Our staff heads to the theater to check out “Midsommar”, Ari Aster’s highly anticipated and polarizing follow up to his breakout horror hit “Hereditary”.
Intro by Angry Princess (Editor-in-Chief)
Last year’s Hereditary took its place among a select group of modern horror films that have taken my breath away in the most unexpected of ways, shaken me to my core, and left me spinning in my head for days and weeks afterwards. Needless to say, when news of Ari Aster’s sophomore film Midsommar broke, it immediately catapulted to the top of my most anticipated horror films of 2019. The fact that it also had strong folk horror undertones only heightened my anticipation.
Full disclosure: I went into my viewing of Midsommar with a mix of heady anticipation and nervous anxiety, desperate to love it and terrified I might not. Expectations and relentless hype are a hell of a hard climb for any filmmaker — even one as undeniably skilled and creatively innovative as Aster.
A two and half hour slow burning indie horror film about grief, loss, fractured relationships, and individual versus communal identity?
That’s nothing if not incredibly bold and remarkably unconventional.
Let’s face it, this was a film that was bound to polarize audiences. As you can tell from the mixed bag of reviews from our writers, this isn’t a film you feel kind of lukewarm about. It will either stir your soul in indescribable ways, washing over you in a wave of hypnotic beauty and exquisite emotion. Or it will leave feeling cold, detached, and confused by reviews that hail it as a triumph of cinematic achievement.
As for me, I stand firmly in the former’s court, feeling an overwhelming mix of impossible-to-articulate emotions — having been completely and unabashedly swept up in the extraordinary beauty and evocative nature of the film. As far as I’m concerned, Ari Aster is part of the next generation of genre greats and true artistic pioneers. I hope he continues to hone his remarkably unique voice, telling more compelling and deeply affecting stories about human pain and suffering.
Part of what makes Midsommar so difficult to review — and so difficult for some viewers to fully connect with — is that it is not just a film to be watched and enjoyed in a purely narrative fashion.
Rather, this is a film meant to be experienced as a mind-warping, hallucinogenic trip to and through the depths of psychological hell and back. Juxtaposed with the breathtaking beauty of the film, with sweeping cinematography and masterful camerawork, is a character study in trauma and mental illness.
Through this swirling, dizzying mix of beauty and brutality, community and isolation, tranquility and anxiety, we become disoriented — having no choice but to either disconnect or completely sink into the mystifying experience.
The reviews below are meant to give you a few unique experiences on a film that’s likely to impact every viewer in a completely different way. Just keep in mind that nothing we say can really ready you for the experience of Midsommar. Forget the hype. Forget the hate. Go in clean and with an open mind. Whether it’s the ultimate mind-altering trip or an overly long and meandering road to nowhere, one thing’s for certain: you’re not prepared for this journey.
TAKE ONE: A BREATHTAKING TRIP DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
By Joe Quinones
Midsommar, writer/director Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary proves that he is a force of nature to watch for in the horror industry.
The duality of nature and man is interwoven with themes of trauma, grief, mental illness and the demise of a relationship — expressed here masterfully in order to craft a compelling and visually stunning contemporary fairy tale. The use of wide, sweeping and sometimes dizzying shots amidst the lush, colorful backdrop of the Swedish wilderness form a jarring contrast to the violence that transpires.
The Midnight sun, which is a phenomenon that occurs during summer in which the sun blankets parts of Sweden for a full 24-hour cycle. This provides a unique take on the usual night time tropes seen in horror movies, imbuing a fresh perspective into the genre. Midsommar uses foreshadowing and symbolism via beautiful art, tapestries and runes to provide some insight into the commune and its rituals.
So keep a keen eye on the background, as it weaves its very own companion piece of sorts to this already fascinating odyssey — and quite frankly deserves an entirely separate article in itself!
I went in to this movie with little to no idea what to expect, save for the expectation that it will be half as good as Hereditary before it.
I implore you to do the same; as the suspense of not knowing what our intrepid college students are in store for is part of the journey.
