With a movie like Midsommar, it’s best to go in blind, but I’ll do my best to explain it without revealing too much. When Dani (Florence Pugh) has to cope with a devastating family tragedy, she decides to tag along with her unsupportive boyfriend (Jack Reynor) to a festival in Sweden, along with three of his friends. But the festivities gradually become stranger and stranger, and the group begins to suspect that danger might be in store.
Director Ari Aster, who completely floored me with last year’s Hereditary, certainly understands how to create an atmosphere of pure unease, and his sophomore effort ups the disorienting ante. While his previous effort is still superior, in my opinion, I really liked Midsommar. More than that, I respect it. The true star of Midsommar is the sheer, unceasing dissonance that it conjures up, and I love that about it. There’s a constant feeling that something isn’t right; that, any minute now, there will be some sort of shocking revelation. It uses Hitchcock suspense techniques to build toward Fulci visuals, which is a beautiful marriage of two opposite types of horror.
Florence Pugh, upon whom most of the film rests, is incredible. She shows such an ugly vulnerability that many actors never seem able to achieve. Watching her in mourning is truly heartbreaking. Yet another skill Aster displayed in Hereditary was his ability to direct and collaborate with gifted performers to portray truly unbridled pain, and as much as he isn’t exactly pleasant to watch, it is undeniably impressive. Jack Reynor, with whom many of us were first acquainted in 2016’s Sing Street, is also perfectly hateable, as the insensitive tool boyfriend, as are his friends, played by Will Poulter, Vilhelm Blomgren, and William Jackson Harper. While they may fall into the standard “douchebag horror movie bros” category, this doesn’t detract too much, simply because they are such talented actors.
Midsommar makes no effort to shy away from the the hideous or disturbing. It’s depictions of violence and debauchery are anything but subtle or “tasteful” in nature. We see some truly unsettling stuff here, and it’s only made more upsetting by the mournful wailing from our main character(s). But unlike some other horror films, it is never without purpose. While there may have been some influence taken from some less, shall we say, “highbrow” horror films, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, the gruesomeness is clearly very calculated, which is commendable.
There are plenty of common gripes I’ve heard about this movie, and to a certain extent, I kind of agree. The first act of the film is arduously slow, there are a lot of questions left unanswered, and some minor subplots don’t get the most satisfying conclusions. But with all of those flaws being entirely true, I wasn’t too bothered by it by the film’s conclusion. It all felt worth it in the end, which is more than can be said of some films. It also never struck me as pretentious, because it never came across like the director was trying to seem smart or get critical pats on the back (*cough* Christopher Nolan *cough*). It serviced the story appropriately.
Ari Aster’s sophomore effort isn’t the easiest watch, but it ultimately delivers on its fusion of both terror and profundity. Florence Pugh gives a raw performance like very few others, and paired with some boldly disturbing images and subject matter, it offers a rare experience of true, unabashed dread and dismay. Sure, it isn’t the most streamlined film, and it sometimes becomes a touch hard to follow, but it makes up for its narrative flaws in exquisite atmosphere.