Jake’s review published on Letterboxd:
A feature-length, euphoria-induced, pastel panic attack, Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ is an uncompromising doubling down of the nightmarish family drama we saw in last year’s ‘Hereditary’ but delivered in a decidedly new coat of paint. Midsommar essentially decides to frame itself as a narrative of contradictions in order to skew itself into being simultaneously a wicked pitch-black dark comedy, and a thoroughly unsettling horror film, and in being both, it somehow succeeds at each one respectively in spades in a bizarre complimentary fashion. Take the works of Lars Von Trier, specifically Melancholia, Dogville, and Antichrist, and inject it with the sense of otherworldly cult horror found in 2018’s ‘Suspiria’ and you have a horror movie that for better or worse, will be one of the strangest things you’ll see all year.
I say it’s a narrative of contradictions because Aster is obsessed with very purposeful contrast. The juxtaposition between cuts, between how the sound editing works from scene to scene, the pacing itself, the tonal shifts, it serves to constantly slide back and forth in every level of its presentation to make it as off-putting as possible. It takes a considerable amount of skill to do this, but to do it well and to do it without feeling unrefined is another entirely. Midsommar is a horror film that, quite honestly, starts out on all cylinders in a Hereditary style dramatic setup that gradually becomes less and less horror and more absurdist social dissection that becomes less scary and more strange. That’s not to say there arent moments of evocation throughout the whole film, the entire third act might just be this year’s answer to Suspiria 2018’s ‘blood explosion’ climax, but I think the real thing to note here is just the angle Aster is approaching the material from. Many found Hereditary to be a film that’s astounding commitment to its detached cruelty felt alienating, rather than absorbing, and it’s worth noting that I’m not one of these people. Midsommar however, is the anti-Hereditary. From the moment I heard mention of mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, (something I am unfortunately plagued with) at the very beginning, I settled into the groove that Aster was going for, the dual polarity of the film between ‘odd’ and ‘horrifying’ just felt natural to me, because like Hereditary’s uncompromising understanding of anxiety, grief, and depression, Midsommar is the distilled essence of a manic breakdown. I have had panic attacks and manic spells that this movie is able to harness and capture so well it genuinely makes me wonder what in God’s name must be up with Ari Aster, cause he clearly has issues. One of those issues being with how women, specifically mentally ill women, are perceived and treated by men. This was found in Hereditary, but here it’s more prominent, as the movie clearly has a sense of cathartic empathy for the main character, played in an Oscar-caliber turn from Florence Pugh, by showcasing the horrific mundanity of an enabling environment that does not care about her issues or problems, forcing her to keep dealing with it in unhealthy ways, only further isolating her after tragedy.
Some may read the film as pointless or cruel, but for me, I think that misses the mark. Hereditary certainly was cruel, aggressively so, which is partially I respect it so much, but Midsommar’s stance on its main character is far more deeply empathetic, building to an emotional catharsis that I can only describe as feeling deeply unsettling but also deeply and wholly cathartic. The acts of cruelty and real human horror are shockingly captured, but I cannot think of a movie that understands what it’s like to suffer a tragedy and then to re-enter the world feeling like everything is broken and wrong like Midsommar. It harnesses that feeling of alienation, where you return to the ‘normal world’ full of shiny happy people, bright colors, operating under systems, rules, and assumptions that make zero logical sense. It knows what it’s like to feel like a cog in a machine of absurdity after staring at the most horrifying thing that can happen to a person, and it captures it with unbridled honesty and dedication, skipping no steps and not backing down when it comes to anything, giving you pulse pounding horror, absurdist nightmare, and pure, genuine, unconditional release.
If Hereditary was like drowning in human misery, then Midsommar takes Aster’s brand of potent horror and presents the viewer with an empathetic, cleansing baptism, orchestrated purely from an understanding of knowing what it’s like to feel so thoroughly destroyed by misery and tragedy, and then giving you the distinctly human opportunity to experience a primal sense of revenge against everything that has ever made you feel small.