Ari Aster was deemed a rising star after the success of Hereditary in 2018, which had people anticipating his next film. Midsommar follows Dani (Florence Pugh), a twenty-something who is in the midst of the grieving process, ends up joining her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), and his friends from anthropology class on a trip to Sweden to observe the Hårga conducting a special pagan ritual for their university theses. But what they discover is that the pagan rituals aren’t like any fairy tale that they know of.
A strong character among her flat friends:Florence Pugh plays one of the strongest parts of the film with her portrayal as Dani. Her scenes of grief are extremely raw, but not unrealistic. Her acting is much subtler than other actors have done in the past. That being said, most other characters in the film seem flat and don’t feel like they are there for any reason other than to move the plot forward. The story is a long meditation of the grieving process and the role that the people in your life have in that process. Aster, inspired by a recent breakup, also added an angle of a failing relationship to the story. Seeing the interactions between Dani and Christian, you can see why their relationship is straining. Dani is someone, especially at this moment, who needs to be supported emotionally, and Christian, who has been wanting to break up for a year by now, isn’t willing to be that emotional support that Dani needs.
All in the details:Many of the shots throughout Midsommar are long takes much in the tableau style, mimicking classical paintings. This is done to great effect as it begs the viewer to analyze many of the smaller details in many of the shots. Ari Aster, only making one other feature film, has already built a Kubrick-esque reputation of adding many small details to be discovered upon repeated viewings. If I have any consultation with any viewer looking for clues of foreshadowing in the film, just look at the walls.
The color palette is heavily inspired by the long-gone technicolor days. As the film’s setting is in the summer in Sweden, most of the scenes take place in daylight, so the film takes on a vibrant color aesthetic. These bright colors are quite uncharacteristic of the horror genre, but Aster is aware of this and uses it to his advantage. Aster’s ability to build tension while keeping vibrant blues and greens makes it seem like other horror directors are just using darkness as a crutch to ease the making of scary scenes. A quick side-note on the editing of the film, there are many well-placed match cuts throughout, but there are a couple of times where the visual effects attempting to portray a character’s disorientation doesn’t work well and could have been done better.
Building tension with a grain of silence:Regarding the tension that is created throughout Midsommar, it is much more of an atmospheric horror movie that is focused on building an unsettling mood rather than relying too much on gore or jump scares. While there is gore in the movie, none of it pops in front of you just to get a quick scare out of you. The film’s tension is aided by its soundtrack. It ditches the typical horror music trope of using a waterphone and replaces it with beautiful folk singing/instrumentation and classical orchestration. This sets up the movie with an unsettling atmosphere with a folk persuasion quite well and is refreshing to hear. The film also uses silence quite well, which is becoming a lost art among filmmakers today.
A truly global culture: From an anthropological standpoint, the movie isn’t too concerned with accuracy. Instead, the Hårga are an amalgamation of many ancient rituals and cult movements viewed through a Swedish filter. The film’s story is quite sparse, so the movie almost becomes a picture show presenting rituals throughout the ancient world. Aster did spend quite a bit of time researching the customs and celebrations of many ethnicities to create an entire culture for the Hårga.
Midsommar is a mature meditation on the process from grief to liberation, an important theme that will touch everyone’s life, disguised as a horror film with a slight slasher-type twist. This combined with Hereditary makes Ari Aster an exciting filmmaker to follow.