Rating: 4.5 out of 5
As the year comes to a close, many movie lovers are putting together their best-of-the-year movie lists, and A24’s “Midsommar,” directed by Ari Aster, is likely to make many of them. Aster received considerable acclaim for his 2018 film “Hereditary,” his full-length directorial debut. “Midsommar,” his second film, is another hit and demonstrates that Aster is making a good case for himself as one of the premiere horror film directors, releasing strange, uncomfortable films that depict complicated characters and offer interesting social commentary.
“Midsommar,” for all its frights, might fall more squarely into the thriller genre than conventional horror, opting for a psychologically effective narrative instead of a visually frightening narrative. The movie’s narrative centers on Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a college student whose sister and parents all die within the first few scenes of the movie. What follows is her unexpected trip with her boyfriend and his friends to a festival called “Midsommar,” which takes place at a commune named the Harga, in Sweden, which celebrates the human connection with nature.
One of the most important dynamics in the movie is the relationship between Dani and her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). After dating in college for a couple of years, by the time of the movie, they are both grad students and their relationship appears to be on the rocks. Christian, due to his considerable apathy and indecisiveness around the relationship, appears to be the one causing most of the issues. Christian’s grad school friends are also pretty irksome as they try to encourage Christian to find another girl; they also communicate the Midsommar Festival will be about partying and sex.
Though Christian has been planning this trip to Sweden with his friends for months, he doesn’t tell Dani about it until a week or so before. He invites her almost gratuitously, expecting she will just say no. But she doesn’t reject the invitation and instead has the best experience at the commune out of all of them.
“Midsommar’s” depiction of relationship trouble is evidence of the fact that the movie is great at mixing genres, and some reviewers have even considered the film to be a kind of hybrid break-up film. Given that the movie is billed as a horror film, it should be apparent that things at the commune take some pretty freakish turns. An interesting aspect of the commune is the understanding of the bond between the human and the non-human world. The people at Harga are very interested in ideas of oneness, demonstrated by their group interest in raising children. Life at the commune is all about community, but when Dani and the students witness some concerning displays of the commune’s values, their way of life becomes a lot less appealing.
Being able to make strange and complex themes engaging and provoking is a testament to Aster and the film itself. The commune is weird and the ending is strange but, given the circumstances, desperate times call for desperate measures. Look out for more bizarre and extraordinary films like “Midsommar” from Ari Aster in the future.