Ari Aster returns to the big screen with his sophomore offering, an exploration of an ancient hippy-like commune in Sweden. It is as every bit as twisted and gruesome as Aster’s previous offering Hereditary, in some instances even more so. The film delivers outstanding performances from the cast, gut wrenchingly horrific scenes not seen since the days of Hitchcock and a poignant look at the cycle of life and how different cultures value and celebrate it.
The main story revolves around a group of 4 American teenagers who are allowed to observe a small commune in Sweden during the summer time of Solstice called Midsommar. It is light 24/7 for a solid fortnight and four enter the commune just as their 2 week festival is about to begin. The story mainly revolves around Dani (Florence Pugh) who is recently recovering from a horrific family tragedy, one that is laid out in the film’s opening moments in what can only be described as one of the most shocking and horrific moments in cinema of the last few years (not excluding Aster’s previous Hereditary car scene moment) Dani is dating Christian (Jack Reynor) who is looking for an out in their relationship but feels stuck due to her family tragedy. Along for the ride as his surly friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harris) who are also keen for Christian to be single again.
They are led to the commune from their exchange student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) who leads the expedition. He has a particularly close relationship with Dani, remembering her birthday when Christian forgets, offering up gifts and advice as she needs it so far from home. As the festival proceeds and more rituals are taking place, the larger the gap in-between the students and commune appears and well it causes some issues to say the least.
Visually this film is stunning, when you look at Hereditary and Midsommar side by side, Hereditary was drenched in darkness and played a lot of tricks with this (this movie does a great little wink to that early on!) and by contrast Midsommar is flooded with light, there is no hiding, there is nothing hidden in the dark waiting to jump out at you which invokes a different form of horror. The always on bright blue sky mixes with the white cotton garments of the commune and the mix of different flowers and food flesh out the colour palate of the majority of the movie. Aster once again uses Pawel Pogorzelski as the cinematographer to spectacular results. The camera work is also notable as it weaves and spins around the commune. Aster has this remarkable ability to linger in a scene long enough to be effective and then snap through others at a rapid pace that keeps minor events flowing through quickly.
Going hand in hand with this is the astounding score from Bobby Krlic aka Haxan Cloak. The orchestral pieces compliment the visuals at every step along the way. Most notably is the dancing ceremony scene in the film with long flowing white dresses, floral headpieces and as the intensity of the scene ramps up so does the matching score. The film does deal a lot with themes of family and the cycle of life and how different groups of people see things. What it also does ever so subtly is talk about mental illness and the strain on a family with little to no support. It also explores the flow on effect that this has on loved ones and their support system outside of the family. It is subtle but it is enough to be noticeable and worth mentioning. Speaking of which if you have been through some recent family trauma it may be an idea to sit this one out as its themes of family and scenes may be upsetting and intense.
Apart from being horrific and terrifying, the film also is not without a sense of humour. This is made obvious in the more ritualistic scenes where characters are in a mass orgy surrounded by chanting naked women mimicking their orgasm sounds as the character is coming down from his chemical high and starts realising just what has happened. There are certain scenes where humour is used effectively inside and outside of the commune which may serve as a welcome relief from the onslaught of horror in the films final act.
Midsommar allows Ari Aster an R rating to explore every aspect of commune life complete with the crazy sex antics, nudity, graphic violence and horrific scenes that will shock and command your attention. The performances from the cast are incredible and while at different moments in the film you despise each and every one of them, there is a certain redeeming quality when everything starts to go down where you feel a sliver of sympathy for their plight. Pugh is the standout as the lead Dani, giving a career defining performance as a young woman struggling to find her way in the world after a shocking family tragedy with years plagued by mental illness. The film is a welcome breath of fresh air in a summer full of disappointing sequels, live action remakes and phone it in spin offs. Midsommar is a triumph in modern film-making offering a blend of traditional movie making with a modern twist. This is my favourite move if 2019 (so far!)
Midsommar is playing in Australian cinemas now
Review by Alaisdair “Leithal” Leith