Did George A. Romero get reincarnated as the new up and coming film director Ari Aster? Because holy hell can this man create a horror movie! Just look at his directorial debut Hereditary (2018), that film built tension and dread like very few that came before it, and the same can be said for his sophomore outing Midsommar (2019). It might not be as good as Hereditary (2018), but it is definitely more ambitious.
Dani (portrayed by Florence Pugh) and Christian (portrayed by Jack Reynor) have a relationship that is rocky to say the least, very little love and even worse communication. Christian is about to break up with Dani until they both find out that Dani’s bipolar sister just murdered Dani’s parents before taking her own life. Left emotionally destroyed, Christian stays with Dani out of obligation, even inviting her at the last minute to a retreat he and several of his friends are going on in Norway. Once getting to Norway though, their relationship flaws only seem to be elevated by their daily intake of drugs along with the slow revelations of the retreat’s sinister motives.
Somehow, this film's central relationship is so unfortunately relatable to anyone who's either gone through a bad break up or you reach that moment where you know it's over but both parties are either too naive or chicken shit to talk about the relationship being over. It is literally said that Christian wanted out of his relationship with Dani for over a year, prior to all the events that happen within the film. But then Dani’s family dies and he doesn’t want to be that asshole to break up with a girl after receiving bad news. There was clearly very little respect in the relationship, enough where they didn't mind each other, but little enough that communication was horrible. Christian didn’t even tell Dani he was going with his friends to Norway until the absolute last second. This relationship is definitely realistic in its “on the rocks'' portrayal and only adds to the heartbreak and shock (even if it wasn’t so surprising) in the last minutes of the film.
Then there’s Dani’s grief after her family dies. I have to say with Ari Aster he definitely walks a line between insanity and the supernatural. Especially with Hereditary (2018), which left the audience guessing whether malevolent forces or mental illness were driving the family apart. Same could be said here, as Dani’s mental health is constantly on the brink of collapse. It is unknown if it is the drugs she’s constantly taking to either sleep or participate in festival events. The only time it seems she doesn't is when she sees Christian sleeping with another woman in what looks like a festival ritual, and we see her finally break. When it is grief, that pain always isolates people from others, believing no one can understand what they are going through. Dani is definitely isolated from Christian and his friends, as they didn’t even want her to come yet there she is. The only one sympathetic to her is Pelle (portrayed by Vilhelm Blomgren). He is Christian’s friend from the village where the retreat takes place, and he also lost his parents at a young age. The only difference between Pelle and Dani is Pelle has a support system to help his grief, Dani does not. When Dani breaks down after catching her boyfriend “cheating”, all the other women in the village comfort her. Albeit in a creepy way, by matching Dani’s moans and sobs of anguish.
When watching horror movies, we always associate darker colors and darker shades to them to add to the tension and dark story being told. There are absolutely no dark colors in this entire movie, in fact it pulls a page from Insomnia (2002), having the sun rarely ever set. There are bright shades of blues, yellows, and white everywhere, it's supposed to associate with happiness and put the viewer at ease. That’s what helps build the tension and dread in this film. We know something is wrong, we can’t put our finger on it, but the bright colors give us security that nothing will happen. Yet, something is happening. No dark colors or shadows to hide in, everything is out in the light for everyone to see, and yet we can’t help but fear the worst.
I can give director Ari Aster credit for his commitment to uncomfortable scenes to watch. As he ramps the discomfort up to 11 in several scenes, especially those involving gore or nudity. For example, in a festival ritual when the elderly reach a certain age, if they haven’t passed away yet, they choose to commit ritualistic suicide. Which is done by diving headfirst off a cliff onto a rock 100 ft. below. One of these suicidal elders was unsuccessful in his attempt however, showing a slightly caved in face and broken legs. So they finish off this elder with a mallet to the head. But unlike most horror films, they show the skull crushing in all of its grotesque gory glory. Christian, Dani, and the entire theater audience are mortified by what they saw, but it doesn't feel gratuitous, but necessary and kind of artistic. Another is where Christian “cheats” on Dani, while under the influence of psychedelics, it is shown as a ceremony of sorts, with SEVERAL other naked old ladies in the room chanting and humming as a female villager and Christian do the deed. (I say “cheat” in quotes because Christian was clearly unable to consent to any of his actions due to the drugs. And from Dani’s perspective, she believes he’s cheating)
Without a doubt, your jaw will not leave the floor long after the credits roll, especially after this ending. As shown earlier in the film, Dani is crowned May Queen, and she is given the final say in who will be the last person to be sacrificed for the village’s ancient pagan ritual; the choice is either Christian or a random villager. Of course, having witnessed Christian “cheat” with another woman, he was the unfortunate obvious choice. After choosing all the other sacrifices, a couple townsfolk and the remainder of Christian’s friends minus Pelle, are brought to a building which they are displayed and then burned. It is a gut churning sequence, watching them being burned alive, but that isn’t what is gonna haunt the audiences nightmares. Its Dani’s facial expressions as she moves from sad to happy to complete insanity. As if she has finally been freed from the pain she was trying to bury.
Ok, this film is a lot, safe to say. With well used gore and vivid imagery, this film gives its heavy themes plenty of weight. Florence Pugh dominates the screen as Dani, walking the line between barely keeping it together and giving into the craziness the village offers. The supporting cast rounds out the movie well, with Jack Reynor giving pitiable and cowardly dimensions to Christian’s character. But the off putting visuals are really what makes this movie one of a kind. As tension and dread build, so does the weirdness. A potent combination that will shake your soul and leave an impact that will become one for the ages.