Ari Aster’s second full-length film Midsommar offers a delightful journey from the US to Sweden, out of mundane consciousness, along with plenty of compelling visuals.
In nearly all his Midsommar-themed interviews, Aster admits to having made a conscious choice to use the folk-horror genre as the framework for the story, being aware of the predictable narrative structure of the genre. For this reason, the plot of the movie is not central; the emphasis is instead placed on secondary nuances, details, and the atmosphere.
Surprisingly, many reviewers have brought into question the categorization of Midsommar as a horror movie, stating that it is not very appropriate or even misleading. Okay. This could be true if one was to see the versatile genre of horror as one-sided, pointing to the fact that the film is lacking jump scares and explicitly violent acts, which are instead carried out in secret, off-screen. However, in many cases, the horror of Midsommar is overlooked precisely because it isn’t a low-budget splatter film featuring someone being tortured in a basement; in other words, Midsommar is not accepted as a horror movie because it isn’t sufficiently cheap, bad, and boring.
The film is thematically rich, obviously. Hidden behind the surface of the American protagonists’ culture shock in the small Swedish community are many existential questions, contrasting emotions, and, characteristically of Aster, angst and melodrama combined with cynical humour. Although the film operates on slasher-like logic, it doesn’t dedicate much screen time to the characters’ gruesome ends, rather, the film focuses on their dysfunctional relationships and subtle revenge fantasies. Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary proved that he is extremely skilled at using film techniques to portray his characters’ troubled psychological states – this talent has also been utilised masterfully in Midsommar.
Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary proved that he is extremely skilled at using film techniques to portray his characters’ troubled psychological states – this talent has also been utilised masterfully in Midsommar.
Discussing his psychedelic western El Topo, Chilean film legend Alejandro Jodorowsky has said: “I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs. The difference being that when one creates a psychedelic film, he need not create a film that shows the visions of a person who has taken a pill; rather, he needs to manufacture the pill.”¹ Jodorowsky suggests that the film itself has to have drug-like effects on the viewer, and Ari Aster has been quite successful at creating such a product in Midsommar. The Midsummer-worthy length and slow pace of the film allow it to make both random and meaningful digressions (it can be hard to tell one from another). The endless visual abundance, unnaturally beautiful colour scheme and subtly changing environment open pathways between emotions, stories, time and space, carrying the receptive viewer far far away with it… Until everything culminates in an ecstatic finale, where fantasies are fulfilled, angst dissipates, and the viewer is overpowered by joy.
¹ Jodorowsky, El Topo: The Book of the Film, p. 97