Let’s take a trip.
Not a lot of horror films get a tone of hype, but Ari Aster (of Hereditary) is quickly making a name for himself with his chaotic and interesting narratives. Midsommar marks him as one to certainly watch.
We follow Dani (Florence Pugh) an insecure young woman who is struggling with the murder/suicide of her parents and sister. Dani isn’t an insecure person, but she has internalized this due to her abusive boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Aster pulls no punches, and we see the gaslighting in action from their first conversation. Dani doubts everything about herself, and Christian’s toxic behavior seems to define their relationship.
He invites her to a trip to Sweden with his friends (their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) lives in a secluded village) even though he doesn’t want to. It seems that no matter what Dani does she will never win in their relationship. Once they arrive the strained relationship prevents them from communicating about the increasingly strange behavior they are seeing.
Aster makes great characters. Simply put—all of these people are real. Not all of them are likable (most aren’t), but they all feel real. If there is a major mistake in this film, it is that we don’t get to see how Christian has been gaslighting his own friends until the plot has advanced quite far. Without this, the scenes where we are meant to get to know these other men seem at odds with us knowing what a piece of crap Christian is.
As the relationships disintegrate, we are trapped within the community with these people. Secluded, pagan, and controlling this group doesn’t allow anyone to leave. The increasingly disturbing rituals amplify an overall sense of dread. Further, Dani and Co. are fed an alarming number of hallucinogenic drugs, which destroys their ability to reason.
Unfortunately, our heroes are still quite stupid. (Yes, we can say the drugs as an excuse, but we see sober versions of these people do some spectacularly stupid things). I will say that Aster frames the stupidity in a more believable way, but it is still frustrating to groan at the decisions as we know what will come.
Fantastic filming and staging elevate this film above almost all other horror films. The complete absence of jump scares is a welcome addition, too. This film will make you think, and as the sequences become increasingly insane all we can do is witness the madness.
As with Hereditary, I think the ending of this film will be divisive. I heard some laughter in the theater, but it seemed more like (in some ways) this was the only way people knew how to react when witnessing such abnormal behavior. Overall, this is a film that will stay with you and is one of the few films released this year worth anything.
If I had one major complaint about the movie as a whole is that I didn’t think it was scary. Disturbing, sure, but not scary. I think horror buffs will enjoy thinking about and discussing this film, but there isn’t that awesome jolt of adrenaline. Instead, we have a somber and brutal mood as the story becomes increasingly violent. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but know it isn’t a traditional horror story.
2 thoughts on “Midsommar (2019) Film Review”
Spot on analysis, Jay. I went to this movie with my daughter thinking that I would not like it as I am not a big fan of horror films. But I really enjoyed it ( and probably because it wasn’t, as you said, a horror film). As you mentioned, the ending is hard to figure out what exactly happened. However, I think that this is a smart move from an artistic POV. Too many films wrap up everything nice and neat, requiring little thought on the part of the viewer. But this film makes one think about the possible meaning behind Dani’s enigmatic smile. Is she finally happy, having been made part of a community? Is she finally “home”? Is she happy her d-bag boyfriend (and all his double d-bag friends) is now a roasty, toasty bear? Or she smiles because she has lost it mentally? I like films like this that make you think about not only puzzling facial expressions, but deeper topics such as what a culture is, how people manipulate each other, etc. Excellent review, Jay.
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Thanks, Harry. I think you might enjoy folk horror (this, The VVitch, and The Apostle are all good starters). This sub genre is more thoughtful and less reliant on jump-scares.