CINEMA: Swedish Death Mettle

MIDSOMMAR (Dir. by Ari Aster, 140 minutes, 2019, USA)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC It’s been a little over a year since Hereditary was unleashed on audiences and horror wunderkind Ari Aster is already back with Midsommar, yet another transgressive opus. A24 had originally planned to make Midsommar as a slasher film set in Sweden when they offered Aster the project, instead of taking it as is, he rewrote the script from the ground up, turning in a sophomore effort that solidifies him as one of this generation’s most interesting voices in horror. The film still shares some DNA with the slasher genre, but its rich mythology and dramatic performances elevate the film into something much more than a simple horror film. Aster invests the narrative with a vibe reminiscent of surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky as it precariously straddles that thin line between art and exploitation.

As with Hereditary, Midsommar operates on two very distinct levels, the first being the tumultuous relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Christian was looking to end the relationship before his planned vacation to Sweden backpacking with his friends, but after Dani’s troubled sister commits suicide, taking their parents with her, he puts the breakup on hold. Dani is then begrudgingly invited along for the trip and we watch their relationship disintegrate over the next two-plus hours. The second level is terrifying folk tale about a Swedish cult in a small secluded village that carries out a sacred rite every 90 years and the unfortunate souls that are unwittingly invited like lambs to the slaughter. The way Aster deploys these competing story lines to push and pull the narrative in opposite directions before coalescing in the cathartic third act is a marvel to behold.

This wouldn’t be possible without the rich visual language of Midsommar. The lush, summery Coachella aesthetic and bright Instagram-like cinematography is accentuated by moments of garish violence. This works not only to help build the unease, but also is a reminder of the brutality of nature and the cycle of life that is preached by the pagan cult. As with Hereditary, Midsommar’s scene transitions are sprinkled with Easter eggs/warnings. The throbbing and ethereal sound design is also used as a super effective tool to reinforce the nagging suspicion that there is a dark side to the beauty onscreen. Aster uses this sublime audio-visual tapestry to great effect, delivering what is possibly the most poignant film about a break up ever made. Midsommar is an exquisitely visceral cinematic experience that leaves you both physically and emotionally exhausted as the credits begin to wash over you.

Now playing in area theaters.