Anyone that knows me, knows how important the film Hereditary, Ari Aster’s debut feature, is to me. It’s a film that changed my life at exactly the moment it needed to and one that I’m willing to die on any hill for. Shortly after Hereditary debuted in theaters, it was announced that Aster’s follow-up film, MIDSOMMAR, would take viewers through a midsummer pagan folktale. Though visually it looked completely opposite of Hereditary, I had no doubt in my mind that Aster would deliver on his sophomore film.
MIDSOMMAR is written and directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary) and stars Florence Pugh (The Falling), Will Poulter (The Little Stranger), Jack Reynor (Glassland), William Jackson Harper (TV’s The Good Place), and Vilhelm Blomgren (The Days the Flowers Bloom). The film centers around Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing. (A24)
Where Hereditary destroyed me in terms of grief and loss, MIDSOMMAR destroyed me in terms of relationships. That’s not to say that other themes aren’t prevalent throughout the film, as they most certainly are and range anywhere from trauma and grief to family and identity. During the screening I attended, Ari Aster was part of a Q&A that was livecast from New York where he talked about how MIDSOMMAR came to life after he went through a breakup and if that proves anything, it’s that horror can be a tool used for cathartic release. As with Hereditary, MIDSOMMAR is filled to the brim with symbolic clues for viewers to dissect. And that’s the beauty of a film like this, it begs you to return time and time again so as to dive even deeper into all the hidden gems that this film has. For me, the symbolism associated with a circle was one of the biggest takeaways for me in regards to how it is associated with a lifecycle. The circle is such a prominent design throughout the entire film that I found myself thinking about it long after the movie had ended. I, unfortunately, don’t know much about runes, but for anyone that is familiar, be prepared to see a lot of them used in the film as they have a significant attachment to the way that the villagers live their lives.
On the surface, it’s easy to see that this film is about a cult, but the deeper the movie goes into the themes, the more visible the commentary is on how outsiders view cultures and traditions that are foreign to them. Now, that’s not to say that what happens in MIDSOMMAR is justifiable, but before the shit really hits the fan, so to speak, our American tourists, most notably Mark, played by Will Poulter, easily disrespects the surroundings without much care to how it will affect those within the commune. But the biggest theme at play here is that of relationships. The main focus is between Dani and Christian and their quickly deteriorating relationship, which I think most people will find a semblance of familiarity with. However, there’s also Dani’s relationship with her family and the horrific tragedy that struck early on in the film. This trauma that she has experienced is something that weaves its way throughout the film as she releases herself from the grip of grief and pain in a way that is just as freeing as it is horrific.
I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the immense talent behind all the performances. Stealing the show, and rightfully so, is that of Florence Pugh, who portrays Dani. Her emotional range and the pain that her eyes convey is absolutely soul-shattering. It’s hard not to feel her agony as it builds and builds upon itself like a pressure cooker ready to burst. She deserves every recognition she gets and I can only hope that her performance will lend itself to an Oscar nomination. Her counterpart, Christian, played by Jack Reynor, is just as effective but instead of making me feel sadness, I felt an overwhelming sense of anger and disgust towards his character. Mark reminds me of all the shitty boyfriends I’ve had in my life, the ones that treated me poorly and without remorse, that I found it hard at times to separate his fictional character from that of him as an actor. That goes to show how effective his performance was. Coming in as the comic relief is Mark, played by Will Poulter, who is more concerned about his dude-bro status and regressive views than he is about the cultural importance of the Swedish commune that they are staying at. However, he provided a lot of laughs that helped diffuse more of the layered intensity that was building. If you’ve seen Poulter in his comedic roles, such as We’re The Millers, you know he can bring that comical edge to a character. Josh, played by William Jackson Harper, is the serious anthropology student who is good-natured and inquisitive about his surrounding as he works on his thesis. Known mostly for his role on NBC’s The Good Place, it was a surprising turn to see Harper in such a film as this. Lastly, we have Vilhelm Blomgren, who plays Pelle, the one responsible for bringing his friends to the Swedish village where he is from. Pelle is disarming with beautiful blue eyes and a sweet disposition, making it easy to trust in him and believe that he has your best interest at heart.
Along with the themes and the impressive performances, what also blew my mind was the overall production design. The cinematography from Pawel Pogorzelski is absolutely astonishing. Whether that be the framing of certain scenes such as the mysterious yellow triangle building or the sweeping shots of the village, the cinematography was nothing less than breathtaking. The homes that are situated on the land are also a sight to marvel as I learned that they were all built for the film and are filled with striking illustrations. Those familiar with Hereditary will quickly notice the difference between the color schemes of the two films – where Hereditary was a lot darker, MIDSOMMAR is a lot brighter – relying on the ever-present sunshine and pastel colors which gives viewers a false sense of comfort that things will be okay. Obviously, things are far from okay and that was one of the aspects of this film that I loved so much. Ari Aster was able to conjure up a feeling of dread against the backdrop of beauty that very few directors are able to masterfully pull off. All that said, MIDSOMMAR is a visual showpiece which only adds to the creative talent that Aster and his team possess.
I could go on and on about how MIDSOMMAR is a masterpiece, and believe me when I tell you that it is, but I want to save some of that for another article closer to the release of the film. With that said, I think it’s important that I let you, the readers, know that it’s best to temper your expectations because this isn’t Hereditary. MIDSOMMAR is its own beast and it’s a slow burn, but it’s just as tragic as Hereditary is, only in its own way. The horror here doesn’t rely on any supernatural force or demonic being, instead, unfolding through a series of events manifested by human consciousness. Whether it be through the villager’s perceived cultural responsibilities or the pain and anguish that Christian causes Dani, the spiral effect of the consequences of both groups actions results in them being showcased for all to see. With that said, there are moments that feature some gnarly imagery that will stay seared in your brain far longer than you wish them too. The horror is there it’s just more centered around emotional trauma as opposed to jumpscares or torture porn.
Hereditary is a film that means the world to me in terms of working through grief but MIDSOMMAR is a reminder that I can free myself from the pain of past relationships. In all, Ari Aster has cemented himself as one of the best genre directors out there and he doesn’t disappoint with his sophomore film. It may have its flaws, as all films do, but there isn’t any other director out there taking risks such as this while exposing their own turmoil as a way to work through their heartache and I applaud him for that. MIDSOMMAR may not be for everyone, but at the end of the day, it’s another life-changing film that will stay with me long after the flurry of the press has come and gone. MIDSOMMAR is truly a masterful work of art that only comes around every 90 years or so and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to witness it. Let the festivities begin when MIDSOMMAR is released in theaters July 3, 2019.
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