Ari Aster’s second film is nothing short of spectacular. It is a sun-drenched terror.
It’s hard to imagine a film that is more unsettling than Aster’s first film, Hereditary. And, yet, he’s achieved that with his sophomore picture. At face value, Midsommar is a film about a group of friends’ who travel to Sweden to take part in a nine-day cultural festival, at the request of their friend Pelle. The festival starts out normal enough, but quickly becomes sinister and violent. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll see a film about commitment, community, and family. The truly terrifying thing about Midsommar is that it’s underlying message about having somebody, having a community of people that are there for support, isn’t a bad message. It’s Aster’s way of showing us this that is truly unique, albeit horrifying.
Much like with Hereditary, I found myself tense for nearly the entire film. My legs physically hurt as I was exciting the theater because I had been unconsciously tightening them. Midsommar is not a horror film in the usual sense. Aster’s writing taps into the audience on a deep level. Combine that with his geometric imagery and distorting camera angles, and you have a film that leaves you on the edge of your seat, but you have no idea why or how.
Imagery is Aster’s strength. He knows how to photograph scenes in a way that unsettles the audience. Take for instance the event that opens the film; it was shocking on its own, but to add the visuals that he did created a whole other layer entirely. That unsettling imagery continues throughout the entire film. My favorite creative use of the camera was the sequence when entering Harga. Having the camera shoot everything upside down created a sense of distortion, giving the audience a glimpse of the feelings that were about to overcome the characters.
Constantly blurred were the lines between reality and drug-induced perception, not just for the characters themselves, but for the audience as well. That visually connected the audience to the characters, creating that same tense feeling in both.
What is so impressive to me about Ari Aster as a writer and director is that he is able to terrify the viewer in ways that aren’t seen in horror films these days. There are no jump scares. There are no ghosts. There are no demons. He uses the human psyche against the viewer. It is incredible.
I can easily see how this film isn’t for everybody. If you didn’t like Hereditary and the story telling style, then chances are Midsommar is not for you. However, if you enjoyed Hereditary and found it horrifying on a whole other level, then this film will leave you feeling the same way. And, yet, you may find yourself leaving the theater oddly comforted for our main character and excited to see what Ari Aster does next.