As Summer is coming to an end, I thought it would be apt to write a post on my favourite film of the season. Unsurprisingly enough, it comes in the form of a summertime nightmare with Ari Aster’s second feature Midsommar. Following on from his brilliant debut, Hereditary (2018), Aster has managed to surpass expectations and once again brings us a new and refreshing take on traditional horror. The film follows college student, Dani (Florence Pugh) who joins her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends: Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to Sweden to observe a rare festival among Pelle’s familial commune. Things quickly turn sour as members of the group begin to disappear without a trace. It’s easy enough to expect a film in the same vein as The Wicker Man when introduced to the pagan style life the commune leads in the Swedish woods.
Florence Pugh’s leading turn only helps to further push her presence as an actress to watch. Dani is one of the most complex female characters to arise from modern cinema. We see her shift from the Westernised world that she lives in where there is no hope for her to the cult where she begins to feel belonging. It’s a haunting portrayal of depression and anxiety and is shown in an explicit way that hasn’t been explored before. The events in the film happen due to other’s people actions but they are always directly in relation to Dani and her welfare. Pugh’s acting chops are really highlighted in the dance scene where she becomes so absorbed in the competition that she finds herself speaking Swedish fluently with her competitors. The scene is transformative for Dani as she allows herself to be open to the ceremony and the community.
The supporting cast also knock it out the park with their performances. Will Poulter in particular gives a career best as the ignorant Mark, who literally and figuratively pisses all over the commune’s celebrations. Whereas Dani’s demons are hidden below the surface, the male characters’ flaws are on show for all to see. Whereas Dani is ridiculed for her struggles in US, the tables are turned for the men in the commune as women dominate the landscape. The film’s goriest scenes are mainly at the cost of the ignorant visitors and yet it doesn’t feel like a slasher film. The audience, like the characters, are outsiders but they are invading the ceremony and evoke little sympathy from the audience because of their ignorance and greed. Jack Reynor also excels as Dani’s emotionally distant boyfriend, Chris. He has allowed himself to become so detached to Dani that he acts emotionless and unsympathetic when tragedy strikes at the beginning of the film. He is unwilling to see how wrong he treats her as she struggles to fight for his love and repair things. During the film, we see Christian’s confidence shaken as he becomes targeted by the cult.
As expected, Aster’s script and direction showcase his talent as an original voice in film and his fearless approach to filmmaking. He isn’t afraid to explore taboo subjects or make the audience uncomfortable. One such scene is during an ättestupa ceremony where two elderly people jump from a high cliff. Aster doesn’t allow the camera to turn away as we see the bodies hit the ground. The reactions that Dani and co feel become all the more real because Aster forces the audience to experience it as well. It’s a film that demands the attention in details from its audience. Every aspect of the costumes and set have been well thought out and serve a purpose that pay off later in the film. The use of striking visual sets make it a memorable film and the immaculate beauty of the cult’s village make the strict lifestyle all the more terrifying. I think this film shows a growth in directorial vision from Aster’s standpoint as he really allows the audience to get into Dani’s psyche. The true brilliance of this film is Aster’s ability to contrast Dani’s claustrophobic feelings to the open space that the commune live in so effectively.
Another aspect I loved about the film was the use of costumes. Not only the ethereal and fresh qualities the commune colours have which seem refreshing when we first see the village. The standout costume, however, comes in a brilliant floral creation worn by Dani in the films final scenes. In any other film, it would seem ridiculous but it makes sense in this film. It both stands out and blends in at the same time and plays a big role in the terrifying climatic scene.
If it were up to me, this film would be a safe contender for various mainstream awards but I am aware that it is too violent and “out there” for some. It is not a film for the faint of heart or easily offended. Between the subtle cannibalism, male frontal nudity and graphic sex scenes, this isn’t a comfortable film to watch but that is what makes it such a brilliant piece of cinema.
What did you think of the film? Did you like it as much? What was your film of the summer? Let me know in the comments below!