Midsommar ★★★★½

In Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin’s Queer Images: A History of Gay and Lesbian Film In America, the writers explore how it was up to queer audiences to gaze at straight cultural artificats through their own lens. Camp, in particular, “was (and still is) a tactic that can be used to deconstruct the heterosexual presumptions of dominant culture.” The book goes on to emphasize that queer audiences have always been fascinated by both horror films and domestic melodramas, works that “officially support the dominant heteronormative social system, but as many critics have noted, [are] structured in such a way as to emphasize the defects that plague that system.” Ari Aster’s Midsommar exists to do just that.

Where Hereditary felt like two souls at odds with each other in one body, Midsommar is a work of cathartic camp, entirely dedicated to the journey that Dani (Florence Pugh) must take towards enlightenment. There’s no second act shift, no lean in to something like how Hereditary had Ann Dowd’s drag-like aping of Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby, but rather a constant presence of off-beat humor mixed into the horror. To cite Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” “Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.”

It’s in a head exploding upon its smashing, the petals of a flower contracting and expanding ad nauseam in a crown, the synchronized moaning and screaming present in a group’s collective consciousness. They’re images that are equally revolting and appealing, depending on the audience member watching and the context they’re being given. The beauty goes hand in hand with the grotesquerie, and the distinct style of Aster’s filmmaking is even noticable in the flowery presentation of decaying bodies (something that calls to mind Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal adaptation, itself a queer and camp series that trades in slow, stylized horror).

And the Hårga, where Midsommar’s characters head to find either peace or death, is a deeply theatrical realm. It’s self-described as “silly” and presented as a place where artifice is an ideal alternative to a world grounded in reality. This notion, in and of itself, is inherently queer and camp, but the way Aster frames the warmth of the Hårga as a stark contrast to the emotional stagnancy of city life and all the grief that comes with it isn’t exactly unique. It’s where his description of Midsommar as “The Wizard of Oz for perverts” proves more apt a descriptor than expected.

Read more on how Midsommar is Queer and Camp at Dim the House Lights

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