Midsommar is the antidote for “spooky house syndrome“. If there is a more idyllic horror movie, I don’t know of it. This slow burn pagan horror film will stick with you and give you plenty to talk about afterwards. It certainly gave us a lot to talk about. This episode of Horror Movie Talk comes in at just over two hours.
- Skip to Intro – 0:42
- Skip to Trailer – 5:46
- Skip to Synopsis – 8:17
- Skip to Review – 9:59
- Skip to Patreon Exclusive Content Sample – 20:03
- Skip to Score – 20:03
- Skip to Spoilers – 26:46
- Skip to Final Recommendations – 1:37:16
- Skip to Taglines – 1:42:22
- Skip to Attack of the Rotten Tomatoes – 1:47:49
- Skip to It Came from Social Media – 1:56:33
- Skip to Outro – 2:01:42
Midsommar can be found in theaters now.
Writer/Director Ari Aster has followed up his dark drama-filled cult-based horror movie with this bright drama-filler cult-based horror movie. Midsommar stars Florence Pugh who plays Dani, an anxious young woman who experiences a horrible family tragedy, and then accompanies her boyfriend and anthropology doctoral student Christian (Jack Reynor) on a trip to Sweden to experience a traditional summer festival of a certain rural commune. Christian and his friends Josh and Mark were invited on the trip by their friend and classmate, Pelle who grew up in the small Swedish commune. Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian has been planning to break up with her for a while, and unbeknownst to everyone but Pelle, the once in a lifetime midsommar festival is actually a vicious pagan cult ritual.
My Review of Midsommar
Midsommar was everything I wanted it to be, and I had high expectations. It’s a breath of fresh air in the horror genre, and like Hereditary, takes a lot of concepts from older horror movies and melds them to create a new and compelling story for today. Ari Aster’s strength is his focus on character and relationship drama, and the characters and relationships in this movie are very familiar and believable. They serve to ground the horror elements so that they also seem very real. The bright and idyllic setting of the movie does a lot to mask and inoculate the viewer to the horrific rituals that occur in the festival. Also, the framing of the events as a rare and sacred cultural event, along with the generous drug usage creates a logical reason for why the American characters are slow to react to the more extreme elements of the festival.
It’s a slow burn, and while there are horrific and surprising scenes, they are intentionally dampened with the over saturated visuals and muted sound design. The tension and anxiety that I felt ramped up very slowly throughout the movie, to where I didn’t realize how much I was being affected. Towards the end I was on the edge of my seat with a lot of nervous energy watching the inevitable and dreadful fate of the American party.
Score for Midsommar
Expand for Spoilers and Deeper Discussion…
The opening act of Midsommar
The film’s opening act is really about setting up the relationship between Dani and Christian. Dani is very needy and has a lot of family drama so she leans on Christian very heavily. Christian isn’t as self sacrificing and long-suffering as he portrays to Dani, and is actually working up the courage to finally break up. Ari Aster has described this movie as a “break up movie”. So it’s very important to frame this relationship early on.
The latest scare for Dani is that her sister isn’t returning her emails, and after she calls and and expresses her worry to Christian, he (after the call) commiserates with his buddies, and they encourage him to finally break it off.
Well, Dani’s fears become very real when it is revealed that her sister poisoned herself and her parents with carbon monoxide in an apparent murder suicide. Cut to shot of Dani screaming in utter dispair, ala Hereditary. Obviously not the best time to break up.
Dani is Invited
Christian finds himself in a tough spot when Dani finds out about a long trip to Sweden that he is taking with his college friends in the coming week. Dani and Christian get into a super believable argument, and Dani ends up being invited on the trip.
Christian’s friends all seem to be studying anthropology and specifically rural pagan festivals. One of the friends, Pelle, came from a rural village in Sweden and he invited them all to a once in a lifetime midsommar festival. He describes it as a “nine day festival with lots of pageantry“.
Traveling to the Midsommar Festival
The trip to the midsommar festival features a lot of great shots by Aster. These include a great transition between an apartment bathroom and an airplane bathroom, and an homage to The Shining‘s opening sequence driving through the woods.
