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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Film Review: Midsommar (2019)

Updated: Dec 17, 2019



The second feature film from budding auteur Ari Aster builds on what made his debut so powerful, exploring the theme of natural cycles in bright tones and sun-soaked dread…


Midsommar begins amid the wild and bitter cold of an American winter, during which the protagonist, college student Dani, discovers that her parents and sister have committed suicide together, leaving her alone.


Bereft and traumatised, Dani is consoled by her cowardly boyfriend Christian, a man who wants to break up with her but feels like he can’t. Christian’s friends hate Dani, want him to dump her, and are planning a kind of lads’ tour to Sweden where their friend Pelle, an exchange student, has invited them to a festival in the isolated religious community that he calls home.


While well shot, this all marks a slightly knotty start to Midsommar, with Christian, unable to be honest, inviting Dani along on the jaunt to Europe. Thankfully, once the setup is passed the film takes audiences on a singular journey – from unholy urban darkness into a land of revelatory, technicolor light where Dani is invited to belong to a very different kind of family…


Featuring a cast of relative unknowns, including rising star Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King, Fighting with My Family) as Dani, alongside Jack Raynor (best known for playing the lead in the CBS drama series Strange Angel) as Christian and William Jackson Harper (who plays Chidi in hit NBC sitcom The Good Place), Midsommar is one of those movies that was only ever destined for niche audience.


It is a folk horror for one - a small and rather cultic genre.


Although pioneering folk horror films such as 1968’s The Witchfinder General, 1971’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and 1973’s The Wicker Man are movies with enviable reputations, they are by no means as watched or as popular as many films from horror cinema’s most reliable cash cows, the possession, monster and slasher genres.


It seems fitting though, in our tech-obsessed times, that a new generation of filmmakers is looking return to nature and plough fertile furrows lately gone to seed.


This new wave of critically acclaimed, deeply unsettling folk horror films includes Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013), Robert Egger’s The Witch (2015) and Gareth Evan’s Apostle (2018), and if you have seen any of those movies then you will know the language Midsommar is speaking; cycles of fertility, growth and death, ritual, celebration and sacrifice.


I ought to disclose that writer/director Ari Aster’s first film, Hereditary, was my favourite movie of 2018. While I understand that Hereditary is not a film for everyone, it was, in every sense, a film for me.


In that movie, Aster played with the possession genre, toying with iconography from The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist and more, and the film was a thumping commercial success, earning almost $80M from a $10M budget.


Impeccably crafted, with tour de force performances from its ensemble cast, led with style and aplomb by the always incredible Toni Colette, Hereditary was one of those horror movies made for cinefiles and horror fans. It had clear movements, featured impeccable levels of detail, and was consciously and cleverly structured, rewarding viewers who really paid attention.



Swap Colette for Pugh and many of the same descriptions could be applied to Midsommar – although the latter film’s mere $35M in box office takings probably reflects the relative popularity of the film’s subject matter.


There are many things that Hereditary and Midsommar have in common, especially in terms of their themes and motifs, and the interrelatedness of the movies might all be a bit too clever for the average punter.


Indeed, Hereditary received mixed reviews, not least because the end of the film left some viewers feeling as if its conclusion came from left field.


For me, that conclusion made sense – it was the natural culmination of supernatural mystery which began to unfold from the film’s opening frames.


Moreover, it opened a tantalising door through which Midsommar has danced, clad in immaculately embroidered sverigedräkten, into the light.


To be more specific, my thoughts at the end of Hereditary were that Aster was setting up a franchise of sorts. Not one as trite or clumsy as Warner Bros’ phenomenally popular ‘Conjuring Universe’, but something more akin to Tarantino’s interconnected world of Vega brothers, Big Kahuna Burgers and Red Apple cigarettes.



It is fair to say then, based on these two films, that Aster has a milieu. He is a budding auteur interested in families and the Jungian journeys women take from maiden to mother to crone.

That is not to say that men do not have a place in his cinematic world – they clearly rule it – but his hostility towards modern masculinity is refreshing, satirical and hardnosed.


All of this might sound a little highfalutin, and that is probably because it is. It may be that Midsommar works for the Average Joes (or Janes) looking for simple thrills in their movies, but I think Aster is probably making pictures specifically for those seeking something a little beyond the fringes.


Indeed, I might strongly argue that Midsommar is not really a horror movie at all. Certainly is features a few moments of very graphic violence, but it has as much in common with something like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village as it does with your average quote-unquote ‘horror’ film.

Personally, I adored it. I thought Pugh was fantastic, that the production design was flawless, and that although the movie took about 40 minutes to really find its groove from then on the rest of the runtime was used impeccably.


Unfortunately, the film only received a limited cinematic release in the UK, and it has likely already disappeared from cinemas near you, but it will be available on DVD and streaming services from October.


By then the sun will likely have disappeared, but perhaps that will make a visit to the endless glow of Hälsingland all the more appealing.


Certainly, if you enjoy folk horror or are seeking a movie unlike anything you have seen for a while then I would heartily recommend taking the trip…

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