There’s a certain sense of discomfort that can arise when people are speaking in front of you in a language you can’t understand. Chances are, what they’re saying is perfectly nice. But the unease comes from never being sure. This feeling permeates “Midsommar,” certainly one of the strangest and prettiest movies to make it into theatres this year.
“Midsommar” is the second full-length film by American director Ari Aster, who is responsible for 2018’s highly acclaimed horror film “Hereditary.” Midsommar subverts common horror elements by sticking to one key rule: Almost every scene takes place outside in broad daylight. This makes sense, because the story revolves around a group of friends who travel to the lush hills of Sweden to attend a midsummer festival with deeply Pagan roots.
Right from the beginning, the movie is filled with a deep (yet not menacing) sense of dread. And this feeling permeates nearly everything in the film, both modern and primitive.
“Misommar” stars Florence Pugh as Dani, a college-aged woman recovering from a horrible and recent death in the family, who decides to fly to Sweden with her boyfriend and his group of friends. This trip to a festival celebrating the cycle of life and death is the perfect opportunity for her to reach closure, but as this is a horror film, things take a turn for the worse. It begins almost immediately, when the jolly, community-oriented Swedes offer the group hallucinogens to fully get in touch with nature. While the Americans survive a bad trip, it’s the customs of their hosts which turn out to be even more dangerous.
Horror fans may recognize some of these plot points; “Midsommar” is quite similar to “The Wicker Man” (1973). With folksy elements mixed with horror, characters trapped in a cult and bizarre, yet intriguing pageantry, “Midsommar” isn’t entirely original. In fact, this is one of the main problems with Aster’s previous film “Hereditary,” which features characters living in a haunted house.
The film particularly shines in the writing and acting departments. The characters’ dialogue feels believable and modern. Outside of the horror elements there are some relieving comedic scenes, though these too are surrounded by unease. Lead actors Pugh and Jack Reynor’s relationship feels lived-in, and their mutual reactions to the mania surrounding them are well thought out.
“Midsommar” is also rich in symbolism and themes, though these may be obscured to some viewers who are more focused on the general madness unfolding on screen.
With gorgeous cinematography, occasionally psychedelic visuals and a beautiful setting, “Midsommar” is a feast for the eyes. But don’t be fooled; brief moments of extreme violence and nudity are a reminder this is indeed an R-rated horror film.
This film will not be for everyone. The words pretentious and eccentric may be thrown around, ensuring to leave some audience members uncomfortable, and the artsy critics cheering. But this grandiose horror is well-orchestrated. Of course, it suffers from many classic horror pitfalls: foolish characters, difficult scenes that don’t feel earned and a reliance on weirdo villains. But if you’re looking for a strange yet gorgeous horror film, this is one of the best choices in theaters right now.