"Midsommar" shows us that there is much more to be afraid of than just the dark
In “Hereditary,” director Ari Aster built tension and horror around deftly placed hints throughout the movie’s 127 minute run time. One could never quite place it, but something was incredibly unsettling about the life of the seemingly normal family at the heart of the story. It isn’t until the third act of the film—following an exceptionally gruesome twist—that things begin to reveal themselves, and all hell breaks loose.
In his much-anticipated subsequent feature, “Midsommar,” Aster disposes of the conventional, dread-inducing uncertainty of a quiet room’s dark corners and drags audience members out into the uncertain terror of the Swedish sun, where blonde men and women adorned in white clothes and flower crowns dance giddily in beautiful, grassy fields.
The plot follows Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), as well as a group of Christian’s friends. One friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren),invites the group to his remote commune in the forests of Sweden for a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival. Dani’s impromptu presence on the trip is blatantly unwelcome from the perspective of the group of friends, especially since it is made clear from the beginning that the couple’s relationship has been teetering on the brink of collapse for some time. That being said, a recent tragedy in Dani’s life caused the group to soften, reluctantly enduring her presence.
This is not to say that Dani is bothersome, however. She is the principal character, and she is deeply sympathetic, especially after what she goes through in the first 10 minutes of the film. Aster establishes immediately that her company is a group of men that aren’t meant to be liked. This plays a role throughout the film as the themes and tropes of toxic relationships and “ugly Americans” progressively become more apparent.
It would be unfair to constantly compare “Midsommar” to its predecessor, but in many ways, it feels like “Midsommar” is a direct and deliberate circumvention of what made “Hereditary” a success. This is one of those pesky movies where writing about the details would be revealing too much, but while “Hereditary” relies on twists and plot elements that seemingly came out of nowhere to reveal its true intent, “Midsommar” lays bare its machinations relatively early on. The viewers know that something is going to go wrong, and throughout much of the film, our American visitors seem to be uneasy as well.
In disposing of dirty tricks and common—even if intelligently used—tropes, viewers are just as much along for the ride as Dani and company. While the straightforward and even prophetic storytelling is refreshing, at times the borderline telegraphed plot points take away from some of the tension that is being built up into the finale.
“Midsommar” is essentially a film without a climax, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative. There is one moment about halfway through the movie that dramatically and viscerally changes the tone of the festival—oh, you’ll know it when you see it—and from that point forward, the rest of the film feels like a sickening (and beguiling) fever dream that our ugly American friends (and the audience) must ride out.
Whereas “Hereditary” was deceptively interested in the supernatural, “Midsommar” demonstrates that there is nothing more immediately frightening than the mundane. The ambiguity and creeping unease of the festival and the intentions of this idyllic community are infinitely more universal and more frightening than any ghost or demon.
Ultimately, “Midsommar” is a deceptively complex (and funny!) rumination on many themes, ranging from toxic relationships to cultural ignorance, a twisted expression of female empowerment to the reception and craft of Aster’s previous feature. This gruesome misadventure will leave you—along with the residents of this commune—smiling all the while.
Midsommar will be released on Wednesday, July 3.
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