‘Midsommar’ Review: A Horrifically Grounded Film Disguised as a Disturbing Daze

Ari Aster’s sophomore feature film, Midsommar, has been one of the most anticipated films of the summer of 2019. However, it is important to note that this film must be viewed as an entirely separate entity from its predecessor. While Hereditary’s dreadful and morose tone was striking and poignant, Midsommar’s dissonant intensity and shockingly cathartic quality set it apart, without sacrificing any of the emotion that will undoubtedly puncture the psyche of those that watch it.

Most simply put, Midsommar is a breakup movie. The film expertly tackles the toxic fusion of codependence and performative empathy. The story follows Dani, played by Florence Pugh, who after a family tragedy, joins her boyfriend and his friends on an anthropological trip to Sweden to witness the Midsummer traditions of a small village. However, the longer they stay, the more disturbing the traditions become.

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This film’s visuals are what truly make it special in the realm of the horror. While some sequences occur at night, the bulk of the film’s most terrifying events take place under the scorching visibility of the midsummer sun. There aren’t shadows that are lazily used to obscure the viewer’s vision or sporadic bump-in-the-night tropes that are so often relied on in common films of the genre. Rather the village is beautifully and brightly lit, with an enchanting color palette that earns the viewer’s admiration. The color choices and cinematography work extremely well, as they create a harsh juxtaposition with the film’s happenings that result in an engaging discordance between the viewers’ expectations and the reality of what they’re seeing. The traditional paintings are another strong visual element of the story, adding not only a sense of culture but also subtle foreshadowing that actually lures the viewer into leaning into the screen, never wanting to miss a detail. 

The characters in Midsommar spend much of their time under the influence of psychedelic drugs, and the congruence of the editing and cinematography strongly support this. Frequent use of dissolves, cuts between parallel circumstances in different locations, and undulating effects in cinematography make this film feel like a daze. At times, Midsommar feels a bit artistically indulgent, however, the purpose it serves outweighs the pretentiousness. Though some of these disorienting and dizzy effects are blatant, there are equally as many minute distortions that happen in the corners and details of the frame that thrust the audience into their own surreal sect of reality, begging them to question their own perception, just as the characters do. 

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The characters in Midsommar are largely uncomplicated. Dani is the only one in the film with any depth or multidimensionality. It is apparent that this is because the film is about her own emotional journey. Because of this, the supporting characters are a bit wooden and play into personality tropes: the obnoxious comic relief, the intellect, and a simplistic antagonist, in this case, the boyfriend. That being said, the supporting actors do a good job. The comedic timing of Mark, played by Will Poulter, is on point. His jokes land and his obnoxiousness is not too exaggerated; it is fully realized and within reach. Jack Reynor as Christian, and William Jackson Harper as Josh, also fully embody their characters, and play off of each other very well. Though the supporting characters fall flat in terms of feeling like real, profound individuals, they work effectively as foils to Dani, and successfully serve the purpose of enhancing her position as the center of the story. Dani’s character is most distinctly pedestalized through a wonderfully immersive and poignant performance by Florence Pugh. Pugh gives her all in this role, masterfully executing all the awkwardness, trauma, vulnerability, pain, hope, and catharsis that Dani’s character requires. She is undoubtedly one of the film’s strongest aspects.

However, despite Midsommar’s plethora of potent and effective facets, there are areas where this film has faults. The first 20 minutes, before the title card even appears, contains some of the most evocative moments and imagery of the film. It is exceptionally engrossing and captivating. But this subplot is quickly abandoned, only used as an accessory to the larger story. Though it serves a purpose, establishing Dani as a person and introducing the event that drives the plot forward, it feels disjointed from the rest of the film, and inevitably leaves the viewer longing for more, and disappointed when they don’t receive it. Though this film should be viewed independently from Hereditary, it is very difficult not to notice a large number of parallels between the films. These parallels are not simply thematic, but rather, some of the most striking imagery, feeling like they were pulled, slightly altered, and then dropped into a new context. 

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Midsommar feels like the physical manifestation of all your worst anxieties, and your fight to keep them under the surface. It is not emotionally dreadful, rather, it’s cognitively upsetting and deeply distressing. This film disturbs you to the core, then begs you to ask yourself whether or not you’re happy with who you are, and who you’re with. Bright and spellbinding cinematography, a breathtaking performance for a deeply complicated, yet relatable, character, and a beautifully troubling storyline make this film an absolute pleasure to be vexed by. Ari Aster has created another incredibly effective horror film, hyperbolic in nature, yet firmly planted in realities we prefer to keep buried. Midsommar manages to simultaneously evoke deep introspection while filling your gut with worry, and leaving you in a daze when it’s all over.

★★★★1/2

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