Despite what the studio marketing department, or the critics who have blindly followed their lead, would like you to believe, this is not a horror movie. That is not to say that Midsommar doesn’t contain disturbing imagery and moments of dread, but this is a twisted psychological drama about an individual gaining, and asserting, their newfound power of somebody to whom they have been quietly compliant and emotionally subservient. Following his breakout success with Hereditary, it is not surprising that Ari Aster’s follow-up project would always incite expectations of another delve into the horror realm, and the film certainly incorporates enough genre tropes to embolden the resolve of those unwilling to concede that their preconceived expectations might not be entirely accurate. There is a sense of unease that runs throughout the 140 minute running time, despite the fact that much of what transpires through the latter stages of the film has been signposted somewhat unsubtly in the first half.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is an American college student in a relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor), who isn’t particularly keen on sustaining the relationship, having been convinced by his friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) that Dani is overly needy. However, when Dani suffers an unbearable family tragedy, Christian knows he can’t break up with her and it is several months later that he, somewhat reluctantly, invites her to join him Mark and Josh on a trip to Sweden at the invitation of exchange student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who is returning to his home community of Harga to take part in their annual midsummer celebrations. This particular iteration of the pagan festival holds special significance in that it features special rituals that only take place once every 90 years and, as the real reasons for Pelle’s enthusiasm at bringing his friends into the fold are slowly revealed, it doesn’t auger well for the interlopers.
Whilst the events that play out as part of the ‘celebrations’ should serve as a warning to the visitors about their fate, Aster seems to be taking aim at the way in which Americans abroad display an arrogant sense of self-importance that prevents them from appreciating any offence they may cause or, as is the case here, makes them unable to identify the fact that they could somehow be in danger, despite the myriad warning signs, with Poulter’s Mark a particularly boorish manifestation of this attitude. This message is rammed home by the fact that British visitors Simon (Archie Madekwe) and Connie (Ellora Torchia) are very quick to realise that something is very wrong and are desperate to depart. Subsequently, when both Christian and Josh decide that the community would serve as an ideal case study for their anthropology studies, their fates are sealed.
So what is Midsommar exactly? Aster has declared that it is a “break-up movie” and that seems a reasonably accurate assessment. It is Dani who is the centre of everything that transpires, even if she doesn’t know it, and Pugh is wonderfully expressive as a young woman plunged into the depths of despair who, through a somewhat bizarre series of events, is able to free herself from the confines of a psychologically toxic relationship. Shot in Hungary, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski captures the blues and greens of the sunlit plain in all its vivid glory, bringing an element of beauty to even the most macabre moments. Always interesting, sometimes confronting, and quite funny at times, Midsommar is a thoroughly enjoyable film in which it is hard to have much sympathy for anybody who meets their demise, whether at their own hand or the whim of others. The final frame delivers a realisation of joyful liberation that sends the audience home safe in the knowledge that everybody gets what they deserve.