Ari Aster’s summer horror “Midsommar” will have you watching on the edge of your seat.
By Andrew Warrick
Photo via A24
“Midsommar,” the second film from writer-director Ari Aster after last year’s smash hit “Hereditary,” belongs to a rare group of movies that can make you physically ill. This is a compliment. In fact, it’s likely what Aster was going for. “Midsommar” follows a group of graduate students on a trip to a Swedish commune. The Swedes have some odd religious practices, including an annual summer festival. The students quickly find out that this is no picnic.
While the set up may sound familiar, the execution is anything but. Aster’s film is a punishing descent into horror and chaos, to almost maddening levels. “Midsommar” was almost given an NC-17 rating, and from how graphic the final cut is, it’s easy to see why.
Its colorfully brutal, almost mythic violence has shades of Lars von Trier, a Danish filmmaker known for “Antichrist.” Yet Aster’s three dimensional characters and methodical, thrilling pacing make “Midsommar” more accessible than a Von Trier offering. Its radical, stomach-churning content is watchable, even enjoyable, because of Aster’s skills, which make a two and a half hour movie feel like 10 minutes.
His inventive camerawork is prone to breaking convention at the drop of a hat, be it lurching upside down or racing at high speeds, scaring the audience further by denying them the stability of normal cinematic technique. The cinematography is awash in sunlight and color, rare for most movies in the horror genre. There is nowhere for the terror to hide. It’s in your face, unrelenting and in full view.
The cast — anchored by Florence Pugh as Dani, a grieving college student unwillingly thrust into these horrifying festivities — is stupendous. This is no “slasher flick” where the final girl is hunted as her friends are picked off. The deaths in this movie are personal and tear-inducing. The emotion in their authentic, crushing performances make what could have been just an unusually violent cult flick something truly special.
The film, particularly the last third, packs a mighty punch that will leave audiences gasping for breath. “Midsommar” isn’t for the faint of heart, but is chock-full of the audaciousness lacking in most scary movies these days. You’ll watch this through your fingers, but also on the edge of your seat, eyes trained on the screen and eager for more.
“Midsommar” has the qualities of the most insane of nightmares, where the horror is so layered and startling that it’s almost humorous in its hyperbolic extremity. Almost.
Every piece of terror is part of a mosaic of thematic and emotional weight that culminates in one of the most crushing and horrendous climaxes you could imagine. Like most bad dreams, everything, including logic, can be questioned. That makes it all the more terrifying. Its meaning will be debated, but grief, fanaticism and mental illness are clear motifs.
“Midsommar” is an uncompromising, sickening summer nightmare. It does things most Hollywood films would never dream of, and because of the success of “Hereditary,” will likely reach a larger audience that a movie this devastating usually does. With two hits under his belt, Aster can do whatever he wants now, and it will be a dark pleasure to see where he goes next.
Andrew Warrick is a student at the University of Michigan. He is majoring in creative writing and history, and is a part of the Residential College. He also leads the RC’s Creative Writing Forum. When not watching movies, he loves hanging out with friends, especially in the spectacular Ann Arbor, becoming addicted to novels, and listening to Bowie records. Some of his favorite movies are “Cloud Atlas,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Alien.”