Writer/director Ari Aster’s second feature film, Midsommar is a bright and colorful trip into the highly detailed, disturbing and stunning world of a mysterious commune in Sweden, where the tension never lets up and the spikes of graphic violence are visceral, and it is definitely one of the year’s best films.
Aster proved himself to be a powerful new voice in horror with 2018’s Hereditary, but I didn’t love that film as much as a lot of people did, and while his followup again displays much of was undeniably great about his debut – phenomenal acting, beautiful cinematography, deliberately slow pacing, long, unbroken tracking shots, and images that can’t be unseen – I like Midsommar much more.
Florence Pugh plays Dani, who we watch experience a devastating family tragedy in the opening moments. Her performance is beyond excellent and absolutely award-worthy.
Dani’s boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his two best college pals are planning a mid-summer trip to the homeland of their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who wants to show them his family’s weird nine-day festival of Midsommar that only happens every 90 years. The guys are all in for what they hope will be a fun and enlightening journey to a place they’ve never been before, and then Christian invites the grieving and emotionally unstable Dani to join them and she unexpectedly (for Christian) accepts.
From this point, we just know that this trip is not going to go well, but Aster’s deft hand at deep character development and captivating long shots kept me enraptured, as I too was all in for this trip.
And what a trip it was, quite literally, as the Americans all eat some hallucinogenic mushrooms as soon as they arrive on the outskirts of Pelle’s village. Usually when a film shows the viewer what a character is seeing while they are tripping, it doesn’t look much like any trip I’ve ever been on, but this is not the case here, as these trippy scenes actually look like what it really looks like to hallucinate on mushrooms.
Then we enter the village, where everything is idyllic and perfectly not right. It’s a nine-day festival, so each day’s events get increasingly more bizarre and violent.
To reveal too much more at this point would be venturing into spoiler territory, but needless to say, there is more to the commune and the Americans’ arrival than they are led to believe initially.
As with Hereditary, Aster takes his time unfolding the story and doesn’t give the “horror moments” when we might anticipate them, but they are more shocking and effective when they do occur. There are many images that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
The soundtrack by The Haxan Cloak and the overall sound design of the film complete the viewer’s total transportation into this strange new world. With a run time of almost two and a half hours, no frame or word of dialogue is wasted, and it never feels meandering, but rather purposeful and direct.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital this week, the film looks and sounds great in HD at home. The only bonus features included on the Blu-ray are a hilarious promo spot for a Bear in a Cage toy/collectible (you’ll get it after you watch the film) and the behind the scenes featurette “Let the Festivities Begin: Manifesting Midsommar“, which runs about 25 minutes. It is explained that the Swedish village was actually constructed for the film in an open field in Hungary, and the cast and crew lived together in their own kind of commune during production.
In the featurette, Aster calls this a fairy tale for adults, with an ending he hopes people will be confused how to feel about.
Unfortunately, Lionsgate continues with the recent trend of there being no feature length director commentary, though this is exactly the kind of visionary cinematic storytelling of which film geeks like myself would love to hear the auteur Aster talk about in greater detail.
Few directors command this much singularity with only their second film, but Aster is clearly the real deal, here to stay, and Midsommar will probably be talked about for at least the next 90 years.
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