Midsommar brightly dances through fields of tulips to create an unsettling depiction of emasculation. “That was a waste of time” muttered the viewers behind me. “What on earth is going on?” laughed the friends in front of me. “That was hilarious!” chuckled the imprudent heterosexual lads as I was walking out. Rather infuriatingly, as with most cases of contemporary filmmaking, I yearned to instantly throw a rebuttal at their faces. “What did you expect?”.
Sure, A24 were excessively marketing this as if it was a mainstream horror, but even from the promotional material you could tell it was a piece of contemporary art. Divisive both in content and in art form. And I couldn’t be any happier with the results. A group of friends, following recent dramatic trauma, travel to Sweden for a festival that occurs nearly every century. However, this festival is managed by a pagan cult who slowly envelop these tourists in a shroud of hallucinogenic transcendence.
With contemporary horror, and folk films in general, I repeatedly blurt out the phrase “you get out what you put in”. If you are close minded, despise ambiguity and are repulsed by a glacial narrative pace, this film is not for you. Midsommar is not a “horror” film intrinsically. Unsettling? Absolutely. But at its Swedish core is a drama depicting the tension of a relationship breakdown. The emotional tonality and instability of the looming presence of frailty with the one you cherish most. The horrific festivities and ceremonious rituals is a tantalising representation of the delirious pain and heightened hallucinatory dementedness that is often evoked in a long lasting relationship. Aster conveys the highs and lows through palpable events that conjure emotional turmoil for the characters. Which brings me to the “style over substance” argument.
Often, as is the case with many ambiguous visions, the story and character development are more transparent than literal. The progression of these friends isn’t necessarily painted in black and white, but watercolour instead. Dani in particular undergoes the most expressive development. Representing a weak and unstable state of mind during her family trauma, only to the increasingly grow stronger as she welcomes resentment and bitterness. Perfectly performed by Pugh who is fast becoming a global sensation. I knew she was one to watch ever since ‘Lady Macbeth’. Her other peers, arguably, garner less screen time and are mere expendable assets to the folk horror vibe that Aster has lovingly shot. And trust me when I say this film is beautiful.
Far too many breathtaking camera angles and one take sequences that left me picking my jaw up off the floor. It’s not often an unsettling film such as this is entirely shot in broad daylight and still produce the same effect. Just awe-inspiring, and Aster continues to be a talent to watch blossom. His ability to allow multiple interpretations exhume from the same story is effortless. A colossal amount of allegories and depictions, ranging from: spirituality, religion, matriarchal cultism, modernisation and emasculation.
The final scene, being one of the most provocatively artistic moments in the film, resembling the interconnectedness of community and family. A theme explored heavily in Aster’s previous directorial efforts, ‘Hereditary’. And in some ways, this is a companion piece to that. Which brings me to the same criticism that I had with ‘Hereditary’. Aster is simply unable to satisfyingly produce a third act that seemingly keeps in tone with the preceding plot. Less is more. Unfortunately, the shock value ramps up rapidly without much development and fails to resonate with me personally. The psychedelic visuals and bloody rituals accelerate faster than a flower blooming, and just loses its grip.
Can I recommend this film? Of course I can. Will I recommend this film? No. This is a divisive film that, whilst open to interpretation, is a film you need to want to watch. It’s contemporary filmmaking at its best, that just loses its folkish edge towards its climax.