In June 2018 Ari Aster went from being a little known, indie-short director to one of the biggest names in horror. How? Hereditary. No I don’t mean he inherited the overnight-success gene from his parents. I mean the film Hereditary. The sudden wave of acclaim for his first feature propelled Aster to a position where he could really flex his sadistic muscles. So now we have Midsommar.
Set in rural Sweden, Midsommar doesn’t shy away from bright, exterior scenes. In fact, the majority of the film takes place in such settings, meaning there is little reliance on the typical horror tropes of darkly lit, slow camera movements punctuated by conceited jump-scares. Instead, its a layered piece and over its 150 minute run-time, those layers are gradually peeled away and the underlying threat begins to reveal itself. That’s where the true horror lies. Needless to say a trip to a reclusive foreign commune doesn’t bode particularly well for a group of young Americans, but equally it never feels as though the characters are doomed or that they have walked into something fundamentally evil. The film walks a fine line between hope and despair and keeps these competing emotions fighting it out until the very end.
The score is more typical of the genre but works beautifully as a contrast to the vibrancy on screen. It serves to ratchet up the tension where necessary and in some cases, when you can literally see what’s coming, you still feel an overwhelming sense of dread. Probably not a soundtrack to listen to on the commute to work though.
Florence Pugh (Dani) delivers a spectacular performance as the female lead with scenes ranging from extreme trauma to the simply bizarre. She acts as the centerpiece for Aster’s cult-tastic tapestry and holds the weight of that responsibility wonderfully. Jack Reynor portrays Dani’s exasperated boyfriend Christian, wanting out of the relationship but obliged to stay, creating a tense and paranoid dynamic between the two leads. The supporting cast still has plenty to do though and each character is given enough screen time to warrant them being part of the group and part of this story. The sheer length of the film helps with that. No doubt, a shorter film would have meant certain characters having to be overlooked somewhat but, in my view, as long as the film can keep you gripped, it justifies its length, and personally I didn’t feel there was a wasted minute in the two and half hour run-time.
Ruling – Suffice to say Aster hasn’t suffered from the ‘tricky second album’ syndrome and clearly knows his way around the horror genre. I can’t wait to see what he does next and if he can maintain this trajectory then he, along with other breakouts like Jordan Peele, will soon be leading the way in the horror renaissance.