Writer and director Ari Aster’s follow-up to “Hereditary” is over two hours of bright, colorful horror.
While “Midsommar” has a different tone and color palette than Aster’s debut film, it explores some of the same themes — and it definitely isn’t a sophomore slump.
The film follows Dani (Florence Pugh) as she tags along on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Swedish native Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). They’re grad students, and Josh is doing his thesis on European traditions and festivals. Pelle has told the others about the small community he grew up in and their celebration of the summer solstice, and invites his American friends to join.
Dani wasn’t going to be a part of the excursion initially, but she experienced a family trauma a few months beforehand that affected her relationship with Christian. She leans on him for support, and while he isn’t a good boyfriend, he also doesn’t seem to want to confront that. So they all go to rural Sweden.
As you can probably guess, things get pretty intense from there. It’s a slow-burn movie, so even during the lighter moments you feel a sense of dread at what is to come. Aster employs visual tricks that add to this too, from a roller coaster-esque shot that may make you dizzy to constant movements that will make you question everything.
Through it all, there are only one or two physically dark scenes in “Midsommar.” It’s not the first horror film to show us all the gory details in the light of day, but the juxtaposition of bright florals, smiling locals and eternal sunshine with gruesome acts is a particularly striking one. This is one cult that, at the very least, has mastered an attractive aesthetic.
And, just like he uses dark and light, Aster also uses comedy in this horror movie. Poulter’s character acts as the film’s main comic relief, offering comments every so often that help to release the tension. But aside from parts of the film being funny, Aster is also exploring the connection between comedy and horror, the two sides of one coin. After all, isn’t laughing just as visceral as screaming?
It, again, is not something revolutionary, but the way he plays with that idea within the plot is interesting. The themes of family, relationships and grief all play a large role in “Midsommar,” just as in “Hereditary,” but there’s something outside of the blood relationship here. In moments of extreme emotion, we see the members of the community (Härgans) acting out empathy with the character who is feeling it. This is just one of the many ways they are attached on a deep level; they truly are all a family, of a sort.
The acting is fantastic all around, but although the main cast is made up of mostly men, Pugh is the standout here. She carries many of the most heart-wrenching scenes with as the camera focuses on her face and her movements. You believe everything she feels, unless she doesn’t want you to. She displays grief, anger, apathy, happiness and more over the course of the movie, and it’d be hard to see how anyone could not be on her side. It’s an amazing performance.
There are multiple plot lines happening, especially toward the end of the film, and it doesn’t feel that they all got clean wrap-ups before the finale. You will probably leave the theater with questions, though what those questions are will differ from person to person. But the major flaw in this movie is introducing too many interesting aspects and not necessarily following them all to their conclusions.
If you enjoyed what Aster did with “Hereditary,” then you’ll almost certainly get something out of “Midsommar” as well. The two films are not remotely the same, but you can see that they were made by the same artist, for better or for worse. And this is a can’t-miss if you like your summer entertainment a little bit on the darker side.
“Midsommar” hits theaters on Wednesday, July 3.
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Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.