When a Swedish production company, B-Reel, approached Ari Aster to make a straight xenophobic slasher back in 2015, the director was going through a difficult breakup. With his eloquent storytelling aptitude, he then performed a surgical procedure to stitch the idea with his heart-broken vision. The result is Midsommar, the harrowing breakup movie to end all breakup movies.
Putting forward his narrative proficiency, the new movie surprisingly shares a lot of familiarities with the director’s full-length debut, even when the major setting contrasts with each other. If Hereditary sets mostly in the stark darkness with minimum to none lighting, Midsommar sets on bright, summer solstice days in the northern Sweden where you might experience the midnight sun phenomena. Nonetheless, the radiating scene does not, at all, diminish the constant dread that lurks around. Instead, the broad daylight setting exposes you to the movie’s most excruciatingly visceral moments unobstructedly.
Aster loves it when his story a slow burn; that way, he’s got all the necessary resources to guide audiences through the trippy, guilt-ridden voyage he’s prepared for the protagonist. Beyond the masque of folk-horror (a sub-genre you cannot resist to connect to The VVitch, Apostle or their further cousin, The Wicker Man), Midsommar revolves around the stumbling relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth) and Christian (Jack Reynor, Sing Street, Free Fire). Dani is overly attached, if not dependent, to Christian; meanwhile, Christian is reluctant with the relationship. He’s only going through it because Dani’s vulnerable with all the panic attacks she experienced, especially after her bipolar sister sent her a harrowing message. The girl is asking for codependency, but the guy is basically being what man usually becomes in such situations: insensitive.
Crisis escalates when a horrid incident strikes and leaves Dani devastated. Meanwhile, Christian has already made up his mind to go along his graduate colleagues in anthropology study to fly to Sweden, attending a solstice event held by his colleague’s hometown commune. Aster takes all the time he needs to define this dysfunctional relationship as the movie’s slaughterhouse. He does not want to make the spark of problems between the couple easy; he plays out on how they corrupt one another. Dani’s demand for codependency is likely a manifestation of her coping mechanism from her depression and grief. While Christian’s reluctance results from years of culminating exhaustion. Unbeknownst to them, the implicit rift in their relationship will play a major role in what to come eventually.
In Midsommar, the visuals are the perfect decoy. With quirky architecture and vibrant colors, the set designs look all exquisite. You cannot believe something sinister could have taken place in such a paradise where people are dressed in white, sing mellifluous melodies with folk instruments, and feast altogether in a uniquely arranged tables. And yet, Aster convinces you that the danger keeps lurking beneath. Midsommar does not hide anything; everything happens in plain sight, even the movie’s very first few deaths which apparently are necessary to add backstories, be it for the protagonists or for the commune. By honestly unraveling the oddity, Aster can focus more on setting up the breakup movie that possibly fascinates him.
In crafting his horror, Aster is no stranger to orchestrating disturbing imagery in order to make a more traumatizing impact. In Hereditary, he’s done some of the most iconic visceral scenes in the recent history. Midsommar devices such methods also. And yet, that’s not the movie’s chef-d’oeuvre to spice this horror. For disclaimer, I saw the highly censored version of the movie where most graphic scenes, sex & nudity, and depictions of hallucinogenic substances are botched. It’s always about how Aster psychologically tortures audiences with a series of questions and limited knowledge.
Midsommar surprisingly devises familiar traits from Hereditary making the two movies juxtaposed each other perfectly. Both are guilt-ridden horror with enough drama as the fuel. Aster once again messes around with foreshadowing games right before your eyes (he’s done it before with the house replica in Hereditary, now he uses more canvases to confidently flaunt his storytelling adeptness). From the carefully devised grand plan by a secret community, the protagonist’s long painful wails, to some hard-to-forget onomatopoeic effect (the ‘hoo-ha’ replacing Hereditary‘s cluck), there’s no way to deny that Midsommar is the yang to Hereditary‘s yin.
Midsommar has sealed Ari Aster’s reputation as a mindfuck storyteller. With a breathtaking blend of wits, visual sensitivity, and the penchant for a mental challenge, Aster is definitely one of the most promising horror directors at this moment. And, Midsommar has proven that the heartbroken Ari Aster is our favorite one.