Midsommar: Anthropological Nightmare in the Daylight
Dir. Ari Aster (2019)
A group of college students travel to Norway to partake in a Midsommar celebration.
We throw around words like masterpiece and genius, but there are certain scenarios where these words actually apply. Starry Night is a masterpiece and Albert Einstein is a genius; nobody questions these two assertions. No one should doubt, at this point, that Ari Aster is absolutely a genius and that Midsommar is unquestionably a masterpiece. However, I’m going to break down a little bit of the reason why I think some people don’t have this opinion, and I’m going to lay out the steps to fix this wrong line of thinking.
First off, I watched Midsommar on opening night in theaters, and I fucking hated it. Dani (Florence Pugh) was obnoxious, regardless of the trauma she had endured, and her boyfriend, while certainly a douchebag, was practically a saint in comparison for putting up with her constant crying, attention seeking, and Debbie Downer’ing. By the end, everyone in the story gets what’s coming to them and Dani gains a family to replace the one she has lost. The “group sex” scene was uncomfortable as all hell, and it was so cartoonishly bizarre that the entire theater was laughing (besides me, who was staring in horror at the other theater-goers who clearly didn’t get how horrific this scene actually was). I knew that I would eventually watch the movie again, but I was not looking forward to it.
A24 is an amazing studio, and they produce some of the best boutique physical releases of the films that they produce. When I saw their Director’s Cut Bluray of Midsommar, it was such a gorgeous release that I had to order it, regardless of my opinion of the movie. So I ordered it after reading a few reviews online that said that the Director’s Cut made it an entirely different film, knowing that I certainly thought Aster was a genius after having watched Hereditary and I wanted to see the film as his original vision dictated. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I had such a change of opinion I could hardly bear it.
Get it? BEAR it?
I don’t know if it was the fact that my second (and third, fourth, etc.) watches were the Director’s Cut or if it was simply because I had grown a soul between first and second viewings, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a wrong opinion after a first watch. There were a few added scenes in the DC that fleshed out some of the character motivations and went further into how Dani’s boyfriend was a gaslighting piece of shit, but even with these scenes absent, holy shit Dani’s boyfriend was a gaslighting piece of shit. Dani went through an exceptionally traumatic experience and is reaching out for the only tether she has left in the world, and he’s a huge asshole throughout the entire course of the film. And he’s not just an asshole with her! The things that he does to deserve his fate further cement his asshole-ishness, but by the end of the film, you’re not particularly surprised or critical that Dani is the hand that swings the sword. If these feelings did not come across during your first watch of the film, check out the DC to see if it makes a difference in your opinion.
So let’s take all of that drama out of the equation altogether. The movie is breathtakingly beautiful, and Aster made the brilliant decision to make the film take place almost entirely in the daylight. There is no darkness from which the killers pounce, no hiding place for the protagonists. At the same time, there is no “evil” per se in the film at all: it’s simply a different culture practicing their traditions, no different than a Thanksgiving Dinner or Saturday morning tailgate. The movie is a fascinating view of the differences between cultures, the extent to which these differences are “acceptable” within our own culture, and the meaning that even the most extreme cultural practices can have to those who embrace the culture as a whole. It’s an anthropological nightmare, but it’s also an anthropological dream: it’s terrifying and disturbing but fascinating and, somehow, beautiful.
And the gore… is outstanding. One of the few truly gory wide-release films, Aster accomplishes something here that most directors wouldn’t dare. I haven’t seen a theatrical film with this much gore since Hostel, and this one was so much more tastefully and beautifully done. Dani’s story is a breathtakingly devastating one, and one that despite appearances, has a happy ending. She has lost a family and gained a new one throughout the course of the film, and what’s more beautiful than that?
See? She’s happy!***
Who this movie is for: All horror fans; Fans of mainstream gore; People looking for the best breakup movie ever
Bottom Line: An absolutely brutal and brilliant film from Ari Aster, who has, in two tries, shown himself to be a new horror master. A masterclass in effective gore and unflinching tension, Midsommar is a true must-see, though I recommend the Director’s Cut for any who didn’t like it, because it is a true masterpiece of a movie. Just as good as Hereditary and just as disturbingly gorgeous.