Currently in theaters is Midsommar, written and directed by Ari Aster (2018’s Hereditary), in only his second ever feature film as a writer and/or director. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screening, courtesy of A24 Entertainment and Allied Marketing. Due to delays with prior commitments and travel, publication of this review was delayed by three weeks.
Midsommar tells the story of Dani Ardor (played by Florence Pugh of Fighting with my Family and Lady Macbeth), a young college student who is emotionally traumatized after her mentally ill sister commits a murder-suicide, killing both their parents and herself. Dani suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, which has already put a strain on her relationship with emotionally-distant boyfriend Christian (played by Jack Reynor of Transformers: Age of Extinction and Glassland) and the added trauma of losing her family only adds to this strain. Christian and his friends are planning a trip to Sweden with their foreign-exchange student friend Pele (played by Vilhelm Blomgren) who has invited them to join him at a midsummer festival that happens only once every 90 years at his ancestral home in rural Sweden, a pagan commune known as Hårga. Although Christian was secretly planning on taking this trip without her, he reluctantly invites her along after she confronts him about not telling her.
Once in Sweden, the group of friends are welcomed by the very-hippie like commune by offering them psilocybin (as in the psychedelic kind) mushrooms, which leads to the entire group, particularly Dani, having several poignant hallucinations. After they sober up, the group heads into the commune, where the festivities are beginning. As the festival unfolds, the group witness several bizarre, cult rituals taking place, including a rite of Ättestupa, wherein the elders of the village voluntarily commit suicide by plummeting from a nearby mountaintop which of course causes some tension between the visiting outsiders and the cult.
From there things get ever stranger, and the outsiders begin to question what is actually going on with this festival, and try to understand the bizarre, mysterious, and perhaps even sinister behaviors going on with this isolated cult community. Could there really be something horrific and nefarious going on here, or is it simply a big cultural misunderstanding? I won’t say any more as to what all happens, as this review (like all of our reviews here at Nerd Nation) is Spoiler-Free… but I will say there is A LOT I’m unable to even talk about here without giving anything away, and that you, dear readers, should definitely go watch this and see for yourselves!
From a technical standpoint, let me go ahead and state for the record that this film is an absolute masterclass in cinematography and overall cinematic presentation. Director of Photography Pawel Pogorzelski‘s camerawork and visual direction are absolutely brilliant, with every single shot working to perfection showcasing both the beauty and complete isolation of the European countryside, making you understand on an almost subconscious level as a viewer just how far away from anything you’re used to, and ultimately how alone you (and the outsider characters) truly are out here. Likewise, Lucian Johnston does a superb job with the overall editing, keeping a great pace, building suspense, and absolutely not shying away from showing you absolutely everything. Unlike a lot of horror films you’ll see on the big screen, this one most definitely does not cut away from the gruesome, or make any bones about you seeing the most horrific images this film has to offer. This is something that will undoubtedly upset some of the more sensitive viewers, and that is absolutely the point. After all, this is horror and you’re supposed to be uncomfortable, unsettled, and disturbed.
On the acting side of things, the entire cast does a very good job in their respective roles, especially Florence Pugh who absolutely shines in her leading role with a phenomenal performance – perhaps even her best to date. Much of the film is hinged on her, and she steps up superbly showcasing not only the past trauma of her character, but her strained and crumbling relationship, and of course the sheer horror of her occult vacation all while suffering from anxiety and trying to find where she truly belongs in this world. While she may or may not win any awards from this (you know how horror movies are often overlooked in these things) she absolutely should and this along with her last leading role earlier this year (which you can read all about here) is no doubt the start of many things to come for this young actress.
Now, while I will fully admit to not even reading other critics’ reviews anymore for the most part, I can pretty safely assume that at least a few of the more snootier ones have had something to say about the film’s use of “movie paganism” and how it’s not all true-to-life and all that, but I won’t as I understand and have zero problem with fiction. What I will mention, however is the contrasts and similarities between this and 1973’s The Wicker Man, which given the subject matter and execution was pretty unavoidable, and honestly, as one of the greatest folk-horror films ever made, that’s some pretty good company to keep, if you ask me.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Midsommar is an absolutely fantastic horror film. Folk horror isn’t typically something that gets a lot of play on the big screen in recent times, so it feels fresh and different while also being exceptionally well-made. It doesn’t rely on the cheap “jump-scares” like a lot of other modern big-box horror flicks, instead being atmospheric, visceral, and all-around unsettling which really is something sorely lacking from most modern horror. Ari Aster has hit yet another home-run with his second feature film, and I’d dare say this one was much better than his first. This is, in my opinion, the hands-down best horror film of 2019 so far, and an absolute must-see. – 9.5/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine