★★★★ | Zach Hester
In the words of former President George W. Bush after the inauguration speech of President Donald Trump, “that was some weird sh*t.”
In this case, the “weird sh*t”, I’m referring to is Midsommar, the latest film from the rising architect of daylight nightmares, Ari Aster. I specifically say “daylight nightmares” because that’s what it is. Normal horror films make you dread when the movie cuts to nighttime, because that’s when the scares happen, but in Midsommar, the most frightening facets of the film come in broad daylight.
Midsommar follows Dani (Florence Pugh), her boyfriend and his group of friends who travel to northern Sweden to participate in a festival that takes place only once every ninety years. As the festival descends into madness, it becomes clearer that the festival’s community is controlled by a pagan cult.
The film touches on a lot of themes throughout its (too long) runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, but none more than these two: family and cultural divides.
The first is cultural divides, which the film displays in a biting, almost grotesque fashion. The point it attempts to drive home is that we should seek to understand the cultures and mindsets of those around us who happen to be different than us. While the divides between us may not always be the fact that “the other” is a murderous pagan cult, it is important to understand someone else’s lifestyle and how it’s different from your own.
*This portion will contain spoilers* The second, and most potent theme, is family. From the beginning when Dani’s family is killed by her sister, who then commits suicide, it becomes evident that her sanity hinged on two rocks: her family and her boyfriend, Christian. Within the first 15 minutes of the story, the former of those rocks is taken away, so she’s left with only Christian, a partner with plenty to be desired, but stays with her out of obligation.
Throughout the story, one of the friends who led the crew to Sweden, Pelle (who is actually a native of the cult-like community), drives home the point that the community is his own family since he was orphaned as a child. He makes an effort to make sure that Dani feels welcome at the festival and when she is elected May Queen towards the events of the film, it becomes clear that she is slowly replacing her real family with a sense of family and belonging provided by the community.
In the final moments, when Dani has fully succumbed to her madness and sentenced Christian to death by fire, she smiles. The smile will divide theatregoers as they head home: has she gone insane…or has she finally found that place she belongs that is free of the old life that kept her down? I happen to ascribe to the latter theory.
Despite these themes clinging to the narrative of the story, I think the entire film can be summed up in one sentence: “Don’t let your boyfriend take you to Sweden.”
If Aster’s Hereditary captured audiences last year as the appetizer of a horrific feast, then Midsommar has to be the main dish. As “high brow horror” becomes more mainstream thanks to filmmakers like Aster and Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), the genre is getting a much needed revamp. The story will stick with you beyond your walk out of the theater to the car and for better or for worse, you will be completely creeped out.