FEATURING: , Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

PLOT: American grad students travel to a remote Swedish village above the Arctic Circle during the midnight sun to witness an ancient festival.

Still from Midsommar (2019)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With just two features under his belt, Ari Aster impresses with his ability to encase deep and painful psychological dramas inside true-to-form horror stories. The emphasis on bizarre rituals and the wavery psychedelic interludes make Midsommar a weirder candidate for our endorsement than 2018’s (excellent) Hereditary.

COMMENTS: Although it features a memorably schizo performance by a tormented Florence Pugh, flowery pagan pageantry, brilliant cinematography, a frightening folk horror score, and daytime nightmares that bleed into reality, the one thing Ari Aster’s Midsommar lacks is surprise. It’s obvious to anyone who’s seen The Wicker Man (or any horror movie, really) that things won’t go well for the four American master’s thesis students visiting the apparently quaint and welcoming remote hamlet where the villagers still remember the Old Ways. Aster also retreads a lot of the same ground that made his debut Hereditary so intoxicating: grief-based psychological drama, a strong female lead, leisurely pace, ian  pans, and obsessive invention of occult rituals. The one surprise is that Midsommar works admirably on its own terms despite reminding us of so many other movies (including Aster’s last one).

A pair of foci orbit around each other throughout the movie. The first is the failing relationship between the two leads. Christian, an unfocused grad student with no idea what he’s going to write his masters’ thesis on, feels trapped by the emotionally needy Dani. She’s already neurotic, popping lorazepams to dampen her frequent panic attacks, before the tragedy she fears actually strikes, making it unseemly for Christian to abandon her. Swedish student Pelle invites Christian, along with two buddies, to visit his remote northern homeland, an isolated pseudo-utopian commune where the people live in harmony with nature, for a pagan midsummer festival that only takes place once every 90 years; a trepidatious Dani tags along, even though the affable Swede seems to be the only one who actually welcomes her presence. When they arrive, the film’s other focus comes to bear (so to speak), as Aster builds a familiar-yet-novel nature worshiping cult out of details like icky surreptitious love potions, runic holy texts dictated by deformed inbreds, and an elaborate (and rigged?) drugged dance around the maypole. The two plots collide in a finale that should leave you with a queasy, ambiguous feeling, since it works quite differently on the metaphorical and the literal levels.

As the only horror movie I can think of filmed almost entirely in bright daylight, Midsommar gives a new symbolic meaning to “day for night” shooting. With its white-haired elders in white robes standing on white cliffs above rune-encrusted white standing stones, the film is lit in blinding, blanched whiteness, decorated with red and yellow wildflowers and lush green fields. The special effects for the psychedelic scenes are legitimately shroomy, with the dilated camera showing off lots of breathing objects, including a flower disc that pulses independently in Dani’s headdress. It’s lovely to behold.

The audience, a mix of Hereditary fans and patrons shut from sold-out screenings Toy Story or Spider-Man, gasped collectively at the midpoint when the villagers’ rites suddenly turned from the picturesque to the grisly. The third act brought genuine, if uncomfortable, laughter with one of the most awkward sex scenes ever filmed. People muttered as the credits rolled. These are sounds you like to hear in the theater.

We’re living in a golden age of adult psychological horror at the moment, so enjoy it while it lasts. Personally, I could do with a new Jordan Peele release every winter and a new Ari Aster release every summer for the foreseeable future. Just throw in more frequent pictures while you’re at it, please.


“…Midsommar‘s core themes still land when they come back into focus in the third act; it’s the indulgent weirdness in the build-up that dilutes the movie’s overarching impact… it’s hard to imagine that this one won’t end up going down as the most WTF wide release of 2019.”–Sandy Schaefer, Screen Rant (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by J.R. Kinnard, who gushed, “The third act is a masterpiece of weirdness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

10 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MIDSOMMAR (2019)”

  1. “Hereditary” was mediocre at best and “Get Out” just plain sucked, so…I’ll take your opinion with a Grand Canyon-sized grain of salt.

  2. Damn, I can’t wait for this one. I don’t know how much it actually resembles The Wicker Man, but the fact that it kind of calls it to mind is enough to get me excited, knowing that it’s in the hands of a fellow like Aster.

