Written by Matthew Cunningham
People typically think of horror movies having cliches, such as ghosts, stupid characters, blood, gore, and demonic possessions. Midsommar is not the typical horror film. Writer and director Ari Aster returns to the big screen for his second film. Following the critical success of Hereditary, Aster had a lot to live up to with Midsommar.
The film stars Florence Pugh (Fighting with my Family and Lady Macbeth) and Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Detroit). Other actors in the film include William Jackson Harper, (The Good Place, and Paterson) and debut actors Vilhelm Blomgren and Archie Madekwe. It was released in theaters on July 3.
The film tells an extremely unsettling story about a relationship on its last legs and how we as people deal with grief. Pugh’s character, Dani, loses multiple family members in the same night. This causes Reynor’s character, Christian, to remain her boyfriend out of a feeling of obligation and guilt even as his friends egg him on to end the relationship. However, Dani finds out that Christian was planning to study abroad with some friends in Sweden during the summer, straining their relationship further. In turn, Christian invites Dani to come with him and his friends on the trip.
In Sweden, they all travel to meet the villagers in Hårga. The residents all seem pleasant at first, but when the village’s festival begins, things begin to take a sinister turn as the ‘festivities’ commence with the first of several rituals taking place near a cliff. Each of the ‘group’s’ activities begin to get increasingly disturbing, which creates a dangerous scenario for all of the characters.
One thing that certainly stands out in this film is the cinematography. The film is the most visually satisfying experience I have had at the theater this year. From the village’s lush landscape to mesmerizing camerawork, Midsommar is a feast for the eyes. As the film begins to take a tonally darker turn, the visuals seemed to become even more beautiful. This may be caused by the hypnotic state the film had put me in; I was completely wrapped up in every aspect of the movie.
Aster’s direction is something to be admired. Every aspiring filmmaker should be required to watch Midsommar, because of the expert craft that is shown on screen. There are multiple sequences where there is not a single cut in the shot. Making this interesting over and over again is extremely challenging, but Aster makes it feel seamless. The one-shot takes made my eyes wander around the screen, searching for any subtle clues that may have been given. The way Aster slowly pans the camera around the characters shows a lot of riveting visual storytelling on its own.
The movie also incorporates sound design in nearly perfect fashion. The score grabs your attention every time it blares out of the speakers. Even when there is no music, the digestic sounds are still used masterfully. During a sequence involving the first ‘ritual’ of the villagers, the suspense is built masterfully through excellent sound design as it leads to a shocking conclusion of the scene.
General audiences may be turned off by the film’s content. There are numerous unforgettable moments throughout the film’s 140-minute runtime. Graphic nudity, grisly images, and disturbing characters will make many people’s skin crawl.
It is genuinely surprising this movie got away with an R rating; it probably should have been NC-17. However, it feels like everything in the film is there for a reason, and there’s never a moment wasted. The seemingly gratuitous violence is ultimately necessary to sell how disturbing the film is actually trying to be. In my opinion, the film succeeded at selling the unsettled feeling.
Another thing that helps sells this film’s creepiness is the acting. Every single actor delivers memorable and powerful performances. Pugh especially shines, because she brings her brilliant character arc to life with a role that she clearly enjoyed playing.
Reynor, as Christian, is also a bright spot. His shocked expression toward the third act helps the audience have a reflection of how they’re feeling. He doesn’t have a lot of lines toward the end of the film, and he still brings fantastic acting chops with his facial expressions, mannerisms, and body language.
As the film drew closer and closer to its bombastic finale, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a trance. This movie makes the audience feel like they are on drugs and that they are having the weirdest high of their life. The visual feast for the eyes, combined with the sickening acts of violence occurring within the film’s beauty make Midsommar a film like no other. As the themes of a toxic relationship and grief come full circle for Pugh’s character by the climax, the thrills are still not over. One of the best endings shots I’ve ever seen in a film brings Midsommar to a satisfying, yet unnerving ending.
Few movies have stuck with me for lengthy periods of time. This film will never leave my memory. I saw the movie with my dad, and we talked about it the entire time on the ride back home. We are still talking about it weeks later, and this is a major compliment to any filmmaker.
It’s nearly impossible to find a flaw with this movie, and I doubt I’ll see anything that is crafted as well as this in a long time. As of July, this is the best movie of the year so far. This is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. Midsommar is a cinematic masterpiece, and I am going to give it an A+. I implore you to see this film.