Lexington, Massachusetts, U.S.A. — Midsommar — or “midsummer” in Swedish — is the dream destination movie of every millennial seeking to self-realize in a world where tragedy and unpredictability snowballs into an identity crisis.
And at first, that’s what the new folk horror film by Hereditary director Ari Aster presumes.
After a detrimental family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) resigns to keep dating Christian (Jack Reynor) who, by all accounts, is a bad boyfriend and emotionally unavailable to the point of catatonia. As for his part, Christian is unable to muster the motivation to break up, leading to a stale state of shared existence where both individuals are imprisoned in an eroding relationship.
The portrayal of this erosion is the dynamic that Aster, Pugh and Reynor deftly and masterfully demonstrate as they narrate the couple’s foray into a Swedish cult.
Coupled with themes of trauma and folk mystique, Midsommar is less of a traditional horror film but a dark fairy tale set in broad daylight. And this is what is so fascinating — and human — about its narrative.
At first, Midsommar follows the typical hero’s archetype. The story goes: Dani, the heroine, is launched into unfamiliar territory when she is reluctantly invited to accompany Christian and his friends to a once-in-ninety-years celebration in a Swedish commune. She crosses the threshold to the Hårga community through a literal gateway. Christian’s friend Pelle becomes a mentor and a possible love interest.
The story deviates. The foreign visitors are coerced to repeatedly take psychedelic drugs, witness a ritual suicide and partake in the cult’s dubious customs. And Dani’s companions begin to randomly disappear, reminiscent of a traditional horror narrative.
These disappearances actually help structure the narration. At times, the direction of the story is muddled in lieu of psychological discomfort. The beginning of the film, especially the initial arrival of the guests, is slow — a few minutes could have been cut. However, the ultimate buildup is so bold and satisfying that it rivals a ritual purge.
All in all, Midsommar is the visual relative of what would be a Wes Anderson horror film, but delivers so much more. Symmetrical pastel frames are utilized; green rolling hills, white smocks and reds compose the color pallet of the film. And as Anderson’s visuals establish a theme of carefully-crafted delicacy, Aster uses the aesthetic to distill an environment of fear.
In the horror of it all, the true fear emerges. And even though the film does engage in grandiose and somewhat nonsensical plotlines, inappropriateness and gore, its purpose is not to shock-and-awe.
It just seeks to disturb the viewers through the source of every-day terror: premature loss of family, trauma, identity crisis and dissolution of a relationship in a world in which nothing is truly secure. Aster just takes that fear to the idyllic mountains of Sweden. Then he dissects and recreates the innateness of it.
Yunkyo Kim is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.
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