Things that made me tense during Midsommar:
- People sitting at a table waiting to eat
- A single pubic hair
- Public urination
- Sex cheerleaders
- Competing thesis projects
Of all the pagan nonsense involved here, writer/director Ari Aster’s ability to summon intense emotion during mundane, well-lit, ostensibly boring sequences has to be the clearest display of old-timey witchery. If Aster’s Hereditary was grief told in the style of The Conjuring, Midsommar is a mystic Swedish Beyoncé video.
With a sophistication that proves he can make a captivating straightforward melodrama anytime he durn well pleases, Aster opens Midsommar on the worst day Dani (Florence Pugh) has ever had. Well, up to that point. Using a prescription bottle’s label as shorthand, we’re told that Dani struggled with anxiety well before a horrific event claims the lives of her whole family. Absolutely smooshed by the unspeakable horror, she seeks comfort in the arms of her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), the single best cinematic villain of 2019.
Christian is, like, super bummed that, like, Dani’s whole family got dead, you know. But also, like, he really still wants to go take shrooms with his buddies on a vacation in Sweden like he planned, right? Christian feels literally just barely enough empathy to convince his buddies—Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter)—to let Dani join them on the trip to see a special ceremony in Pelle’s home town. Lifehack: If you’re ever invited to a small village to observe an ancient traditional rite, stay home and rewatch Wicker Man instead.
Slowly, and we’re talking “Ken Burns slow” here, sinister Swedish suggestions emerge. Isolated from all other civilization, the newcomers find themselves agreeing to take each new baby-step towards the full-blown “nope” that everyone knows is waiting at the top. The glacial pace of the film is inherently part of the terror. As Dani is given nowhere to go but ABBA, audiences too are stuck watching Aster lick to the nightmare at the center of this pagan Tootsie Pop.
The entirety of Midsommar takes place in the daylight, and while calling it “horror” feels wrong, no other label feels right. Ultimately, Aster has simply identified those things that are actually most likely to scare us in real life, things like the death of loved ones and indifferent partners. No matter how many jump scares they press from your chest, you can leave any bogeyman at the theater. You are and always will be forever haunted by the things Aster makes movies about.
And yet, without a single spoiler, Midsommar is ultimately optimistic. Although it acknowledges the absolute hell that comes with realizing you are alone and unloved, it offers a satisfying catharsis. Much of that is due to Pugh’s stunning performance, full of as much tiny nuance as it is blessed by close-up views of her epic pouting face. To be very, very clear: This is not a movie for everyone. Maybe not even for most. But if the stultifying sameness of sequels is really what’s vexing you about what’s in theaters lately, you will not find anything more original than Midsommar.
Grade = A+