Greg Dundee’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s only when you watch a horror film shot almost entirely in the daytime that you realise just how much other movies within the genre rely on darkness. Midsommar is dazzlingly bright and colourful, and yet is by far the best horror film to hit screens this year.
Following the shocking death of her sister and parents, Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers from severe bouts of anxiety and depression. Her douchey boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is only intermittently attentive, and is more interested in spending time with his douchey friends to whom he complains about Dani and her apparently difficult behaviour. Despite being repeatedly wronged by Christian, Dani allows herself to be his doormat, and instantly forgives any bad thing that he does, even going so far as to blame herself for the problems within their relationship.
A few months after the death of her family, Dani learns that Christian is planning a trip to Sweden with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter). It’s an annual tradition for the people from Pelle’s native commune to gather together and celebrate the summer solstice, and this particular year marks a special festival which comes around only once every 90 years. Dani is understandably shocked that her boyfriend is planning such a trip without telling her, and the pair argue. As an empty gesture and means of apology Christian invites Dani to come along too, certain that she won’t do so. To his and his friends’ surprise she accepts, and the five of them travel to Sweden.
On the surface Pelle’s home is a strange yet beautiful commune; plenty of magic mushroom tea, singing, dancing, and odd traditions. Soon though things start to take a more sinister turn as the various traditions of what can only be described as a cult start to impact on the group of friends, and Dani in particular begins to feel that all is not as it seems.
Writer and director Ari Aster delivers something truly remarkable with this film. Midsommar is a reminder that true horror doesn’t rely on jump scares and shadows in the dark, but instead fills the audience with a sense of foreboding through clever storytelling and imagery. It’s the reason a film like The Shining still
dominates top movie lists nearly forty years after it was released. Midsommar has a truly terrifying premise and is genuinely unnerving, yet there is nothing in the film that will make you jump.
Without doubt one of the main stars of the show is the cinematography itself. Midsommar is a spectacularly well shot film; bright, practically to the point of being overexposed, it perfectly captures the feeling of almost perpetual daytime. The sea of white costumes and colourful flowers against a backdrop of bright green grass and a blue sky makes the dark tone of the film all the more jarring, but in a good way. Excellently captured too are the often subtle but always mind bending magic mushroom trips the characters experience at different points throughout the film.
Despite its oddly captivating beauty, Midsommar features a lot of brutal scenes, with some of the most shocking and disturbingly realistic violence featured in a mainstream movie for quite some time. There’s no holding back either, and every moment is shown in full view, whether you like it or not. The realism of certain scenes is actually genuinely discomforting; the last time a scene in a movie struck me so much was in Eden Lake, and I still think about that today.
Florence Pugh is absolutely wonderful in this film, giving a performance that is thoroughly believable and relatable. A downtrodden, damaged young woman she is willing to give so much just to hold onto the affections of others, even if those whose affection she seeks treat her like shit. Pugh’s character Dani has a genuine story arc, something that is so often missing from contemporary horrors, and Pugh plays every beat of it perfectly.
Although most definitely being a horror (one of the highest calibre at that), Midsommar is also a reflection on relationships, loss, grief and self discovery. It reminds us that darkness can lurk in even the brightest of places, but so too recovery can be found where you least expect it. Thankfully it is also extremely entertaining; at 147 minutes it doesn’t at any point feel slow or even remotely boring, despite featuring many long scenes that in the wrong hands would have been excruciatingly dull.
Dazzling, disturbing, horrifying and yet somehow still beautiful, Midsommar is a masterpiece of modern cinema. There is something intrinsically scary about cults (for good reason), and Ari Aster expertly builds on this foundation to create one of the best cult-based horrors ever made. As someone who wasn’t a fan of Hereditary I’m truly blown away by the quality of this film, and I can’t wait to see what Aster has to offer next.