“Do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”
Romantic investment existing in films that otherwise shouldn’t require the element of romance almost never goes down well. Take it from Ari Aster, who, while writing his incredible sophomore outing Midsommar, was going through a painful breakup at the time. As much as audiences would hope that the writer/director of a particular film could ignore reality to craft a terrifying, fictional story, it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. Fortunately, this was very much for the better, as Aster proves that the most horrifying thing one can be a part of is not a murderous, Swedish cult, but rather a toxic relationship.
Dani (Florence Pugh) and her long-time boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) have been together for almost four years and while their relationship has more downs than ups, a sudden personal tragedy brings them closer together. When Christian and his college friends Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Mark (Will Poulter) decide to visit Pelle’s hometown in Sweden, Dani tags along in order to prove that she can be a fun, dedicated girlfriend. The more time that they spend there, however, peculiar things begin to unravel and Dani realizes that this brightly-lit and unsettling rural community is not entirely as it seems.
Start watching a typical horror film released in the past few decades and one can easily find a plethora of zombies, demonic possessions, and psychological terrors. Rarely have any horror films tackled perhaps the greatest evil of all: ill romance. Amongst other themes in Midsommar such as the value of trust and processing grief, romance emerges as these characters’ biggest downfalls. The introspective way that Aster explores Dani and Christian’s relationship and everything wrong with it is fascinating. Even though he might not and should not be a relationship counselor, Aster provides the audience with so much context about their troubled past and subtly reveals how manipulative and careless Christian truly is. The scariest element of this movie is definitely not the eerie cult that begins to sacrifice their guests, but the fact that a romantic relationship can cause someone so much unbridled suffering.
This past Labor Day weekend, A24 released the nearly 3-hour long Director’s Cut of Midsommar that added even more depth to these two and their tumultuous predicament. Aster is able to effectively turn the terror of the theatrical cut’s ambiguity to a more detailed realism. While neither version is necessarily better than the other, they are both very representative of how painful the long process of a breakup can be. This aspect of Aster’s script gives Dani so much more characterization, as her development throughout the movie is captivating to watch. The intense, emotional catharsis that she experiences in the third act will go down in recent film history as absolutely iconic and ultimately powerful. Although the ending of Midsommar might have been a bit predictable, it was so interesting to see Dani change and realize how much safer she was being the queen of a cult rather than being emotionally trapped in her relationship with Christian.
Along with the compelling narrative that Aster tells, the stylistic choices that were chosen make Midsommar an immaculately crafted film. From his direction to Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography to Lucian Johnston’s editing, the way that this story is told is downright mesmerizing. Aster has become one of the most clever and original horror filmmakers of today and just like his 2018 debut of Hereditary, Midsommar is able to establish an uneasy and intensely fidgety environment for his characters to play in. While most throwaway horror movies utilize the hiddenness of the dark and the spooky things that might live in it, Aster relishes in the blinding daylight of this Swedish community. This in itself is terrifying and only adds to the creeping discomfort of the film since audiences do not know where the next looming danger lies, even though it might be right in front of them.
Ari Aster has once again made a remarkable horror film with Midsommar, bringing in elements of storytelling that would not typically be seen in this genre. With the amazing performances from Pugh and the rest of the cast, these characters are efficiently able to show how changing yourself for love is the most dangerous thing one can do.