Writer/director Ari Aster really f-cked us up last year with his feature film debut, Hereditary. He’s back this year with his sophomore effort, Midsommar, a daytime nightmare about toxic relationships and the horror of white male mediocrity. Here’s the deal—Midsommar is not as traumatically frightening as Hereditary. I love that movie, but I NEVER want to see it again. Midsommar is completely f-cked up, deeply upsetting, and deliberately shocking, but I will happily watch it again and again, gleefully picking apart the imagery and scanning each frame for maximum detail. This is a film that deals in myth and it is loaded with symbols and symbolism, and Midsommar deserves to be appreciated for how thoroughly soaked in its own brand of batsh-t Paganism it is. I f-cking love this movie, you guys. Forget (500) Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, THIS is the best break-up movie in the entire whole ass world. A bunch of you will disagree and I don’t care, Midsommar is straight-up magic film juice and I am mainlining it.
It opens, naturally, with horrifying human tragedy. If Ari Aster has a love language, it’s grief screams. And Florence Pugh delivers a howling wail to rival anything Toni Collete did in Hereditary. It’s not a competition, they’re both allowed to be extraordinary, but in case you’re wondering if Aster can repeat the nerve-shattering emotions of Hereditary, the answer is “yes”, and also “brace yourself”. Pugh plays Dani, a graduate student dating the world’s most mediocre white man, Christian (Jack Reynor, and yes, there is definitely something to his character being named “Christian”). Christian is the kind of loser scrub we all dated in our twenties—he’s committed but not really, just aware enough to know that dumping Dani might cost him something he “might not be able to get back”. Instead of doing the emotionally honest thing, Christian is still just f-cking loser enough to hem and haw his way through their relationship, keeping Dani in a kind of emotional anxiety trap as she constantly contorts herself, even in the depths of her own crippling grief, to appease her dumbass loser deadweight boyfriend that you will immediately loathe on contact.
This is the main way Midsommar differs from Hereditary. In Hereditary, we are trapped in a nightmare family’s worst moment with no way to escape their seething despair, but Midsommar essentially assigns “teams” for the audience. There is Team Dani, and then there is Team F-cking Loser Boys. No one is on Team F-cking Loser Boys, which makes the emotional balance of Midsommar a lot easier to tolerate. Yes, there is a lot of really f-cked up sh-t going on, but being on Team Dani makes it easier to get through because you can’t help but wonder when the f-cked up sh-t is going to start pointing in the direction of Team F-cking Loser Boys. The f-cked up sh-t is cathartic, you guys.
Dani goes along with Christian and his worthless f-cking friends to a midsummer festival in Sweden, home of Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who grew up in a Scandi hippie commune. Also on the trip are Josh (William Jackson Harper, aka Chidi from The Good Place), who is doing his anthropology thesis on midsummer rituals, and Mark (Will Poulter), Christian’s absolute WORST friend. The thing about Team F-cking Loser Boys is how clearly you recognize them, particularly Christian and Mark. They’re almost parodies, they’re so clearly and sharply drawn. Christian is half-assing his way through everything, assuming his right to be everywhere and do whatever the f-ck he wants because hey, he’s not a bad guy. And Mark is a crass American tourist and complete monster who can’t cut Dani a break even when she is clearly wrecked with grief. At least Josh, and particularly Pelle, have some sympathy for her. Mark is just an overflowing garbage can of a human being.
Once ensconced in Pelle’s home commune, things start to get weird immediately, and just buckle the f-ck up because though the pace is languorous, the batsh-ttery does not slow down. Midsommar is a horror because I don’t know what else to call it, but it isn’t a film that is necessarily out to scare the audience. It’s just deeply weird, VERY upsetting, and guaranteed to sear many a disturbing image into brains. And it all happens in bright, beautiful sunlight, in the land of the midnight sun. Midsommar is a complete trip, swinging from stark human drama to total surrealism, with plenty of gruesome and bizarre sights in between. Florence Pugh is extraordinary, and Aster’s direction is flawless. This is a film meant to be examined from every angle, but first you just have to let it wash over you like a weird, violent waterfall. Sit back, take it all in, root for Team Dani, and enjoy the festival of f-cked that is Midsommar.