Midsommar was probably the movie I was most excited for this year after Avengers: Endgame (I’m a Marvel Stan, I know.) Ari Aster’s first film, Hereditary, is one of my favorite horror movies and so I was excited to see he was writing and directing a movie based around a pagan festival in Sweden. The promise was there, and while I don’t think it lived up to my own expectations, the story plus the beautiful camera work and imagery make a movie that is definitely worth seeing.
*Side note: This movie is tough to watch. If any movie had a trigger warning, this would be it.
I don’t really consider Midsommar a horror movie as it is an unsettling thriller art piece. That’s a new genre and I’m going to spend some time filling it out later.
(Update: The Eyes of My Mother, Mandy, and Raw all kind of fit this description.)
Most scary movies have three or four moments where the tension is finally relieved. They build up to that monster attack, that murder, or that dead body discovery, and then give the audience some respite. Aster instead keeps the tension at a steady incline until you are ready to snap like a watermelon covered in rubber bands. I think this comes down to how he treats a few crucial scenes that I think ended up beautifully, but also pushed this away from the horror genre.
In three extended scenes, one at the beginning, middle, and end, you know exactly what is going to happen. Yet, you are forced to watch as the characters slowly come to the same conclusion.
The first scene follows a character as he enters a house and climbs a flight of stairs and you know exactly what is at the end of the hallway upstairs. Yet you are forced to watch his every step and your terror is confirmed at the end. (This scene and the conclusion to it are haunting to a new degree)
Towards the end of the film, you know all the bad things that have happened, yet you still have to watch as yet another character falls into the same traps. The scenes will stick in my head forever, but they didn’t every scare me because I knew what was going to happen. I was just incredibly tense the whole time.
Onto the analysis and the deep message part of the film (which I have to get to because I took too many English courses in college.)
Midsommar boils down to Dani trying to find somewhere she belongs. Pelle, the man who brought this group of Americans to the Midsommar festival, asks her if she really feels at home in her boyfriend’s arms. That is her goal in the end. Finding someone or something that will validate her and make her feel important. That is something we probably all struggle with.
So much of our own values, attitudes and personality are affected by who we surround ourselves with.
The issue with that is that we frequently choose to surround ourselves with people who we feel are similar to us. Like attracts like and so it is hard to improve our situation if we hang out with people who are equally as stuck or wrong about life.
There are three tribes in the movie that Dani comes in contact with: her family, her boyfriend’s friends, and the Swedish commune (cult, religious convent, creepy campground.) She feels empty and has to choose between the latter two throughout the movie.
However, neither really provide her with an opportunity to grow and develop. It is a lose lose situation. The group of Americans don’t confront problems and can’t act mature in the least sense. The Swedes practice rituals from a time long past simply because it is what they have always done, no matter how little it makes sense.
We are all constantly looking for places to call home and it is key we don’t pigeonhole ourselves into choices that are lose-lose like Dani does. We need to find friends who challenge us to become better every day. A club where everyone is better than us isn’t a bad thing. It challenges us to become better.
Competition is one of the strongest natural motivators in human consciousness, and when used constructively it works wonders. I was never the smartest in school, but I hung out with people who were doing better than me or working their asses off to succeed. This kept me trying harder and harder because I wanted to be like them. I wanted to reach their level and I eventually did.
Midsommar shows how bad negative feedback loops can get. Obviously the movie takes the results of bad company to the extreme, but it is something we must observe in our own life.
Another thing that I liked about Midsommar was Aster’s focus on viewpoint and perception and how that is influenced by the groups we identify with.
When the camera follows Dani, we see things she is seeing. It is all subtly done, but if you watch carefully the camera is showing us everything through her viewpoint. We see flashes of her sister’s face in the mirror. We can see red and white flashing when she’s having a panic attack. My favorite though, is after she has taken any sort of drug.
If you watch carefully you can see the plants move like they are breathing, or the grass move towards her feet. Sometimes the trees will swirl together in the background. It is all so faint, but enough that you feel just as put off as Dani does.
The camera is influenced by what is happening to her and who she is with.
When she’s with Christian or the other Americans, the camera movement is stiff and the cuts bland. However, once Sweden, Pelle, or the commune get involved, everything flows and moves in and out. The camera shots are longer and track different things moving. The shots become so much more surreal. This is a great analogy to how our own viewpoint changes depending on our surroundings. Aster is showing the power of those we identify with.
All in all, Midsommar was a good movie with some important themes in play. The visuals and soundtrack were top notch and moving, but the story fell a little flat for me. I’d say it is worth watching in the theaters, but I won’t be dying to see it again.