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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Review: Midsommar

Director: Ari Aster
Screenplay: Ari Aster
Year: 2019

Synopsis: A group of graduate students travels to a remote area in Sweden to watch and be a part of a summer celebration of a community that lives there. They know little about the rituals that this community practices until they are involved in them in a strange path towards madness.

Finally, “Midsommar” made its way to some theaters in my region and I had the chance to watch it. Like many other horror fans, I was anxiously waiting for this film. And is that Ari Aster, with his irruption in horror cinema with “Hereditary”, has managed to become one of the most acclaimed directors in contemporary horror cinema. It is worth mentioning early in this review that if you enjoyed “Hereditary” you must have in consideration that it and “Midsommar” are drastically different movies and that you have to watch it with an open mind.

The protagonist of this story is Dani, interpreted by Florence Pugh (“Malevolent”), who lost her sister and parents in a murder-suicide. Here we witness the first great contrast of the film, as this event is shown in one of the few dark scenes of the movies and during winter, opposed to the clear summer saturated scenes that dominate most of the movie. The protagonist is a woman going through an intense grieving process, a theme concurrent with the main topic of “Hereditary”, as well as cults and a particular tendency for showing elderly people naked.

With just a few minutes in the movie, I was struck by how beautifully it is filmed, and this is saying much about a horror movie. Most of it takes place in a rural area of Sweden in which every visual of its surroundings is more impressive than the previous, as well as them being presented using artistic and creative shots than enhance the beauty of the place. The story takes place in mid-summer, in a place where the sun almost doesn't set, an important element to the plot and that keeps everything in full light. The shots have a brightness and crispness uncommon for a horror movie, giving a relaxing and peaceful sensation that contrasts with the occurrences that take place there. Contrasts are something recurrent during the full duration of the film and that has much weight in crucial moments of the plot, so much as in colors, objects, and in the tone in which scenes are presented.

Aster shows again that one of his virtues is the development and use of tension. In this movie it is impressive how he can keep the attention of the viewer (or at least mine) during its lengthy runtime, although I recognize that his methods might not be of the liking of many, and how he is able to play with tension, increasing and decreasing its intensity at will. Here I go back again to contrasts and is that this is one of the means he uses for it. It is rare seeing a horror movie shot in full daylight and with a fairy tale feel to it, which keeps you with the constant feeling that something is not right.

What helps the viewer get immersed in the plot is that it is heavy on human emotions, another virtue that Aster explores again. As mentioned, the protagonist is grieving her family loss, which causes her constant panic attacks. Her boyfriend Christian, interpreted by Jack Reynor (“Glassland”), finds himself in a position in which he is no longer happy in the relationship but is unable to leave Dani because of what she is going through. This combined with the use of hallucinogens and what they go through in the community trigger a wave of emotions and reactions in the protagonists that are carefully developed for them to be fundamental in the plot, which is supported by the great performances.

Once these emotions start getting loose, we see how contrasts again play an important role. This time is cultural relativism the focus, where we see how the main characters, all coming from developed and modern cultures, collide against the community, a more secluded culture heavily grounded in their beliefs. All that the protagonists find strange is normal for the community and vice versa. From their beliefs about life and its recycling, to how they support each other during challenging times are important to the plot. Also, their beliefs of reproduction are important, and we get multiple references about puberty, womanhood, and sex.

In an effort to not overextend this review I will end it here, but I could write a lot more about it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is one of the weirdest movies I have seen while being one of the most I have enjoyed, and the more I talk about it, the more I want to rewatch it. I am aware that this movie will not be up everyone's alley; its deceitfully slow rhythm, its strange story, and some plot holes, like stuff that is presented and then leads nowhere, can challenge some viewers. On my part, I overly enjoyed this movie and I am already waiting for the director’s cut version of it that has been confirmed and that will contain extra material not shown in theaters. Ari Aster has already expressed that he wants his next project to be outside of the horror genre, but if he reconsiders or wishes to return to the genre in a future project, I and many other horror fans will be waiting.

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