the other which is scary and dark like the fact you are surrounded by miles of trees and there is nowhere to run.

When doing this in your own film, make sure you use an actual space of woodland, not CGI insertion of green spaces. Go to a woodland and nature area and shoot there, the effect will be far more realistic and there will be no chance of inconsistencies.

Section 2: The Body

(Scenes unable to be provided because of their horror content)

The burning of the bodies is the one thing that lets us know that yes, we are dealing with pagans. Pagan basically means anyone who does not hold a religion that was born in the West. So, technically yes, I am a pagan too because in my religion we burn bodies as well. The burning of the bodies in that one scene is a key to letting us know a few things about the cult. Not only that they are pagans, but also that they see death as a great thing, like a release. So they make a pageant out of it.

(See: Suicide Scene)

In Paganism, it is well known that death is considered a good thing rather than the guy with a scythe that appears in western culture. The images therefore, may be extreme, but it is the reaction of those around (or lack of) that tend to make the scene seem uneasy. The lack of reaction that is seen on the facial expressions make this burning look not only normal, but expected. It is a usual ceremony that is completely unfamiliar to those in the west and so, the reactions seen of the friends is something very extreme that the audience, or majority of, would be able to identify with.

Obviously, there is a lot of gore, what would horror be without it? But, in this scene entitled: 'the suicide scene' we have a good hard look at the impact of physical violence upon the human body when the violence isn't seen as violence. The main thing you need to look at is the man's reaction when the ones with the hammer approach him. He doesn't look scared and he kind of looks like he knows what is going to happen despite never having been in the position before. It's an intense scene in which the only ones who show any real reaction (I say 'real') are the friends who are visiting the cult. A brilliantly filmed scene with some great close-ups, it's a real visionary experience of body horror.

Now, apply the same logic to this scene: (See: End Scene)

NOTICE: The bear-human creation, how does this change the extremity of body horror?

Section 3: Conclusion

To conclude, Midsommar (2019) although a successful film is not the only film you should watch for body horror, there are others to study as well. I feel like this one does body horror successfully because of the fact it makes the most out of the close-ups involved. Check out the bear-human scene in which we see a close-up of the man in the bear carcass. Disturbing as it may be, we understand it because we've watched the rest of the film. But, what is misunderstood is the reason for the scene happening. The release from humanity seems to be the highest achievement for the cult and so, the bear carcass is simply representative of something else and not part of the ritual of release. I hope you've enjoyed reading and noting this article.

Good luck with your next project.

movie review

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

125K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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