“Midsommar” basks in its own radiant glory. By incorporating its luminous cinematography, raw acting of Florence Pugh and visionary direction of Aster, this bizarre drama leaves a long-lasting impression of overwhelming grandeur.
Dani (Florence Pugh) isn’t on particularly good terms with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). She is, however, very attached to him. When a tragic event leads to her family’s death, Dani is left with Christian by her side. In order to help her cope with loneliness and the agonizing pain, he invites Dani to a trip to Sweden along with a bunch of friends. However, the trip to Midsommar festival isn’t exactly what they expected.
Ari Aster, the director of “Midsommar”, faced a challenging task. In his second directorial work, he had to deliver a film at least as good as his stunning debut, “Hereditary”. Driven by Toni Collette’s exaggerated yet straight-out bewildering performance, “Hereditary” gave grounds to a belief that Aster’s a name to keep an eye on.
“Midsommar” makes cements that statement.
The movie explores a few similar areas to “Hereditary”. In the centre of both these films is a dire event that leaves their female protagonists emotionally devastated. In a way, Florence Pugh’s Dani is a link to Toni Collette’s Annie. They are both alone in carrying the burden, and also unable to cope with the ruthless fate. However, while Annie spiraled down into the madness, Dani is desperate to find a way out of this mess she’s in.
The first half an hour is devoted to Aster assiduously building a credible character of Dani and her jackass boyfriend Christian. Although the relationship between them is hinted with just a few scenes, Aster makes his point. In one of the first of many riveting sequences in “Midsommar”, Paweł Pogorzelski’s camera (the DP) slowly zooms on Dani and Christian, in a shot that could easily be a harrowing painting of sorts, with her lying on his thighs and Christian trying to comfort Dani by what appears to be a hug.
A few days in Europe can’t obviously reduce the distance between the two, and Aster makes sure to point that out. The damage is already done and Midsommar isn’t a retreat to heal. Both Christian and Dani know that things will only deteriorate – most importantly, Dani knows it, while Christian pretends not to. She’s tied to Christian, to the last beacon of the family she’s lost.
Christian’s pals aren’t really supportive either (except for their Swedish pal, who actually brought them all to his “family” that celebrates Midsommar). They tend to be rather harsh, because Dani is the pain-in-the-ass girl of their homie, a fifth wheel, which destroyed their brakes-free, men-only getaway dream. The group we meet isn’t on good terms and internal arguments make the trip even less enjoyable for them. Imprisoned in a weird Swedish village, with customs they don’t understand, they get bored and even frustrated.
So what is “Midsommar” essentially about?
Aster’s primary interests are both copying with greed and solitude. Dani takes any kind of humiliation on the chin, because she cannot imagine being even more lonely, being without Christian in her life. So she sticks to the douche that every sane person would cross out a long time ago. However, the fear against loneliness toughens her, and casts a shadow over the grief she suffers from. Therefore, Aster leaves a certain question hanging in the air the entire time – would Dani be better off without him? Would the suffering be less painful that way?
If it wasn’t for Florence Pugh, the fear and pain wouldn’t be so palpable, like growing void that resides in Dani. Pugh is simply astonishing as Dani. The young actress steers away from Collette’s tragicomedy of sorts, and, rather than that, fills her role with an outrageous, loud weep that echoes through the entire film. Dani is all flesh-and-blood, there is no artificial particle in her.
In one of the most heartbreaking scenes, Pugh screams with women from the Swedish village, which is a beautiful symbol of sharing the pain inside of her with someone else. That’s what also interests Aster in “Midsommar”. Beneath the audiovisual orgasm and a tale of solitude, this is a story about feminine roles and how they are still wrongly associated with a weaker and more submissive attitude.
Equally good as Pugh, however for totally different reasons, is Jack Reynor. The actor is wooden as hell, but this is a highly intentional, another bold move by Aster. Christian is duplicitous, a snake that spits venom seemingly unaware.
The supporting trio – Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper and Vilhelm Blomgren – is used to carry the comedic counterpart. Their presence adds a lot of shine to the canvas of “Midsommar” too. Aster is confident throw little jokes here-and-there that keep on building up the tension. It is highly unconventional, but the mechanism works flawlessly. Even when Aster references Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”, or lets the characters spit out corny one-liners, “Midsommar” doesn’t lose even a drop of its dread.
A nightmarish atmosphere is amped up by Paweł Pogorzelski’s cinematography and The Haxan Cloak’s soundtrack. There is a fantastic amount of visual artistry here, which brings to mind Tarkovsky’s “Offering”, some of Stanley Kubrick works (the occultism brings “Eyes Wide Shut” to mind) or Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain”. Almost every single shot in “Midsommar” is a work of art – a sign of maturity achieved in just two films of Aster. The music too does its part. Dipped in Swedish folk, as well as a haunting sound design, the audio experience perfectly grasps the ominous nature of “Midsommar”.
Eventually, “Midsommar” becomes an experience, a film much more emotionally and artistically prolific than what we’re used to seeing. With the final half an hour that concludes the film, Aster leaves the audience shattered, almost euphoric and relieved. That’s what makes his second feature so powerful – as horrid as the finale is, it somehow manages to be uplifting too. It takes a certain kind of talent to make annihilation look so beautiful, doesn’t it?
Dir. Ari Aster
Hate Grade: 1/10
Watch the “Midsommar” trailer here: