Movie Review: Midsommar

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three-and-one-half-stars-rating

R |

Director: Ari Aster

Writer: Ari Aster

Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper

by Jason Koenigsberg

Last year Ari Aster gave the most confident feature film debut of 2018 with the supernatural dysfunctional family thriller Hereditary. I loved it so much I called it the best film of the year. Now in 2019 he returns for his second picture with another A24 horror production Midsommar. There is no sophomore slump for Ari Aster. Midsommar explores the similar themes of religion, family relationships, and fate as Hereditary does only this time moving the drama from the United States across the ocean to Sweden during a time of year when there is no night and the sun never sets. This makes Midsommar an extremely unique horror film because almost all of the terror takes place in broad daylight with the bright sun shining on our characters. Ari Aster was clearly inspired by the 1973 film The Wicker Man and Midsommar feels a lot like that film crossed with his own Hereditary and they both share similar themes. 

The opening shot is of a mural that depicts the four seasons and no doubt foreshadows what the audience is about to see but they have no way of interpreting how those images will become important. The screen breaks apart in the middle to reveal a dark, snowy sky over pine trees. The few scenes in the dark early on are very bleak right away. The early scenes show off the talent of the young lead actress Florence Pugh. She is having quite a year after an endearing performance in last February’s Fighting with My Family, and now shedding her natural English accent for a convincing American dialect in Midsommar. She carries a lot of scenes in this film on her shoulders and makes them work. There is a point in Midsommar where events happen that realitsically would make the characters run away and flee while they could, but because of the performances, especially Florence Pugh, their lapses in logic are easier to buy. 

The biggest reason Midsommar works as exquisitely as it does is because of writer/director Ari Aster. He uses long takes, elaborate mise-en-scene, and expertly crafted cinematography to tell a story of a group of Americans seduced and later revolted by a Pagan cult. Midsommar is filled with disturbing images, shocking violence, and the some of the most pulsatingly effective sound mixing. Aster’s deliberate and repeated use of mirrors as a reflection of the characters and their relationships on point. Also if the viewer looks closely they will notice scarecrows in the background of shots early on when they least expect it. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz (1939) even makes an appearance. This will all have a greater meaning by the end. 

 

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Florence Pugh (center) in ‘Midsommar’

 

Some of the directors techniques are a little too obvious. Aster uses extravagant lighting, camera angles and movements hinting that the Americans lives are going to be shook up as he literally shakes the camera as the plane lands, or the scene where they are driving and the camera goes upside down, telling the viewer their lives are going to be turned upside down. Midsommar is also a little too long especially in the middle. With a running time of two and a half hours some of the scenes in the second act could have been trimmed or cut entirely. 

Like Herman Melville did with Moby Dick, Midsommar uses white to symbolize evil. Also as mentioned before, seldom has brightness and sunlight been so prevalent in horror and used as an element for being scary. Midsommar also managed to be oddly funny, creating humor in the most unlikeliest places. The humor was definitely intentional because audiences are being thrust into some of the most bizarre situations that when they see the characters reactions their gut reaction is to laugh, and then step back and take in the fear of the people onscreen. 

The music much, like the deceptive white costumes with flower prints, provides unsuspecting and alluring harmonies. The images and sounds are peaceful yet deceitful. Midsommar feels a lot like the younger sister of Hereditary and both of Aster’s movies feel like the daughters of the horror masterpiece The Wicker Man. If you plan on seeing one movie on the 4th of July to escape the heat, make sure it is Midsommar. 

 

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