Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
A group of friends discover a beyond traditional Swedish Midsommar celebration, horrifically run amok.
'Your an American ... just jam your way in there'
Writer and Director Ari Aster delivers another slow burn psychological horror experience, but while we are used to seeing scares typically come in the dark, the disturbing nature of Midsommar all takes place in the daylight of the confines of a small rural community. Coming into this film my interest was not only peaked by how much I loved Aster's first film 'Hereditary', but also because I learned so much about the Swedish culture while studying abroad there in college.
Midsommar was an amazing cinematic experience that will stay with me for a long time. It reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, where Aster slowly increases the tension and draws us into this odd setting, before hitting us with this extremely violent and sexual content. It would not surprise me at all if this came close to being rated NC-17, and it is by far the most graphic movie I have ever seen in a theater.
The film stars the very lovely Florence Pugh as plays Dani, who is grief-stricken following a family tragedy. She tries to confide in her boyfriend Christian played by Jack Reynor, but mostly just gets labeled as being this very needy girlfriend by his friends. Christian and his friends decide they are going to go on a long Summer trip to their friend Pelle's home in Sweden to check out the Midsommar festivities. Much to the dismay of Christian's friends, he invites Dani to come with them. But as the festival goes on this group of friends come to find out these Swedes have their own pagan traditions, and they were brought there for a very specific purpose.
I love the use of style Aster uses to tell his stories, for example there are a ton of over headshots used for a variety of purposes. One of the best ones was toward the beginning when the camera makes a full arc over the vehicle, and by the end of the shot gives us an upside down view of the car traveling into the community, which helps create a disorienting feeling. Overhead shots were also used throughout to show off the symmetry of these elaborate festival decorations and customs. For example, the tables they sit at for meals are set up in these x like patterns and there are these ruin characters all over the buildings.
One of the key themes Aster has really done an amazing job of capturing in his films so far is grief. The sound of Dani crying in agony when she learns that her sister killed herself and her parents is gut-wrenching. Later in the film an interesting element of new family comes into play as this group of women joins Dani in her grief, as they writhe on the floor in emotional agony together. The film reminded me a little bit of 'Blue is The Warmest Color' by how close up Dani's face is shown during many of the scenes, to further help us contact with the emotions she is going through.
The first big shock of horror in Midsommar comes when the community gathers together at the base of this cliff and watches as two of their elders jump to their deaths. There is nothing subtle about this moment, as we are shown their bloody smashed heads numerous times. One of them even lands on their feet, so then not 1 but 3 people come to finish the job by using a giant wooden hammer.
There is so much foreshadowing throughout since all the buildings are covered in these paintings of their traditions, and we see so many of them play out. When the friends first arrive in Sweden they are given some magic mushrooms, and the effect of this drug is visualized by showing what they see become slightly wavy. Drugs are then used throughout the rest of the story to help the members of the cult get exactly what they want from their guests.
During the group's first trip one of them wakes up and asks what time it is, and he is shocked to hear that it late in the evening but the sun is still up. This was a good introduction to the concept of how long the days are in Sweden during the Summer months. The brightness of this daylight is further emphasized by the bright white clothes that many of the cult members wear. Also the amount of small wild flowers used, especially at the end is such a beautiful touch, but also has this foreign feel to it.
As the film goes along each of friends suddenly disappear. It was kind of funny in a messed up way how they hear a song called 'Skin the Jester', and that's exactly what happens to one of the goofier friends.
'I just pissed on a dead tree .... but this tree is sacred.'
It was an interesting touch how Christian's character was still trying to be apologetic to the leaders of the community, despite so many bad things happening. Also what's up with us seeing Josh's foot sticking up in the garden, but he has two feet at the end before his body is burned???
I have not seen 'The Wickerman', but I know these films have similar parts involving sexual ceremonies, in addition to one of the victims even being stuffed inside a hollowed out bear to be burned. At its heart the Director has noted how this can be seen as an elaborate breakup movie, based on how Dani's relationship always seems strained with Christian. And by the end Dani more or less feels at home with the cult, after they make her their May Queen following a mesmerizing sequence of all the girls playing this dancing game around a May Pole.
Also the cult works to drive them apart by targeting him to impregnate one of their women, in a truly bizarre scene where these older naked women surround him and the girl and moan along as she is deflowered. Plus there is all the strange setup to that scene, where we see this story in pictures being reenacted with how she puts pubic hair in his food and blood from that region in his drink. Also the part about inbreeding to create a handicapped person that is assigned to right pure thoughts in their sacred book, just adds to all the strange build-up of traditions.
Despite the films long run time there are so many great little moments that get paid off, and by the end you are left drained by how this journey of horrific events unfolded, as we get a slow fade from the burning wooden pyramid to Dani's face, who is now happy that she is beginning a new phase of her life.
I really love these kinds of slow building horror films that draw you deeper and deeper into their madness. I have a feeling I will like it even more on a rewatch, and will likely end up raising my score like I did for 'Hereditary'.
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!