Midsommar ★★★★½

Ari Aster comes hurtling back onto the horror scene— merely a year after Hereditary— with Midsommar, a flowery concoction of a film, which is somehow darkly (err… brightly?) hilarious, trippy, traumatizing and disturbing all at the same time.

It's unease builds like a slow unfurling of petals, and by the conclusion, something entirely sizzling and jaw-dropping has come into full bloom. What immediately sets Midsommar apart is its strangely delicate way of smashing different tones together. It has this added level of horror in the realization that the Swedish Hårga family don't feel any horror... in fact, to them all this is simply joyous. They-- and the film itself itself-- avoid shying away from these disturbing events, and in this way, trauma is literally and figuratively brought out into the light. That's why the light is dangerous: it doesn't even feel the need to hide or conceal. It's bold, forthright, causal, nonchalant. Normalized. And, worse than that: you can't hide in the light... not from the people around you, and certainly not from yourself. In the dark, the winter, things freeze over and you can hide your grief away from yourself, tuck it into a shadowy corner. But in the light, in summer... you must confront that grief, draw it up to the surface to burn it away.

Having these horrendous rituals normalized in this commune's culture at first seems utterly backwards and detrimental. Yet, in the context of a different environment, there's a strange way it could actually be helpful. At the beginning of the film, Dani is anxious about overburdening her boyfriend by leaning on him too much. This results in her expelling her grief, rendering it abnormal and undesirable. And because of this distinct status, she doesn't deal with the emotion, letting it fester and grow. But in the Swedish camp, everything is communal-- even emotions. Grief is distributed, expressed, normalized, and so is more able to be dealt with.

Grief itself is a central theme of the film-- specifically in the way that the supporting characters represent different reactions to it. One can laugh at it (Mark), ignore it (Christian), study it (Josh), or push it down and internalize it (Dani). However, these reactions also brilliantly align with an audience's reactions to horror films in general. Some try to defuse the scares with laughter, some ignore it or tune out, and others try to intellectually rationalize it. Midsommar deftly disarms these defence mechanisms. It deliberately leans into its own ridiculousness; laughter has no effect. It's too disturbing and messed up to completely ignore. And its too irrational and illogical to study or understand. So-- the film pushes its audience to the final alternative, what Dani herself embraces: sheer immersion and envelopment in a foreign environment, whatever the result may be.

However, this leads me to one minor point of criticism: sometimes the characters felt too much like an embodiment of their own niche reactions. At times their individual characterization was sacrificed in service of balancing the varied tone of the film. The character arcs of the supporting cast were not nearly as powerful as the protagonist's emotional journey. Which, to an extent, I think is the point-- the film is first and foremost Dani's experience. But it does try to extend itself, with a varying degree of success, to the others in the group.

Speaking of which, Florence Pugh is simply astounding in the central role. Her performance is raw, powerful, and captivating. And, as a whole, the film is just as captivating on a technical level, with numerous shots that left me baffled at how well they were pulled off. Midsommar definitely asserts Ari Aster as a force to be reckoned with.

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