Midsommar – no cure for the sommar time blues

If you’re wondering whether or not writer/director Ari Aster has been able to live up to the buzz he created with his first film, let’s just get it out of the way right now and say that he absolutely has with Midsommar.

Pagan mural from the film Midsommare featuring women dancing around the maypole.

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If you’re unfamiliar with Aster’s work do yourself a favour and go and watch Hereditary, right now. There has not been a more impressive directorial debut, in this reviewer’s opinion, since Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina. It’s studio A24’s highest grossing release and the fact that it wasn’t recognised by the pelicans who hand out the oscars—particularly Toni Collette who should have won best actor but wasn’t even nominated—is a fucking travesty.

Another travesty is that for some bullshit reason we haven’t been able to see Midsommar in Australia until a month after it was released in the States, hence this untimely review. Also, due to the hard R rating in Australia, it’s only showing in select cinemas. Apparently the high impact violence, drug use, sex and nudity is too much for Australian censors so much like Mandy or Lords of Chaos we have to contend with a limited release.

Again, total bullshit. Instead they prefer you line up for another Fast and Furious movie or something to that effect. I don’t know about you but I’d rather shit in my hands and clap!

The real Midsummer

The real Midsummer festival is the second most important holiday of the year in Sweden. Only Christmas gets a higher billing.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing like the movie and the Swedes aren’t a bunch of crazy cultists ready to fuck you up if you stumble into their celebrations. Instead, they take a day off work, eat a bunch of food and (if they’re feeling a bit loose) they might dance around the maypole and have a snooze later in the day. Also, while it may have had some roots in pre Christian times as a celebration of the solstice, the modern version of Midsummer was actually developed from a Christian Holiday for John the Baptist.

A24 knew they were on a good thing with Aster and put him back to work on Midsommar at lighting pace. In fact, a week before Hereditary was even in theatres Aster was out in Hungary preparing to build the Swedish commune set for Midsommar. In making these movies so close together there are some really obvious similarities in style and to a degree the stories. Even so Midsommar is an entirely unique and exhausting experience.

Exhausting not from the point of view that it appears rushed in any way (in spite of Aster’s gruelling production schedule) more that he’s done it again. Setting the audience up with a slow burn plot that tears them down incrementally in the first and second acts and then levels them completely by the shocking final.

This is no popcorn film, and it takes a some time to adjust to that when you’re sitting there taking it all in.

Is it a horror movie? No and to pigeon hole it does it no justice.

It plays out more like a psychedelic, cult melodramatic thriller. It shares some common themes with Hereditary of loss, trauma, grief and family but goes a little deeper by exploring the character’s desire to get out of their own head and move back into some kind of normality following that loss. Unfortunately there’s nothing normal about a bunch of students getting fucked up on magic mushrooms in the middle of the Swedish summer where the sun is still up at midnight.

Aster himself actually describes it as a breakup film, so let’s go with that.

The story

The story revolves around the relationship of Dani and Christian, who seem to have had more ups than downs in recent times. Both are university students, Dani doesn’t have many other people in her life whereas Christian has mates and seems to struggle to maintain a balance between his relationship with Dani and the boys. It’s not helped by the fact that Christian’s friends don’t really like Dani that much.

Christian hopes to turn his relation ship with Dani around by taking her on a trip with his buddies to Sweden for a once in a lifetime experience attending a small midsummer festival. It all seems perfect but as you would expect things take a turn for the worse when they discover that the festival involves some pretty crazy rituals and even crazier drugs. Kind of like Coachella but with less celebrity selfies and more inbreeding.

The cast

The cast include Jack Reynor as Christian, who you may recognise from Netflix’s Kin or the critically acclaimed Glassland, he looks like what would happen if Chris Pratt and Seth Rogan had a baby. William Jackson Harper as Josh the nerd, you might remember him as Chidi from The Good Place. Will Poulter, who showed up recently in Black Mirror Bandersnatch plays Mark, the jerk. And Florence Pugh take centre stage as Dani, she was awesome as Paige in Fighting With My Family and is a great up and coming actor. This is a break out role for her.

The verdict

There’s so much to this movie it’s hard to capture everything in a spoiler free review. The setup and opening scenes are very different from the rest of the film and it almost feels like two seperate stories.

The director places the audience in this beautiful comfortable space and then be hammers them with really shocking events. The added psychedelic effects he’s used to simulate the sensation of tripping on mushrooms are the most accurate ever committed to film. The soundtrack by Bobby Krlic is perfect. The choreography among the extras is sublime. The practical effects are fantastic, and will make your stomach churn.

Everything about this movie is deliberate and hyper-stylised.

You’ll be reminded of films like The Shining—with some of the cinematography paying homage to Kubrick’s style—The Wickerman—with cult iconography and dancing vestal virgins in white flowing dresses—and even The Wizard of Oz—with Dani as this Dorothy character and her boyfriend the heartless tin man, the brainless scarecrow and the cowardly lion all rolled into one.

Aster though, has a style all of his own and it’s great to see a new director pay homage while delivering something so fresh and different. He’s two for two on this one.

Midsommar is rich with symbolism, riddled with clues that allude to its gripping conclusion and an utterly mesmerising experience for cinema goers. It is so refreshing to be challenged by a film to the point where it pulls you so much it almost feels interactive. It’s not going to do much for Swedish tourism though.


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