Thursday, June 11, 2020

Midsommar: Movie Review

Seriously disturbing themes.

I tend to dislike horror films so I usually don’t watch many until the cultural phenomenon surrounding the occasional one persists and piques my curiosity. Hence, here I am watching the acclaimed Midsommar a year after its release. Most of my trepidation stems from the fact that it’s called a horror film, but it’s not. It’s a drama with some seriously disturbing themes, and a lot of horrifying visuals (okay, maybe that is an argument that it’s a horror film), or as writer-director Ari Aster puts it, a macabre fairy tale.   2019

Directed by: Ari Aster

Screenplay by: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor

Emotionally-needy Dani (Florence Pugh) has an emotionally-unstable sister and constantly finds herself leaning on her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), for support. Christian and his friends are anthropologists in grad school, Dani’s in psychology. Friend Mark (Will Poulter) thinks Dani’s crazy and Christian needs to break up with her; Josh (William Jackson Harper) thinks Christian is encouraging Dani’s emotional manipulation as an excuse to not concentrate on his thesis; Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) is sympathetic to Dani’s emotional state and thinks Christian owes her compassion.

At this point there are multiple clues to pick up on, I missed all of them. I was too busy being mesmerized by the shot composition and masterclass of acting the five are putting on. To start, Christian is so named on purpose; Dani’s lack of conviction in her studies is pointed out on purpose; Josh is right; and when one friend is acting contrary to all of his like-minded friends, he usually knows something the others don’t.

When tragedy strikes, Christian invites Dani to join them on a trip to Sweden. Pelle has arranged for the group to join him in his hometown, where the small community performs a ritual surrounding the longest day of the year. Dani comments to Pelle, “Christian mentioned that you come from a commune.” Pelle lightly corrects her, “It’s a small community.” And, here I’m thinking Dani’s the insensitive one, referring to a small Swedish town as a cult - boy was I wrong.

The beginning perfectly sets up the psychology of the characters, which is desperately needed to then watch the characters unfold, manipulate, and be manipulated in Sweden. In Sweden, the cinematography is even more impressive, also providing visual hints when worlds turn upside down and their future comes further and further removed from their lives they once knew.

Midsommar is a visually, aesthically magnificent film using psychology, religion and symbolism to move the story forward. That being said, it is also so deeply unsettling that it’s hard not to think that the movie hates women. Most religions are inherently misogynistic, so it’s not surprising to have themes of fertility and gender roles playing a big part in this cult. I was too angry to form emotional connections to any of these characters. It’s basically the worst of humanity trying to present themselves in this spiritually-positive light, and all of the main characters should be smart enough to get out before it’s too late.

The audience is left on the sidelines. There are a lot of impressive elements to behold, but not only can the characters not hear you, I don’t think anything would have changed even if they could hear me. It’s a very pessimistic, deflating experience.