Similar to Ari Aster’s grisly debut Hereditary, Midsommar is set in motion with unimaginable grief. As Dani (Florence Pugh) suddenly finds herself in the throes of mourning, she’s comforted by her distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) who was on the verge of ending their relationship but sticks around out of guilt. While not adding to Dani’s agony may be noble, Christian’s barely-there attitude is more damaging.
Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian along with pals Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) have accepted their friend Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) invitation to join him as he returns home to Sweden for a midsummer festival, at a remote commune called the Hårga. Hurt by the secrecy, an argument erupts when Dani learns the truth. Prompting Christian, much to the chagrin of his fellow travellers, to reluctantly invite her to join them.
While Pugh’s howls of despair echo that of Toni Collette’s in Hereditary, worries of retreading territory soon drifted away as Midsommar flourished into its own. While the influence of folk-horror classic The Wicker Man is clear to see, the true terror of Midosommar is its excruciatingly accurate depiction of a floundering relationship. Whether through obligation, sheer routine or fear of being alone, Dani and Christian continue to slog it out, clinging on to any signs of life while everybody on the outside looking in can tell it’s dead in the water.
A runtime of two and a half hours paired with a crawling pace mimics the long, drawn-out process of eventually letting go. At the film’s conclusion, you’re left torn on whether certain characters deserved their fate, a similar quandary mutual friends may face in the wake of a parting of ways.
Amongst the harsh realism, Midsommar also celebrates the wonderful but daunting process of once again finding yourself as an individual after being a component for so long. When Dani is first persuaded into a dance competition to crown the new “May Queen”, she looks lost without Christian in tow. However, with the other girls’ encouragement (and some psychedelic drugs) a glisten returns to Dani’s eyes as her heart pounds in the afternoon heat. As the pair gradually slip out of each other’s view before going their own way entirely, it’s a small, almost forgettable moment in which a relationship is over before it’s officially ended.
Dani also finds the missing puzzle piece of emotional support at the festival, as the commune women rally around to comfort her. Strikingly mimicking her cries of anguish, collectively absorbing their share of her pain. Pugh’s transformation throughout is fascinating and at its peak confusingly cathartic.
Contrasting the bleak palette of Hereditary, Midsommar is drenched in glowing sunlight, with cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski framing the film as a pastel-infused daydream. A summer haze that’s brutally interrupted with shocking scenes that unfold in unforgiving broad daylight. Although not as chilling as its predecessor, Midsommar’s levels of unease reach new heights as it draws to a close. Making the unbearably awkward, silent hostility between Christian’s friends and Dani appear tame in comparison. Lifting the strange and the gruesome is a welcome dose of dark humour, stemming from blunt, drug-fuelled realisations and Poulter’s portrayal of a tone-deaf tourist.
While writer-director Ari Aster’s grim allegory may prove too much for some, Midsommar’s agonisingly real depiction of a crumbling relationship is enough to make anyone’s blood run cold.