I found many parallels to Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. From the intense visuals while Psilocybin laden mushrooms are consumed, to the way that Dani’s (played remarkably by Florence Pugh) story is structured. The fact that I can compare this movie to Alice in Wonderland just shows you how talented Ari Aster is at melding fantasy, comedy, horror, and actual Pagan lore into a compelling narrative.
One aspect that may turn some people off to this movie is the run time, which is a girthy 2 hours and 27 mins — standing toe to toe with much faster-paced films like Disney and Marvel’s Avengers movies.
I assure you the run time did not affect me in the slightest, as I was in a perpetual state of wonder from beginning to end. But I did overhear other movie-goers complaining about how long it was. This was most likely due to the fact that you don’t get much action during the first half of the movie, while we get the set up for the cult-like community and its eccentric and theatrical inhabitants.
If you like a slow burner with a great pay off, this one’s for you! However, if you prefer your horror direct, violent and to the point, you may find it lacking. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of the old ultra-violence to go around. It just takes a little while to get there. But, if you’re patient, you will be handsomely rewarded.
In conclusion, if you thought Ari Aster was going to hit a sophomore slump; you are sorely mistaken!
One could even say that Both Hereditary and Midsommar complement each other very well. Both movies take a dark subjective look at relationships. And both movies integrate these personal stories into modern day folk tales that make us look inward while befuddling our senses, not unlike a mushroom trip.
Watch Midsommar, and go in as blind as possible. It’ll be an experience that leaves you speechless. At the very worst, it’s a hell of a ride!
TAKE TWO: ARI ASTER DELIVERS YET AGAIN
Midsommar is another gut punch from Ari Aster!
You would think after Hereditary that you would be prepared for mind altering depressive journey… but no! This film ups the crazy and doesn’t let you down.
My favorite part of the film is how real the characters are. It’s not an assortment of troupes but rather a deep pool of flawed characters. Our lead is a grief-stricken girl who is trying to move on from the death of her parents without leaning too much on her boyfriend or friends. The boyfriend is trying to figure out the next steps in life while juggling school, friends and love. No one is bad, and no one is good… people just are. And I love that.
While Midsommar isn’t as scary as Hereditary, it does show the skill of Aster. The camera work reminds me of an Upper Class Sam Rami… lots of tracking shots moving like a force through nature, but without shaky cams or mud covering everything. Some shots were so smooth that it took me a while to adjust my mind to what was happening.
Let’s put it this way — you are going to have just as much of a trip as everyone else in that movie. Hopefully, your “come down” ends a bit better.
TAKE THREE: HAUNTINGLY BEAUTIFUL AND UNFLINCHING
If I had to describe Ari Aster’s Midsommar in one word, it’d be perverse. But I mean that in the best possible way!
Like so many other horror fans, I loved Hereditary when it came out. Because of that, I was very excited to check out Midsommar. And I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. The color palate of the film is gorgeous; all bright, vibrant colors under a hot, unforgiving sun. It screams summertime. With almost no nighttime scenes, you would think the film wouldn’t be all that scary, but you’d be wrong.
Aster proves in spades that horrifying and terrible things can happen in broad daylight, and that’s what is so disturbing about this film. There is a Wicker Man-esque sense of dread that grabs a hold of you from the moment Dani and her friends arrive in Sweden. And it doesn’t let up for the entirety of the movie.
Needless to say, I loved the movie. It’s disturbing and terrifying in the best way. This one will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater!
TAKE FOUR: AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPLORATION OF GRIEF AND HEALING
By Jamie Alvey
I don’t think it’s quite fair to compare Midsommar to Hereditary too much.
Yes, both films are by Ari Aster, deal with cults, and tackle women at the lowest and most grief-stricken points in their lives. But Midsommar is quite the departure from Hereditary. Aster’s stylistic flare and eye for detail is there, but everything about Midsommar just feels different. It’s not a rehashing of themes from Hereditary as one might be inclined to think.
