Midsommar ★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Oof. Started out hopeful on this! Aster is talented at sculpting tone and writing characters with interestingly distinct and conflicting traits. Midsommar begins by feeling out these foundational details through genuinely strong performances, even in moments of wordless tension. The Bergman comparisons are warranted here, I suppose, but replicating tone doesn’t mean creating insight. 

Our starting point: Dani has experienced intense loss. She looks to her boyfriend, someone who’s supposed to love her, for support. The guy’s a shitty partner: inattentive, uncaring, self-centered. She keeps trying to give him a chance anyway, because she cares, she’s most comfortable being open with him, and the stable, existing social outlet for emotional release is often the easiest one.

After we learn this, Aster goes on using his melding of dialogic tension and perspective-immersing shots to repeat the same information, but increasingly more loudly and grotesquely. (This is where horror aesthetics come in handy!) The film eventually boils over in a climax that’s ready-made for a sort of emotional catharsis — a coming to terms with trauma, a washing out of unhealthy coping mechanisms, a joining with the crowd in screaming “JUST DUMP HIM”. 

But why and how did we get there? If Aster is using horror in his drama to externalize processes of grief, examining struggles to accept or to toss away what we can’t, he doesn’t seem to be doing it with much of a purpose beyond recreating the visceral feelings of disorientation those processes breed. The pagan culture depicted here, its symbols, its traditions, all of its own violence and hierarchy, are a consistent and mostly empty vehicle for our immersion in the feeling. Yet, we spend much of our time talking about the grisly details: inbreeding and eugenics, suicide rituals, drugs used to ‘open you to suggestion’. 

We eventually arrive at the conclusion that it’s sometimes necessary to burn it all down and start over even when it feels foreign or ‘taboo’ to us, because we see Dani smiling in the face of all of this messed up shit she's been indoctrinated to welcome as a path out. Aster has to force us to feel this shift then and there, how would we know otherwise? His characters no longer have agency; they’ve been drugged and dragged through their experience for tonal effect. We don’t get this resolution through their development; the narrative used to keep us feeling it actively works against the characters’ ability to do any of that. We also hardly touch on the masculine emotional removal that’s briefly shown to be fueling the men here, and therefore the toxic relationship. It doesn’t matter, though. The journey wasn’t the content, we have the final images to inform us of that.

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