Ari Aster burst onto the filmmaking scene with his incredible debut film Hereditary last year. Now he’s back with his latest strange addition to horror filmmaking, Midsommar. Following a couple in a dysfunctional relationship, Dani and Christian, barely being held together by a family tragedy, Midsommar sees the Dani accompany Christian and his friends to Sweden where they join their friend Pelle’s commune for their 9 day midsummer celebration.
At the heart of Midsommar is the relationship between Dani and Christian, with Dani feeling the pressures of her family life and leaning heavily on Christian. Meanwhile Christian is frequently rebuked by his friend Mark for not taking the plunge and breaking up with Dani, something he’s been wrestling with for a considerable amount of time. Things are made worse when Dani suffers a horrible family tragedy, forcing Christian to feel as though he must take care of her. This entire sequence before they trip to Sweden even begins in bleak and dark, with Aster not contrasting the gorgeous sunny weather that makes this horror film so distinctive with drab nature of Dani’s home life. Even in this early part of the film though Aster is leaving so many little background clues as to the nature and meaning of the film, that it may demand another watch to pick up on all of them.
When the core characters of Midsommar first arrive in Sweden the discomfort and foreboding initially lift, with only a small scene featuring Mark and Dani having bad trips to really break this until some of the horrifying aspects start. But whilst there are a number of incredibly disturbing ideas, and visuals in the film, Aster’s choice to have this set in such a stunning beautiful and sunny area does remove much of the dread that Aster injected into Hereditary. Instead many of these horrifying things happen without a hugely lasting impact, until the film really reaches its finale.
That certainly isn’t to say that Aster isn’t a master craftsman. So much of his direction is truly every bit as incredible as we saw in Hereditary. Sequences such as the dancing around the maypole competition are incredible, and Aster’s ability to take you from unsettled to joyous in seconds is remarkable, really reflecting the confused state of mind Dani finds herself in for much of the film. He and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski also do a stunning job of shooting the film, it is truly beautiful to look at, and that is something that is key to understanding the appeal of the commune.
The other big star of the film is Florence Pugh. Ever since she burst onto the scene in Lady MacBeth she has continually impressed, and she does so again here. Dani is an incredibly conflicted character, trying to bottle down her issues and deceiving herself over her relationship with Christian, and Pugh plays this magnificently. As she gets drawn in by the commune Pugh shows you Dani beginning to open up, but her internal conflict really comes out during the maypole scene and she erratically switches between freaking out and ecstasy. Alongside her Jack Reynor is really great as Christian, and the rest of the supporting cast are really solid.
Even more than Hereditary was Midsommar is not going to be a film for those looking for a traditional horror film. Aster draws inspiration from folk horror like The Wicker Man but really creates something very new, whilst always focusing on something very real and relatable. On that level Midsommar is great, it was just a shame that I came away from it feeling as though the horror aspect didn’t always work. It feels a little harsh to compare the film to Hereditary, but when that was such a masterpiece, whose sense of dread and horror stuck in my head for weeks, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by Midsommar.