Midsommar explores a different sort of grief, one that feels personal to me because I have stood where the main character, Dani, has stood.
The film begins with a frantic Dani who has received a disturbing e-mail from her sister, Terri. Terri is bi-polar and is prone to suicidal ideation. Dani tries and tries again and again to contact her sister and her parents but doesn’t get a response.
When she turns to her boyfriend, Christian, who is out with his friends at the time, he gaslights Dani, telling her not to worry because Terri does this “all the time.” He makes it seem like Dani is hysterical for no real reason when, in reality, Terri has horrifically killed her parents and herself leaving Dani bereft and swimming through the haze of her own pain, depression, and grief in the aftermath of it all.
Christian does little to provide Dani with any kind of support, more preoccupied with his upcoming trip to Sweden with his friends Josh, Mark, and Pelle, who happens to be a member of the community that they will be staying with for the duration of the Midsummer celebration. Christian begrudgingly invites Dani to join them, and much to his dismay, she accepts.
The full impact of Midsommar did not hit me fully ‘til hours after I watched it.
As I said earlier, I have stood where Dani has. I have lost loved ones to suicide and struggled my way through my own mental distress to try to make sense of it all. This is what makes this movie special. While Hereditary was dark and excessively bleak, there’s a sort of silver lining to be had in Midsommar that makes the two films impossible to hold against one another.
While there is no shortage of shocking scenes and gruesome pagan behavior, peppered among them are moments of tenderness and understanding. The women of the cult take Dani in and include her and give her the support system that she lacks. They give her a place among them and a sense of community. She’s given a part in their rituals, some joyous and some morbid. One striking moment of pure catharsis takes place when the women surround a keening Dani and scream and wail with her. It’s a beautiful scene, and it has a cleansing quality about it that stands in sharp contrast to how Christian fails to give Dani what she needs in order to grieve properly.
Aster does a fantastic job creating a dreamy and hazy quality with Midsommar.
The film feels a whole like dissociating. Is this real? It feels like a sunbathed hallucinogenic out of body experience. The more violent and disturbing moments help bring the film into focus against the pastel and idyllic backdrop. The production value is simply like no other and adds to the complete immersion into the world that Aster has so delicately created. It would be easy to get lost in the visual feast for the senses, but Aster deftly reminds you that this is a movie about grief, getting through it, and moving past it.
He takes Dani through a satisfying arc that ends with an effective and memorable shot that brings her character journey to a heady completion. While the film is definitely slow burn, it is engrossing and, at times, feels like an intimate documentary on a secretive culture to which outsiders aren’t privy.
Florence Pugh gives a gorgeous and emotionally exhausting performance as Dani.
Pugh can portray melancholy and elation in equal stride and translate that on to the viewers themselves. Jack Reynor is despicably insincere as her boyfriend Christian. Every word out of his mouth falls in such a flatly condescending way when he speaks to Dani that it’s impossible not to want to hit him. The supporting cast is extremely exceptional as well including William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, and Vilhelm Blomgren. There’s not a person in the cast that isn’t committed to the role and the overall vision of the piece — this even goes for the extras.
This will definitely be a film to revisit and dissect again and again over the years for horror and film lovers alike. There’s a lot to be said about Midsommar, and I personally cannot wait to delve into its world again and partake in its dark rituals once more.
TAKE FIVE: UNDERWHELMING AND OVERHYPED
By Joy Robinson
Midsommar is undoubtedly the most talked about horror film of the summer.
Since it’s recent premiere after months of anticipation, the verdict has been almost unanimous across social media and among the horror community. Countless reviews and tweets have detailed all the exquisite ways the film is a masterpiece. Rather than making me feel more excited for the movie, the nonstop outpouring of praise instead made me a bit worried. Nothing can live up to the kind of hype this film is getting, and that isn’t really the fault of the film itself.
Still, if so many knowledgeable, genre-savvy people think this film is incredible, I thought there must be something to it.
But I walked out of the theatre feeling like I’d just watched a totally different film than the one people have been talking about.