Once they arrive at a field outside the entrance to the festival, they are given psychedelic mushrooms, and there are some trippy visual effects. As foreshadowing, Dani doesn’t want to take the drugs yet, but gives in to peer pressure. Both Dani and Mark have really bad trips.
When they enter the village (festival grounds?), they are greeted with the warmest, friendliest Swedes in existence.
They are introduced to the villagers that describe the festival as happening every 90 years. We are given small hints that there is more to the festival than just singing, dancing, and drinking. There are many tapestries and drawings throughout the buildings that show depictions of ancient blood rituals.
There is one particular yellow house that is described as a sacred temple that no one is allowed to enter.
The First Big Ritual: Ättestupa
The first time we really see confirmation that this festival involves human sacrifice, is at the Ättestupa.
Everyone waits at a rune shaped table for an older couple to arrive so that they can eat. The older couple is then transported on carried chairs to a large cliff. Down below the villagers and tourists look up.
After the old people’s hands are cut, their blood are smeared on some runes on a rock.
Then the couple both freely throw themselves off the cliff to kill themselves with varying levels of success. Luckily, there is an alternate plan for the old man that doesn’t die on impact.
The over-exposed filmwork and the muted sound design are an attempt to numb the impact of these deaths for the audience, but it’s impossible not to be affected by the imagery nonetheless.
The reactions to the ritual are mixed. The anthropology students are intrigued, Dani is horrified and wants to leave, and the English couple is angry and wants to leave as well.
Using Cultural Differences as a Source of Dread
The real source of dread for this movie is from the feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land. It puts you in a weird relativistic mindset where you aren’t sure what to think about what you are witnessing. Both the characters in the film and the audience watching it are experiencing the same thing.
The real danger is getting lulled into the idea that the things you are seeing aren’t actually horrific, they are just related to an alternate worldview and moral framework that is just as valid as yours.
The Symbolism in Midsommar
Throughout the film, Josh and others are learning a lot about the symbolism and meaning behind the rites of the festival.
Josh learns from an Elder that in their sacred books, they write a type of “emotional sheet music” from nine symbols that represent the nine different emotional states. These symbols are decided by the oracle that dictates them.
In this case, the oracle is named Ruben. Ruben is severely retarded from intentional inbreeding. You read that right. They intentionally inbreed an oracle, because then, they will be “untainted by normal cognition”.
The Ending of Midsommar
Person by person, all the foreigners in the group mysteriously disappear and Dani and Christian are the last outsiders left.
Christian is tempted into having sex with a sexy sexy redheaded swede.
Dani is pulled into the dance competition and eventually is crowned the May Queen. After which, she discovers Christian’s infidelity by peering through Sweden’s largest keyhole.
The film ends with all of the horrific murders being revealed and the explanation that the village needs 9 people to sacrifice in the culmination of the festival. All but three are accounted for.
Two Swedes volunteer for the honor, and the last soul is decided by what can be described as a sacrificial powerball, and then finally by the May Queen herself, Dani.
Dani is given the choice between sacrificing Christian or sacrificing another villager.
She chooses Christian.
Christian is then sewed up into a bear suit, and propped up inside the temple along with (in varying levels of decomposition) Mark, Josh, the English couple, the two elderly villagers, and the two volunteers.
The temple is then burned, and the last shot is Dani cracking a smile.
Who Would Like Midsommar?
There are definitely people that won’t like this movie. It won’t satisfy horror purists with it’s toned down gore.
However, if you like realistic interpersonal drama set in a compelling and fascinatingly dreadful situation, you should enjoy this film quite a bit.
It is a singularly unique film despite it’s quotations from and homages to other horror films in the pagan horror subgenre. Much like Hereditary in 2018, you’ll be hard pressed to find a horror film of similar quality and vision this year.
Ari Aster is the film auteur to keep an eye on.
It Came From Social Media
We were lucky enough to watch Midsommar with the cult! Ok, it may have been more of a group of friends who bake and prepare delicious food who happen to enjoy top tier horror, but who the heck can tell? Check out some of the pics that we got from them! Follow them on the Instagram @awkwardasshole and @kret2! Thanks cultists!