LET THE FESTIVITIES BEGIN.
Growing up as a Swede, I never saw midsummer as much of a tradition. My parents never really cared. After I moved out, I even spent one midsummer weekend on my own without any plans… which turned out to be a huge mistake. I completely underestimated the fact that everybody else do have rich midsummer traditions and I felt alone and left out. I never made that mistake again. Midsummer is a wonderful season where traditionally speaking the worst thing that happens is bad weather. But that was before Ari Aster’s Midsommar.
After suffering through an unspeakable tragedy, Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) decides to come with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and a few other students on a journey to Sweden where Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) was born; he’s inviting them all to celebrate a traditional Swedish midsummer, but this year is special. This will be a lavish celebration in northern Sweden that goes on for a few days and only happens every 90th year. One of the students wants to write a thesis on folk culture, and he’s truly in for a special experience – when they arrive at the isolated Hårga commune, Dani and the students are treated to ancient customs.
At the same time, things are awkward between her and Christian, who was initially hiding the fact that he was going to Sweden…
Incredibly twisted and wicked
The director became the hot new name in horror after last year’s brilliant Hereditary. Following that was never going to be easy, but Midsommar had people talking as well. While not at all as terrifying as Hereditary, it is just as unsettling but also incredibly twisted, wicked and at times downright funny. The most uncomfortable part of the film comes right at the start when the tragedy that rocks Dani takes place; it is nauseating and her grief comes across as similarly raw, pitch-black and all-consuming. Once the story moves to Hårga, the film adopts a different tone – this is a beautiful place, but Aster and his team in Hungary (standing in for Sweden) make sure the devil lies in the details, perhaps literally. Something is always off about this place. Everybody is very welcoming, but it’s also clearly a cult whose members rely on psychedelic concoctions; the old houses are adorned with mysterious drawings and are deliberately misshaped, like they’re part of the set of a 1920s German Expressionist movie. Also, there’s a caged bear.
After a while, the shocking (natural, they insist) traditions of Hårga become evident, and they’re not for the squeamish. The film takes increasingly wild turns, borrowing elements from movies like The Wicker Man (1973) and Scandinavian folklore, including a memorable scene where a senior couple are happy to take a dive into eternity. It all builds up to a fiery finale symbolizing the end of Dani’s tortured, emotional journey.
The film is perhaps needlessly long, yet compellingly disturbing. I enjoyed seeing Björn Andrésen, once known as ”the most beautiful boy in the world” (from Death in Venice (1971)), here cast as a bearded, old man. The actors deliver throughout, especially Pugh whose full-throated performance is superb. I hope she gets to celebrate a proper midsummer one day. No May Queen, no ättestupa.
Midsommar 2019-U.S.-Sweden. 147 min. Color. Produced by Patrik Andersson, Lars Knudsen. Written and directed by Ari Aster. Music: The Haxan Cloak. Cast: Florence Pugh (Dani Ardor), Jack Reynor (Christian Hughes), William Jackson Harper (Josh), Vilhelm Blomgren (Pelle), Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia… Liv Mjönes, Anna Åström, Gunnel Fred, Mats Blomgren.
Last word: “I had never before written anything for hire and I can’t really imagine myself doing it again. But this was about four years ago, and the producers came to me with a broad idea for this folk-horror movie about American tourists going to Sweden and them being killed off during Midsummer. And the comps were like, ‘Hostel’. They had read the script for ‘Hereditary’ and they basically came to me saying, ‘We’d love for you to do what you did with ‘Hereditary’ with this concept.’ My first instinct was to pass on it, because it’s not necessarily a subgenre that I felt compelled to work in. But I was going through a breakup at the time, and I wanted to write a breakup movie.” (Aster, Vulture)