Midsommar ★★★★★

Following the success of his directorial debut Hereditary, Ari Aster comes at us again with another bold and highly ambitious yet widely misunderstood and expectedly divisive horror masterpiece, and words cannot describe the profound effect it had on me. But whether it appeals to you or not, it is unequivocally a unique and personal work of art made with technical expertise and helmed by someone with a clear passion for his craft. 

Florence Pugh gives a terrific, Oscar-deserving performance as the film's protagonist, Dani. The scope of raw emotion she conveys is unparalleled (even reminiscent of the works of Ingmar Bergman), and her vulnerable position in an unfortunate situation helps us sympathize with her character despite her flaws. The other actors do a good job as well, even if not on the same level, especially due to their absurd characteristics. While not many of the other characters are given any history, this works to the plot's advantage and helps us see them through Dani's eyes. Mark and Christian (played by Will Poulter and Jack Reynor) are both obnoxious and naive, but whereas Mark serves as an easy medium for comic relief, Christian is both a terrible boyfriend and detestable person. 

The cinematography is brilliant. It contains plenty of nauseating, slow, hypnotic, and technically impressive shots as well as an accurate depiction of the hallucinogenic effects of tripping on psilocybin mushrooms. While clever foreshadowing and symbolism may not be as obvious upon initial viewing, everything from an emotion to a hideous image is pushed into the foreground and illuminated. And as Dani tries to repress her pain and trauma, by the time of her trip to Sweden, those feelings become unavoidable, and she is forced to confront them in unexpected ways. But even though this establishes an emotional journey for her character, it is unusual in the sense that she and everyone else are powerless to the pagan cult. With everything in plain sight, nowhere to hide, and a welcome perspective of unpleasant things, there is a constant sense of unease. 

Although the beginning of the film may feel like a completely different movie altogether, and its transition is abrupt, it should be perceived as a prologue, for its cold, dark mood is juxtaposed by the change from winter to summer, which also brings a new chapter to the protagonist’s story. Plus, it’s utterly gripping and contains one of the most devastating scenes I’ve come across in a horror film, elevated by an eerie musical composition that paces out the sequence to bone-chilling effect. 

In that regard, the soundtrack alone is masterful. The score and communal songs are as transfixing as they are haunting, bolstering numerous scenes and leaving an undeniable impact on the viewer. Despite all the beautiful, sunlit landscapes, there is a grim, disturbing undertone that pervades the lush scenery and leaves the final result both hard to digest and to forget for its uniqueness. Additionally, the tumultuous ending would not work as well as it does without its powerful score of orchestral strings that wonderfully blends cinematic intensity with similarities to early romanticism. And accompanied by the film’s beguiling final frames, it had me disturbed, enraptured, and totally awestruck. 

Most complaints are that Midsommar is stupid, pretentious, or shallow, and although I understand where these come from, I disagree with all of them. Some characters may seem to act illogically, but this is in tune with their flaws, circumstances, and the fact that they are manipulated by the cult. Not even the predictability of the plot hinders the experience, for the dread of awaiting the inevitable can be more distressing than the shock of the unexpected. And the film unravels disturbing scenes with long, glacial camera movements that—despite the unavoidable constraints of a sunlit setting—also bring to mind the camerawork found in many of Stanley Kubrick’s films and utilize a slow pace to create apprehension and accumulate tension between its characters. And in spite of the fact that grief does not play as big a role as toxic relationships, codependency, manipulation, trauma, mental illness, cultural dissonance, the purpose of traditions, and the power of cults, a related event that takes place early on is crucial to the story.

Also, the director’s near-three-hour cut makes the change to a slower pace more gradual and organic, developing the story, subplots, and themes to a more narratively fulfilling extent as well. Albeit not every addition is warranted, and some parts do mar the final product, the addition of an argument between Dani and Christian seems almost vital in retrospect. 

All things considered, Midsommar is an unforgettable horror film that twists the conventions of its genre and proves that jump scares and darkness are a travesty for the real horrors that exist all around us. As idyllic as it is horrifying and as beautiful as it is macabre, Aster takes a dramatic premise, puts it in an unlikely setting, and engulfs us in a surreal, visceral, psychedelic, sun-soaked nightmare.

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