SPOILER WARNING: I’m trying my best to stay far away from spoiler territory, but I’m my own editor so I may miss a thing here and there. I won’t give away MAJOR details, but PLEASE have watched the film before you read this just in case, thank you!
I want to write about this movie, but it’s very impossible to do without speaking about it critically, on a level that discusses and dissects plot details and the symbolic inferences that lie in every shot, in every scene, in every second of Ari Aster’s meticulous sophomore feature.
It would be very remiss of me to go any further without talking about his debut, the magnificent family drama horror Hereditary (2018). This is currently my fourth favourite film of last year, and I have a great deal of love and admiration for Hereditary. What Aster was able to mine out of his actors was astounding, bringing a stunning breakthrough performance out of Alex Wolff and showing that Toni Collette is truly one of the most versatile actresses we’ve ever had grace our movie screens. His choice to focus on family dynamics that draw out of a horror that lurks in all of us was a genius move, at least for as I always say that horror works best when there’s another genre wrapped up in there. It’s part of why I loved 2017’s It so much as it presented a coming-of-age film within its acts of horror. It elevates the material and makes you really invest.
Before I make this a Hereditary appreciation post, I want to state that Midsommar is not like Hereditary. They share similarities, mostly due to Aster’s directorial style, which includes picking the absolutely correct time to show the gory moments and not overloading the audience with them. Another similarity is Aster’s focus on grief, but the interesting thing to compare if I’m ever to do a double feature in the future is how the way he tackles the theme is juxtaposed. Hereditary went straight for the theme with little restraint and idling, which worked a treat. Midsommar takes a very intriguing approach to the topic, in that it doesn’t reallyexplore it the way you’re expecting it to.
Side note: this is maybe the first film I’ve ever watched without watching the trailer or looking up the film’s synopsis. All I had seen was the poster, so I knew pretty much nothing about it going in. This could not have worked better.
All of my love for Hereditary had unwittingly created a myriad of expectations in my mind, but I should have realised that Ari Aster was not going to play by my rules, I’m not even sure we were playing the same game. The film doesn’t necessarily create things that you can predict, per se, but it leaves a trail and I’m going to require several more viewings to work out a lot of what I saw – there’s so much imagery and intricacy that there’s no time to stop and digest it all, even if the film rolls at such a steady pace that you’re giving moments to just drink in the atmosphere that Aster had created. There’s one particularly brilliant piece of foreshadowing that comes right at the beginning that had me thinking “That’s going to crop up again, it has to” and then maybe thirty five minutes later, it does, but not answering my questions. And then in the third act, the pay off happened and it made me feel good for having noticed it. Midsommar undoubtedly rewards repeat viewings, and careful viewings at that.
Side note 2: The audience I was sat with might have been the worst for this movie…I heard whispering all around me throughout the entire thing and laughing at things that weren’t funny at all – there’s one scene in particular that’s quite bizarre I’ll admit, but it’s not funny and I couldn’t think why everyone was cackling…it almost took me out of the film, but Ari Aster is SO good at building atmospheres that I managed to stay immersed. And that’s saying a lot. When it ended, I heard a woman in the row in front of me say “Nothing happened” and I could’ve screamed.
Just like the work he did with Collette and Woolf in Hereditary, Aster brings something complex out of each of his actors, no matter what role they’re there to play. Florence Pugh is fast becoming a legend, and I’m so here for it. She’s playing so many things in this movie that it’s a wonder that she knew what was going on. I remember Jessica Chastain recalling something Al Pacino said to her – that she couldn’t hide from the camera, and that the camera will pick up everything you’re feeling and experiencing. Florence Pugh makes the most of this in the most brilliant way. Her face is magnetic, and she’s giving so much of herself to the performance, it’s a type of commitment I rarely notice in movies anymore. Every single second is breathtaking. Jack Reynor does much of the same. His role expands beyond what I thought it would and he plays it perfectly, taking the insane plot points in his stride, and just providing an eye for the audience.
The supporting players get less to do emotionally, but are strong in their own respects. William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter round out the American central characters, and they’re quite good. I always wish that Will Poulter had more to do besides the comedy, even though he’s very funny and provides a lot of laughs, I’m a big fan of his and wished his role went further. His actions do inspire one of my favourite lines in the movie though.
I need to talk about Aster’s cinematography and camerawork because oh sweet baby Jesus it’s impeccable. There are multiple moments where my jaw hit the ground at a sweep of the camera, or a slow creep, or a perfectly composed shot. Pawel Pogorzelski deserves SO much love and recognition for his work here. Pray that he and Ari Aster never stop working together because they’ve shown twice over now that they can create magic together.
To make sure that I keep this brief as I said, I want to cap this off with my overall thoughts.
Midsommar is a deliciously agonising parade of paranoia, fear, and unease that takes a relationship and twists it into something so savagely raw that it’s hard to unfurl from Ari Aster’s nightmarishly beautiful landscapes. Paradise and horror wrapped into one maelstrom of complex emotions. Anchored by an unforgettably powerful performance by Florence Pugh, Midsommar is one of the most chilling experience of the year.
Have some thoughts about the movie? Love it? Hate it? I’d love to discuss it (and maybe someone can explain it to me thank you) on Twitter, as always, @Jamie_Carrick_