I swear I’m not trying to be one of those annoying “here’s why this thing everyone loves actually sucks” people. I wanted to love this movie, and I am genuinely disappointed that I did not. I’d been stoked for months for it to bring its The Wicker Man level of folk creepiness into mainstream horror, but it just did not do it for me.
And to be fair, the folk horror aesthetic of the film isn’t bad, it’s just empty. The folk art is amazing; the lush green scenery is beautiful. But the pagan cult is just a plot device ,and there’s no real attempt to dig deeper into the ethos of the culture. From graphic tapestries, to a dozen naked women writhing during a mating ritual, to the physically deformed person the cult uses as a mouthpiece for their gods, these motifs are just half-hearted attempts at shock value. The aesthetics alone aren’t enough to carry the film, especially not when it’s over two hours long.
I feel like everyone who said you never feel the nearly 2.5 hour runtime lied to me.
I definitely felt it. Scenes and shots drag out for so long that any sense of tension they might have built is gone by the time the “shock” comes. The palpable sense of dread that hangs heavy over Hereditary is not here. And when the penultimate gory violence does come, it doesn’t feel particularly shocking.
Ari Aster has said that he originally didn’t want to make Midsommar a horror movie and I feel like that really, really shows.
It seems somewhat unfair to compare his second film too much to his first, but the parallels are constantly being drawn and Aster himself even called Midsommar a companion piece to Hereditary. And the two films do have several thematic similarities. Both films deal heavily with grief and women who cope very, very badly with it. Pushing his female leads far beyond their breaking points with little resolution is becoming a pattern.
That is not to say that their grief is in any way portrayed inauthentically, but it’s starting to feel like Aster gets his rocks off on women’s emotional trauma.
That being said, Florence Pugh as Dani gives the only noteworthy performance of the entire film and is the only character given any real depth. She is already dealing with mental health issues before the family tragedy that propels her toward her destiny, and her anxiety and constant struggle to keep herself together feels so genuine — and painfully relatable for anyone who has ever tried (and failed) to fend off a panic attack while surrounded by people — that at times it’s difficult to watch.
The breakdown of her already strained relationship with her apathetic and neglectful boyfriend, Christian, is the center of the narrative. But there’s nothing really interesting about watching it unfold. Christian is a terrible boyfriend and a terrible friend. You know he’s gonna die — and that’s awesome. I’m absolutely here for that. It’s just that it would have been a lot more satisfying if it had come at least 45 minutes sooner. There’s so much filler in this movie that by the time Christian takes his place in the sacrificial pyre, you’re cheering less because he’s getting burned alive and more because the movie is finally fucking over.
I appreciate what Midsommar was trying to accomplish. I really do. But at the end of the day, there are just a lot more interesting and less drawn out ways to make a movie about a woman killing her shitty boyfriend.
TAKE SIX: A DISORIENTING DESCENT; EQUALLY ENTHRALLING AND REPELLING
There are 2 words that kept coming to me as I was watching Midsommar: outsiders and disorientation.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is an outsider in her own relationship. The community in Sweden that Dani and her friends visit are outsiders to the rest of the world. And Dani and her group of friends are outsiders to the community.
The group in Sweden invites these outsiders to witness their pagan ritual that only happens once every 90 years. Truly being a once in a lifetime occurrence, the group of friends agree to take the trip.
There’s a lot of drug use happening, and director Ari Aster makes sure the viewer is taking part as well as the trees and flowers in a lot of scenes are slowly swirling in a hypnotic and hazy, dreamlike fashion. It’s a disorienting effect that builds upon the feeling that things aren’t quite right in this seemingly euphoric and peaceful community.
In addition to the blurry swirlings of the natural backgrounds, Midsommar is drenched in constant sunlight, another squint-inducing factor that keeps the outsiders in the film and the viewer disoriented. In an open field plastered with constant sunlight, no one in this movie wears sunglasses. Watching these people try to block the sun with their hands or arms and continuously squint into the light adds to the dreamlike and lost nowhere-ness of this community.
