MIDSOMMAR: FILM REVIEW
Although I am an avid film enthusiast, I rarely get into the horror movie genre. Midsommar director Ari Aster exposes my avoidant behavior with this disturbingly surreal masterpiece. Having never watched Hereditary, I had no idea the depths of grief and longing that Midsommar would explore.
Aster’s Midsommar focuses on a couple that travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. The film depicts the emotional pilgrimage of a traumatized, young woman named Dani, played with miraculous vulnerability by Florence Pugh. In addition, the film also follows the horrors of Dani's toxic relationship with her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor).
I understand that Midsommar is not a typical horror film. Midsommar is more unsettling and intimate, rather than frightening. Instead of yelling at a character to not enter a room, I found myself yelling at Dani to break up with Christian. Ari Aster trades in emotionally flat characters and cheap thrills of the horror genre for Dani’s journey to self-discovery. Florence Pugh provides the heart for the film, as she keeps the audience emotionally invested in an otherwise discomforting movie. Her emotional range is impressive and relatable to anyone who has experienced loss and grief. Her anxiety is palpable. In addition to Pugh’s performance, the cinematography in Midsommar is gory and grotesque, yet beautiful at the same time. In engaging with Midsommar, the viewer enters a floral, candy-colored, nightmare world. The slow, methodical, and eerie direction of the film contrasts with the colorful dialogue and less-than-sinister music. The film unveils itself unapologetically as if Aster has no intention of hiding anything from us in the first place.
Ari Aster said in an interview that Midsommar “is more of a fairytale than a horror film.” Dani is in her own fairytale world trying to escape her prison of abandonment and neglect. Despite Christian's avoidance, Dani desperately fights for communication, understanding, and empathy. Among the Harga, Dani’s toxic relationship is brought to light. She learns how emotions are not supposed to be locked away out of fear of rejection and conflict. Although initially shocked by the traditional Swedish community, Dani eventually finds comfort in “unity with others.” Dani’s loss of her family represents the universal transition to independent adulthood that almost everyone faces at one point or another. As her friends descend into selfish downfalls, Dani ascends to a compassionate May Queen.
The happily-ever-after ending to Dani’s ‘fairytale’ is gaining a new family, which replaces the original one she lost. As unsettling and gut-wrenching this film made me feel, I also found comfort and peace. As Dani’s own world falls apart, the community falls apart with her. When the community rises, she rises with Harga. Dani’s journey is one of self-empowerment. It is a story of pent up grief and rage – a topic that Ari Aster’s other feature, Hereditary, also touches on, although in very different styles. Dani is driven by the belief that the only way she can move forward is by burning every trace of Christian out of her life: to collapse his world the way he has collapsed hers.
As I watched these technicolor horrors unfold, I wondered what real-life horrors Aster himself suffered. What toxic relationships did he find himself trapped in? Who is he in this story: Dani or Christian? These questions surely feed into the catharsis and emotional dependency that the film holds in its center. It is not only brave to render your romantic traumas into art, but genius to do it in the unique fashion Aster has here. And for that, I am grateful.