Ari Aster’s psychedelic folk horror film Midsommar hit theaters this weekend and if Hereditary wasn’t enough of a glimpse into the mind of a true modern auteur, Midsommar will surely solidify that.
Aster’s sophomore effort centers on a young girl named Dani, whose whole family has been killed in a brutally twisted carbon monoxide, murder-suicide at the hands of her bi-polar sister. The following summer, Dani’s emotionally distant boyfriend Christian lets it be known that he’ll be going to Sweden with his friends, including Pelle a native Swede, and will be gone for a month. In order to make things ok with his girlfriend, Christian invites Dani along and while most of his friends are reluctant, Pelle tells her that he’s very excited she’s coming.
When they arrive in Sweden, the group takes shrooms and are amazed to find out that the sun is practically always up in this area of the world. From here on out Dani is plagued with constant psychedelic visions, most of which involving her dead sister. On the second day of their trip, the group finally makes it to Harga, the commune that their Swedish friend Pelle is from. It’s here in Harga that the group is able to witness a cultural pagan festival that only takes place every 90 years. It’s during the festival that they experience a variety of strange rituals that I won’t dare spoil here.
Aster clearly took a lot of inspiration from films like The Wicker Man in creating this operatic horror film. But, what Ari does best is smash viewers expectations by defying all typical horror tropes. Aster begins the film with a truly disturbing sequence involving the anxiety Dani feels when she gets an ominous message from her bi-polar sister that implies she will kill herself. It’s during this sequence, that plays out entirely before the opening credits, that Aster gets the audience familiar with themes and what feels like a story taking place in the same world as Hereditary before pulling the plug on that entirely during the 2nd Act when the group goes off to Sweden. It’s in Sweden that the looming darkness of the opening sequence takes a backseat to the true visceral horror that takes place in broad daylight for the majority of this film.
It should be noted that this opening sequence doesn’t really play too big a part in the rest of the film and it could be argued that all it’s there for is to give us an emotional context for Dani’s character, however I see it as more of a denouncement of any expectations audiences might have for Aster after he took the world by storm with his debut Hereditary.
Hereditary focused on a family haunted by spirits connected with their recently deceased grandmother and Aster’s violently demented opening for Midsommar feels like his personal statement to the audience that he is far from being the one-dimensional director that usually plagues the horror genre.
While Midsommar deals with many of the same themes as Hereditary, namely grief and mental health, Aster’s execution is far from the same. The claustrophobic paranoia that looms over the Hereditary house in the woods is juxtaposed with scenes of endless Swedish fields and mountain ranges that show that Aster’s true creation of horror doesn’t come from his location or from reliance on genre tropes, but from his artistic vision behind the lens.
On a more technical note, the cinematography and editing in this film are absolutely flawless. One specific scene when the group is on the car ride into Harga, the camera soars in all different angles that reminisces what Kubrick did during the opening of The Shining, so much so that at one point in the theaters I actually felt myself leaning forward.
Many of the exciting displays of innovation used in Hereditary’s cinematography is only amplified here. The sound design is also one of a kind. With a soundtrack from The Haxan Cloack, the end of the opening sequence sonically shoots you into this world of tribal isolation that doesn’t release you until the ending credits begin to roll.
Midsommar is not your typical horror film and for people who are just looking for this week’s version of Child’s Play or Annabelle Comes Home, they’ll likely be disappointed in Midsommar. Maybe the one guy who walked out proclaiming ‘This movie fuckin’ sucks!’ is one of those people. But, hey that’s his loss. Midsommar is far more than your summer horror flick, it’s an intense work of art that analyzes human relationships, mental health, and grief. This is a big thumbs up from me and I can say with ease that this is far from a Wicker Man remake for modern times. Midsommar is it’s own beast altogether!