Midsommar

Midsommar ★★★★½

4.5/5.0 = Stellar

He actually did it! He put the Nicolas Cage bear costume into his latest pagan nightmare! Ari Aster is the token troll of 2019! And look, though my mileage with such people varies, I appreciate the moxie it takes to put anything this bold on screen. MIDSOMMAR is a mean movie, and looks like no other horror film out there. If it wouldn't be for SUSPIRIA, this would be the wildest horror film I've seen since... well... HEREDITARY I guess (been a solid decade for the genre, let's be honest). As such, I'll keep my thoughts short and precise. Here we go!

Genuinely believe that this improves exponentially the less literally you interpret it. What's great about MIDSOMMAR is that it isn't insisting for you to read into it (*cough Villeneuve's ENEMY cough*), but rather suggesting that if you don't you might not find the actual meat around the skeletal narrative structure. After all, the main reason this film is so tense is because it's so extremely predictable. You know exactly where all of this is going, it's just that you can't look away. So the fact that Aster gives us some meaty thematic depth to latch onto really fortifies the viewing experience. So yes, if you really just see this as a pagan horror film about a girl going through unending trauma while her fuckboy friends idly stand by, then you're not only doing the film a great disservice, you're kind of watching it like an idiot.

My extended reading of MIDSOMMAR is that the film's characters never go to Sweden, never partake in solstice tradition, and never get killed. The film is about a girl (Dani, played exceptionally by Florence Pugh) who, after the murder-suicide of her family, is forced to come to the realization that her useless boyfriend and his self-absorbed friends are of no particular use to her, and that she needs to find her source for life and healing in herself, not in others.

It's a really bitter breakup movie; toxic relationships et al. As such, I really believe that the entire Swedish village is in her head and its residents are different manifestations of her psyche. Hell, she even mentions that she studies psychology! The various scattered paintings in her apartment imply that she is a painter, yet she never paints in the film. But Pele (the only one of her boyfriend’s buddies who she gets along with) does paint, making him the part of her subconcious that’s trying to get her back on track. 

You heard that right, what I'm trying to say is that MIDSOMMAR is just Swedish-horror INSIDE OUT. Each building in the village is a different corner of her mind, with the film's culmination serving as her finding an inner peace after "breaking up" with her boyfriend. Though I'm sure many will watch this and appreciate it as a linear horror film, this is really the only way I can watch it and come out of it feeling truly satisfied with what it's trying to say.

And look, I'd usually be skeptical of such a super abstract interpretation, but lets be real, all the doors are wide fucking open once you realize that the film's core stylistic inspirations are not really THE WICKER MAN, but Jodorowsky's THE HOLY MOUNTAIN — from which the iconography and color palette is basically carbon copied. The whole Sweden / Ingmar Bergman thing, though rather surface level, kind of backs this theory too. What I'm trying to say is this: MIDSOMMAR doesn't want to be taken literally, guys, so stop treating it that way! It's not how you watch David Lynch movies, so why are you doing it with this!?

But if I still haven't really convinced you, let me just focus on one specific character: The disabled boy who acts as the village oracle. By all accounts, he serves no apparent purpose to the plot at large, and since he never interacts with Dani, the only way he can be relevant to the narrative is that he is literally a part of Dani (i.e. if the character has no bearing on the plot he probably has a bearing on the theme). As such I see it as the following: He is representative of Dani's childhood self; an innocent surrogate of her past that she can no longer tap into after her family's unexpected passing. He's the version of her that used to paint and inspire, unclouded by the harsh brutality of the real world.

As such, it makes sense that the first deaths in the village are of elders, who in a nightmare following their cliff-jumping suicide are displayed as Dani's parents (the first deaths in the real world are her parents, so it only makes sense that the elders serve as parallels to that). Since these deaths serve as Dani's initial source of trauma and unease in the village, everything going forward is Dani deciding to untether herself from the things holding her down.

This is best seen when the village women join in unison to cry with her. If emotion is a purely individualistic output, this scene reflects the entire commune robbing Dani of any sense of individuality. But once this scene transitions from disturbing to cathartic, you begin to realize that the communal crying is an external depiction of Dani's mind finding a new sense of realignment. After that, her panic attacks cease to exist, since her anxiety is no longer an anomaly in the village, but a controlled exorcism, allowing her to see more clearly (the flowers growing out of her representing her newfound sense of life) and make the ultimate decision to burn down everything toxic about her past; boyfriend included.

As a European, I can confidently say that Ari Aster is right on the money with his depiction of American paranoia of foreign customs. I don't think any of this is even remotely insulting in its anxiety surrounding cultural practices, because frankly all of its American characters are such ignorant tools (from vaping frat bro to pseudo-intellectual PHD student), and the film mines most all of its comedy from their blissful ignorance and snobby superiority complex.

Yes, you heard that right: this film is really damn funny. Ari Aster really does march to the beat of his own drum here. It's so easy to forget that you're supposed to laugh that he successfully forms his own commune as a result. If you're on board with this shenanigans of gruesome comedy, then you're going to be delighted. Everyone else will probably suffer some form of nausea. HEREDITARY had great bouts of humor in its own right, but MIDSOMMAR is a straight up macabre riot. Seriously, I was hooting and hollering the whole way through. Ari Aster is here to make you uncomfortable, and he knows just what buttons to push.

"But is it better than HEREDITARY?", you may ask. Honestly, screw you for posing that question. Just watch both movies and make up your own mind. Go support horror films like this. They're different and worth our attention. No moment in MIDSOMMAR is as emotionally impactful as the decaptitation scene in HEREDITARY — and its harrowing ensuing minutes of panic and trauma. But then again, nothing in HEREDITARY is as aesthetically precise or generally refined as MIDSOMMAR. In spite of their mastery of tone, neither film really reaches the complete thematic/narrative conclusion that I'd hope for, so yeah, 4.5/5.0 for both of these stellar films!

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