Reviews

The Brilliant 'Midsommar' Is a Haunting Reflection on Love's Perversity

(IMDB)

Director Ari Aster's uncompromising artistic vision in Midsommar creates a singular viewing experience of horror, beauty, and bafflement.

Midsommar is the kind of movie you excitedly drag your friends to see only to have them revoke your movie-choosing privileges forever. Whereas director Ari Aster's disturbing 2018 debut Hereditary resolved its foreboding family drama in familiar supernatural territory, Midsommar is one long mind-screw.

Four hapless young Americans travel to a remote village in Sweden where they are tormented by the ever-present (midnight) sun, creepy pagan rituals, and enough bad psychedelic trips to send Cheech & Chong into rehab. Aster's uncompromising artistic vision and meticulous attention to detail create a singular viewing experience of horror, humor, tedium, exhilaration, and confusion. In a word, it's brilliant.

Of all humanity's many curiosities and paradoxes, the concept of love is perhaps the most perverse. Investing someone with all of your hopes, dreams, and insecurities is like giving them the key to your soul and trusting them to drive safely. The only thing more reckless than abusing this power is nonchalantly misplacing the key. It's clear from Midsommar that Ari Aster takes great pleasure in dissecting the horrific side of love.

Isabelle Grill as Maja

(IMDB)

For Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), four years of dating has become a slow drift into co-dependence. Christian isn't really a bad guy, he's just a 20-something man-baby who's still unwilling to shoulder adult responsibilities. He wants to break up with Dani, but is content to let her twist in relationship purgatory rather than face the drama. Meanwhile, the psychologically fragile Dani clings to Christian, even as she feels the life-preserver deflating. It's the kind of queasy co-dependence that prolongs doomed relationships and leaves behind a twisted emotional shell that can never fully recover.

After Dani is rocked by a personal tragedy (rendered with breathtaking and wordless efficiency in the film's opening moments), Christian feels duty bound to invite her along on a trip to Sweden with him and his three buddies. There's not much attention paid to Christian's three amigos. We have Josh (William Jackson Harper), who wisely chose a Ph.D. dissertation that requires research in Europe, Mark (Will Poulter), who is the ugly American that makes enemies just by opening his mouth (or peeing on sacred artifacts), and the slightly more compelling Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the Swedish friend who really wants to take them to his remote home village of Hälsingland.

The most compelling character in Midsommar is Hälsingland itself. Using geometrically striking temples and hordes of cavorting villagers dressed in traditional homemade garb, Aster makes this welcoming, wide open space feel suffocating and claustrophobic. The comparisons to pagan-themed films like Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973) are unavoidable; a pre-existing knowledge that Aster uses to build an almost intolerable anticipation for a fiery conclusion. Basically, Halsingland looks like a visual interpretation of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", complete with pipers and May queens.

Photo by Csaba Aknay - © A24 (IMDB)

It's unsurprising to learn that Aster was already researching Midsommar years before he filmed Hereditary. Cinephiles love to shower filmmakers with comparisons to the meticulous auteur Stanley Kubrick; the epic-scale detachment of a Christopher Nolan or the wide-angle mastery of Yorgos Lanthimos, for example. What truly distinguishes Kubrick from other filmmakers is the sheer density of his films. The minutiae of his cinematic canvas, exhaustively researched for years before the cameras even start rolling, creates an overwhelming immersion in every story, no matter how exotic or esoteric. From costumes to set design to the precise detail of every ritualistic dance and ceremony, Midsommar is laden with a Kubrickian dose of place and purpose. You may grow tired of the cavorting and pageantry, but you will never forget it.

And always there is the sun…

The midnight sun of Sweden is a constant companion and tormentor; almost acting as a giant spotlight to keep Dani and Christian from escaping. But even if they could escape, where would they go? They are lost, not only in a foreign wilderness, but in their own insecurities. As the hallucinations and paranoia intensify, each regresses toward the most fundamental manifestation of their insecurity; madness and infantilism. By the time they reach the end of the journey, their fates seem more inevitable than shocking.

But don't worry, there is plenty to shock you in Midsommar. What it lacks in dark shadows and jump scares it more than compensates for with absurdist horror and dread. This is a twisted, surrealistic fairy tale complete with regal carriages and the most psychedelic dance around the maypole ever. Its scares lie deeply embedded in your psyche; the growing awareness that you are helpless to stop the emotional frailty that authors your undoing.

Jack Reynor as Christian and Florence Pugh as Dani

(IMDB)

Indeed, it's this chilling recognition of inescapable fate that shapes both of Aster's films. In Hereditary, it was the specter of mental illness looming over each character's shoulder, while Midsommar uses our inexorable yearning for love and connectedness to chart our doom. This passivity can be difficult to stomach for audiences more accustom to headstrong heroes. In particular, Aster's male leads are thoroughly incapable of comprehending the spiritual terror plaguing their female partners. Aster wallows in the tragic elements of horror, illustrating the ludicrous struggle for free will when the psychological dice were thrown long ago.

It should be obvious that Midsommar is not intended for causal viewing. It's a challenging exercise in patience and self-examination, eager to push your limits with absurdist delights and existential horrors. You might argue that Midsommar needs a little less of the pagan and a little more of the personal during its nearly 2.5 hour running time. It's precisely this emersion into a foreign realm, however, that slowly strips away our prejudices surrounding love and individuality. The lines between connectedness, co-dependence, and cult are terrifyingly imperceptible once ensnared within their boundaries. While its artistic and thematic audacity are undeniable, Midsommar is sure to be one of 2019's most divisive films.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.