Ari Aster’s latest is a pastel-coloured nightmare, a relationship drama wrapped in the cloak of a folk-horror film, with excellent performances from the talented young cast that match the beauty on screen
Dani’s (Florence Pugh) life has just fallen apart after a family tragedy, when she is invited on a ‘bros only’ trip to Sweden by her increasingly distance boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). The yearly midsummer is coming up and they have been invited to Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) hometown to celebrate a unique festival that only happens every ninety years. When the idyllic countryside gives way to a trippy cultish nightmare, the toxicity of Christian’s behaviour comes to the fore, while the horrors of an isolated and unhinged society erupt around them.
Aster’s skill is to combine true collective mayhem with a performances that never stray too far from the bounds of reality. Dani’s understated, almost lifeless reaction to the ättestupa event – compared the other outsiders’ visceral horror – doesn’t seem to outlandish in the overall context of her trauma. Neither does the way Josh’s (William Jackson Harper) reaction is almost purely academic as he studies the celebration as part of his PhD thesis. The entire cast is on their A-game here, from Pugh’s incredible list of performances grows ever longer as the bent-but-not broken Dani, and Will Poulter plays up as the almost-comic relief as Mark, the most obnoxious of the friendship group who is all but the typical American abroad, pissing off the locals in more ways than one. Jack Reynor too, is wonderfully hateful as the Worst Boyfriend™ in the northern hemisphere
At the core, Midsommar is not about the behaviour of a cult in the hills of Northern Sweden. It’s a backdrop to the breakdown of a relationship that was never really great in the first place. Christian consistently gaslights Dani, pressuring her into taking drugs while insisting that he really doesn’t mind if she doesn’t, but with a very clear hint that she’s already ruining the lads holiday that he had in mind. It is also obvious that despite the trauma that she experiences before the trip, he is simply searching for a way out of the relationship and is attempting to find this excuse in her own mental issues.
Midsommar is a horror, but if you came in expecting blood and gore, you might be disappointed. The real fear for me came during the pre-title scenes, of a dark and wintery suburb where Dani’s life is just on the verge of falling apart. Unlike all of the trailers and posters, we are thrust into a world that looks very much like the horror genre we are used to but one that we were not expecting to see in a film about the celebration of the longest days in the year. Pugh’s howl when she discovers the death of her family, the animalistic scream that bursts from her lungs is pure dread and horror and pain, and is more terrifying and unnerving that anything else you will experience in Midsommar‘s two and a half hour run time.
Aster creates a film that is about homelessness, on being aimless and drifting without a true anchor. It is about searching and finding a family within the unexpected, the unknown, the unnerving, and embracing a darker side of ourselves.