This disorienting sensation that surrounds the community is extremely important to the film.
It’s what makes the visitors continuously be true outsiders because they are never acclimated to their surroundings. More importantly, it creates the impression that the people of the community are there to offer guidance to the visiting outsiders and help make them more comfortable in this unfamiliar place. After all, this is how the community lives, and they all appear to be a caring, loving, and welcoming group of people.
When in a foreign place, you have to rely on the local people in order to find your footing, so what’s the harm in showing a little trust and going with the flow?
The sun soaked, hallucinatory disorientation of Midsommar is a vast disarmament of the outsiders as well as the viewer.
It’s what sucks you in and gives you no choice other than to accept what you’re seeing as nothing out of the ordinary, even though your body is screaming with alertness. This is where Midsommar largely succeeds.
The film functions beautifully as a slow building, submerging experience, sinking its hidden claws into both the group of outsiders and the viewer little by little until it’s too late to move: you’re caught.
My experience with Midsommar was slightly skewed because I did see what was coming. I knew what would happen, and I knew where. Of course, I didn’t know details. But I figured out the direction pretty early on. It’s a good thing Aster is as competent and compelling a filmmaker as he is. Because, after sitting with the film for a few days, it continued to grow on me, to sink its claws in.
I came to realize that it’s the journey of Midsommar that works as the payoff here, not necessarily the end result.
Much like a foundational scene in the film, Midsommar is structured and filmed as a horrifically mesmerizing free fall.
The natural comparison to Midsommar is filmmaker Ari Aster’s previous effort Hereditary, but I’m going to compare it instead to last year’s Suspiria. The 2 films have a lot in common, and like Suspiria, Midsommar will divide audiences. A size-able amount of the audience I saw it with seemed bored. But the rest of us were riveted and taken with this uncomfortable world we felt sucked in by.
By the end of the film, both factions of the audience seemed disoriented and we all felt like outsiders.
TAKE SEVEN: INTELLECTUALLY EXTRAORDINARY, EMOTIONALLY VOID
It took me some time to process my feelings for Midsommar, and I couldn’t really articulate my thoughts fully until the next day.
After some time spent thinking about everything I watched and experienced, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t love it. I’m not even really sure I liked it all that much. With that said, it was unquestionably a really well made film. And no one can argue that Ari Aster has a fantastic command of cinema.
Overall, my biggest problem with the film was that I had zero emotional attachment to anything that was happening.
It felt like an exercise in intellectualism — and a little self indulgent. That takes work for me to be that disengaged. And I think the reason was because all the characters were hyper-intellectuals studying anthropology. There was not a real sense of discovery or awe.
Ari has an almost pathological attention to myth detail. While wholly admirable, I’m not sure it was all that entertaining or gratifying. It was just one heavily detailed mythology to the next. And, for me, it came across as a little self aggrandizing. Without an emotional connection, there was just this treatise on grieving, codependency and toxic relationships.
That said, there were truly some fantastic moments.
I liked both that the film was allegory for toxic relationships and the juxtaposition between the two leads. But, I couldn’t help thinking the film felt like the TED talk of sunny horror films.
Coupling that with the fact that the members of the community were all very communal in their emotional support. While I thought this was actually a really cool aspect of the film, it did serve to lessen the intimacy of the grief and pain, which further caused me to detach. I couldn’t cry for the lead because everyone else in the movie was.
If this was the intention, then I have to give the film credit for accomplishing an almost Kubrickian feat of cinematic voyeurism.
However, I do believe that Aster was looking to resonate emotionally and connect with the viewer. Unfortunately, I feel that by going too far on the intellectual side, he failed to form that emotional connection.
To be fair, this film reflected a beautiful command of craft and intellectual storytelling, and for that it should be praised. I just felt it lacked any heart or emotional connection, and that kept it from rising to the level of greatness. Ultimately, it reminded me of an art exhibit from a well-trained but passionless artist.