  3. You will soon get your wish when Eggers’ hyped “The Lighthouse” gets revealed to the masses (hopefully sooner than later). Glad you dug the “shroominess”, as it was pretty spot on, especially Dani’s headdress. “Comes to bear”…I see what you did there sir, bravo.

  4. I really loved Hereditary which warrants repeat viewings for important clues, plot points and small dialogue reveals that most viewers might miss the first time around. But Midsommer, while interesting and absorbing, was actually much more straightforward. It’s filled with great production design and is very immersive. I was truly surprised by the outlandish sex scene. However, at the most basic level, for a HORROR movie, this film had two cardinal sins – It wasn’t scary, and it wasn’t suspenseful.

    It’s 10x more ambitious than the average horror movie, but is it more entertaining? Is it incredibly artistic, but just as schlocky? What your left with as a viewer is more of a slow burning, grotesque pageantry erected around a dysfunctional relationship.

    I disagree with the amount of praise given to Florence Pugh’s performance, when for me it is Jack Reynor who has the more difficult task – (especially given what this movie asks of him in the sex scene) and he delivers his role quite subtly. He was at least her equal in bringing the complexities of the plot home. One reviewer pinpointed it with the term “banal malevolence.” Is Florence Pugh more sympathetic than Reynor? Are they BOTH too off putting? I kept thinking as Pugh as Medea figure.
    Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.

    Maybe Gregory Smalley can answer this question for me:
    (Spolier) I only went to the bathroom once during this film. My question is, the obnoxious student played by Will Poulter, did we see him die? I bring this up, because maybe it happened when I was in the bathroom. But perchance we didn’t see him killed, this would point back to a script deficiency for me, going back to the idea of suspense or even entertainment. Why make him a jerky character (the kind an audience would want to see die) and make such an enormous deal of him pissing on the sacred tree, then not deliver in any meaningful way his death? It’s no secret to the audience that the students are being murdered, so why withhold almost all their deaths? When the students first arrive at the village, girls are doing a dance. When asked what it was, it was called “Skin the Fool.”

    Now I thought sure this “Fool” was going to be Will Poulter’s character. Instead I got nothing.

    Not sure what I thought of the totality of this film despite its unique qualities and stellar cult design. But hey, Astor is becoming more accessible based on Midsommar’s C+ Cinema Score to Hereditary’s D- !

    The ticket girl at my theater actually said to me, “I hope this film is better than Hereditary!”

    1. Mike: I believe the spoilery event you ask about occurred offscreen. Agree that Reynor’s performance was in many ways the more challenging role, and to some extent he’s being unfairly (though understandably) overshadowed by Pugh.

  5. Perhaps this is my Nordic heritage speaking, but I did not find the movie especially weird. Excellent and definitely noteworthy, but not that weird. On the other hand, perhaps Nordic people are just weird…

    Although, I did always suspect that sex in Sweden must be this complicated an affair.

  6. We agree on some parts, yes, the move reminded me of The Wicker Man, and yes the Swedes were like..kind of like the twins in The Shining with their almost identical clothes and very synchronized moves etc. But i think The Wicker Man was a much much better film, incomparable to this one and also much more effective. It has beautiful visuals, and it is impressive that almost the entire film was shot in bright daylight, but the thing is everything, the rituals, the ‘cult mentality’, sometimes even the performances were so exaggerated that it looked almost like a parody from time to time. Also some reactions were rather…stupid to be honest. Like the Americans bounced back real quick after they witnessed a very brutal ritual but then one of them pissed on a sacred tree and then suddenly they started to question what’s so sacred about the tree? Why didn’t you even question a much more brutal act before and accepted it as it is then?
    Overall, i didn’t really enjoy either Hereditary or this one.

  7. Having finally seen this, I think it’d be Apocrypha-worthy if the director had felt comfortable either keeping things more of a mystery (skim thirty- to sixty-minutes from the film) or just went nuts-o. I am glad that a contemporary filmmaker assembled such a movie, but couldn’t help think that full-bore “The Devils”, cranking up the madness, or hewing closer to a “A Field in England”, with a more mystical approach, would have made for a weirder experience.

    I liked the flower-slug shot near the end.

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