The shockingly gruesome scenes of body mutilation and sexual cult rituals are disturbing, but that’s not what “Midsommar” will be remembered for.
Released July 3, the highly anticipated daytime nightmare “Midsommar” is writer-director Ari Aster’s follow-up to the demonic thriller “Hereditary” (2018), which features a family left to manage the sinister consequences that comes with the passing of their secretive grandmother.
“Midsommar” may take two or three viewings to fully understand Aster’s apparent goal, to pick and pry at a fear that has been untapped in horror films — a slow build of uncontrolled isolation and loneliness even when with those closest to you.
The film introduces Dani (Florence Pugh), a timid college student far from home, desperately awaiting an email back from her distraught, bipolar sister. Her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), has emotionally checked out of the relationship and can’t be burdened by her troubled family life anymore.
Dani and Christian can’t seem to hold a single pleasant conversation — a meticulous execution by Aster, depicting a painfully relatable unhealthy relationship.
While Christian is out with friends, a phone call reveals her sister’s psychotic break and the camera cuts to Dani wailing in grief due to the loss of her family. The upsetting scene depicting wallowing anxieties proves Pugh’s ability to give an exceptional performance. The camera eerily stalks her parents’ house to affirm the family tragedy, leaving Dani in attempt to piece together her life the rest of the film.
Dani clings to Christian, and he begins to feel more entrapped in the relationship than before. She packs to tag along on a boys’ trip — where she’s unwelcome — with Christian’s friends Mark (William Jackson Harper), Josh (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
They travel to Pelle’s hometown Hårga, a small village in Sweden, where a midsummer festival is held every 90 years. As the group travels into the lush countryside of Sweden where the cult-like members of the commune await their arrival in all white dresses, the camera flips upside down, following the car to the festival with painfully bright, silvery colors.
“Midsommar” takes place in the bright, flower-filled Utopian-like commune, which already makes the film stand out in the horror movie industry. The traditional folk art — which is imperative to the plot — is just the beginning of the stunning contrast and saturation that makes it nearly impossible to look away, even from the gore.
Aster ensures each scene — whether it’s with colors, camera angles or simple timing of conversations — is made to rattle the audience’s nerves. Aster’s film resembles those of famed director Stanley Kubrick, with extended cuts and long tracking shots that make any conversation feel uncomfortable but simultaneously more natural.
The group willingly takes hallucinogens upon their arrival. Visuals become hazy and actions seem implausible. But that’s just the beginning of the overwhelming sense that the characters have given up all jurisdiction to the members of the commune.
Dani couldn’t seem to do anything right for her boyfriend and she was still grieving from the loss of her family. But Pelle took an uncanny interest in her and pointed out the relationship’s flaws, making her realize exactly how alone she was in the remote village.
The cult’s traditions nosedive from amusing cultural quirks to purely deranged rituals. People begin to disappear, animals are mutilated and some heads are bashed in, but no one seemed to care as much as they should.
The breathtaking Wes Anderson-level cinematography aids Aster’s depictions of emotional agony. A success in both “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” Aster utilizes screams and high-pitched crescendos that feel as if they’ll never cease to agitate audiences. He proves his expertise by making his audiences cringe without jump scares.
“Midsommar” is a new approach to horror where gore comes second to the constant mental torment that is hard to forget.
“Midsommar,” rated R, is now playing in theaters nationwide.