Film Review: Midsommar (2019)

If Ari Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary (2018) is about grief, his sophomore feature Midsommar (2019) is about what happens after. When his first film came out last year, Hereditary was deemed as the “resurgence of horror,” using emotion and mise-en-scène to portray dread rather than the jump scares modern audiences are accustomed to. The real horror in Aster’s films is not a supernatural force, but the human psyche.

The film begins with Dani (Florence Pugh) frantically trying to contact her mother and father after her sister has sent her a worrying message. As Dani seeks consolation from her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), in the first 15 minutes of the film, it is clear that their relationship is crumbling. She is repeatedly gaslit into believing that she is overreacting, and goes about the rest of her night as if everything is normal. That is until Dani receives a call telling her that her sister has taken her own life - as well as those of her mother and father. In a scene wrought with so much tension, the film feels like it might burst, Aster previews this film like it’s predecessor is going to be about the grieving process. 

While Hereditary dealt with a family in the midst of a trauma, Midsommar fast forwards to a few months after the tragedy, where Dani is still traumatized by the recent deaths of her family. During a party, Dani learns that Christian and his friends have planned to go on a trip to Sweden. This spurs on another episode of gas-lighting, which ultimately leads to her joining Christian and his friends on their trip. 

The characters in the film are going to Sweden to conduct research on a thesis paper, to have a good time, and in Dani’s case, to escape her personal life. The film follows her as she slowly loses grasp on what is real and what is not, putting the audience in her shoes. There's subtle movements throughout the film: pulsating flowers, wavering trees moving like liquid, prompting the question if Dani is trustworthy. These effects, along with the script and acting from Florence Pugh, allow the viewer to establish if Dani is the protagonist of her story, or the antagonist. 

Without delving into too much, as Midsommar is a tightly coiled beast that shouldn't have it’s secrets spilled, the film expertly uses lighting, direction, and a haunting score to create one of the most unsettling films of the decade. While at first, it may seem like a horror film, Midsommar is shares what happens when one is so consumed by grief that emotions cannot be processed properly. The answer is: everything goes up in flames.