Sunday, July 7, 2019

Midsommar

By sati (harlequinade) Sunday, July 7, 2019 , , , , , , , ,
(spoilers!)

Last year Hereditary profoundly scared some and infuriated the others, but one thing cannot be denied - it definitely got people talking. Now its director, Ari Aster, is back with another nightmare and unlike Jordan Peele and his frankly embarrassing script for Us, he avoids sophomore slump. While Hereditary may be a more entertaining and accessible movie, Midsommar feels like a movie made by someone who is more sure of their skill. There were some parts of Hereditary that I felt didn't fit the movie in a natural way and took me out of it, but Midsommar doesn't have that problem. It's a more mature movie.

The film follows Dani (Florence Pugh), who recently suffered an unimaginable family tragedy. Dani has a boyfriend Christian (Jack Raynor), who is a complete narcissist and doesn't support her at all. He reluctantly invites her to go with him and his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter, doing the bare minimum here) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to go to Pelle's village in Sweden - Hårga, where he grew up in. Josh, Mark and Christian are anthropology students and want to study the ways of Hårgans - to them they appear to be a hippie community. But soon after the group arrives, it turns out that Hårgans' ways are far more sinister than they anticipated.
First let's talk about the way the movie looks. The production design and costumes are absolutely  amazing. There's this huge communal home with incredible drawings on the walls and the ceiling, showing us the history and rituals of Hårga. Everything is so intricate you feel like this is a real place that exists out there, with actual history and traditions. There was also a change from the script I really liked - in the script the arrivals are shown an old movie depicting the 'love story', but in the film its shown as sheets with drawings on them, so it takes much less time to inform the audience of that particular rite and it also feels more natural and in sync with the way of life of the Hargas.

I very much appreciate  it when the filmmaker trusts that the audience is intelligent and can figure out things on their own so he doesn't waste time on flashbacks or expository dialogue. Aster certainly trusts the viewer - there's a lengthy shot of the group sitting at the table. No one mentions Christian's drink. But you can clearly see it is darker shade than others. And if you paid the attention to the 'love story' mentioned above, you'll know why.
The details begin much reasoner than this - there's a beautiful drawing that opens the movie that's on screen for few seconds but it tells the entire story of the film. There's also interesting art in Dani's apartment, including a painting of a little girl touching a bear. There's even a moment when upon their arrival an elder, as he greets them, says "welcome" to all the men, but to Dani he says "welcome home". There's also a lot of things here that I notice people are interpreting in a very creative way - there's a moment when the group is on the plane to Sweden and there's turbulence. Apparently, some people took it to mean that the group died and everything else we see is the afterlife (supported by Dani seeing her mother after becoming the May Queen). I don't subscribe to this theory but it's certainly interesting.

The cinematography here is wonderful, as was the case with Hereditary. There's a great upside down show as the group is nearing their destination, there are beautiful wide shots showing the majestic and idyllic beauty of Hårga and a fantastic long take that shows us what happened to Dani's family. The sound design is also impressive - particularly in the moment when we go inside the circle Dani is dancing in and then we cut to Christian, walking outside of it. The special effects are fantastic too - showing the effect of the drugs Dani and the others take. When she is wearing her incredible flower gown you can see the flowers move as if they were breathing.
The film runs well over 2 hours, which is long for a horror film. But you don't really feel it. There's so much tension and the way everything is filmed makes you feel like you are visiting this village along with the group. There's actually a lot that was cut from the script - in some cases to my joy (the animal ritual) and in some to my disappointment (the night ritual on the lake with the women carrying torches, making the symbol of the sun).

Bobby Kalic's score is very rich, fairytale-like, and adds so much beauty to the film. There are several scenes where the tension rises and rises until it's practically impossible to bear and then it quickly explodes in gore and brutality. The best sequence is definitely the ritual of Attestupan where two elderly Hårgans intend to jump to their death. All of that singing, all of those elaborate poses, all of that spirituality and yet it all crashes with the reality so hard when in the end we are reminded that human beings are nothing but meat, bones and blood.
But what Midsommar is about, even though it loses its focus on her for a bit, is Dani. Florence Pugh is remarkable in the role. Dani loses her parents and her sister after the latter orchestrates the demise of all three and there's a moment where Pugh lets out a scream, a wail of such profound anguish, loneliness and desperation that it brought me to tears. I read she imagined her entire family being dead to accomplish that and it certainly felt very raw and very real. It shook me even more than the scream Toni Collette let out in Hereditary.

Dani is stuck in relationship with someone who is a terrible fit for her. Dani needs a strong person who can give her support and instead she is dating Christian - weak willed, lazy, narcissistic guy who complains about her to his "friends", forgets her birthday and basically blames her for everything, avoiding any kind of responsibility. At every step of the way Christian dismisses Dani's concerns. Even with something simple he uses her as shield - when she refuses to do drugs he offers to wait for her but then immediately announces to the group he is gonna wait because SHE doesn't feel like doing them at the moment.
I cringed so hard watching this pathetic individual and some of the most terrifying scenes in the movie are the moments  where Dani, admittedly also not great at expressing herself, attempts to communicate with Christian to no avail. His friends aren't much better with Mark being practically a caricature of a clueless American tourist and Josh, while he shows more respect to the Hårgans, is still your typical, socially inept young man who just sits there offering zero comfort to Dani as she sits down after Christian told them he invited her to come.

The interesting male character is Pelle. He grew up in Hårga and then did his pilgrimage to the States. There's interesting little bit where another Hårgan, the one that ends up sacrificing himself, is revealed to once be on a date with Connie, the woman her brought to Hårga, who is now engaged and her fiance joins her on the trip. I thought all of this meant that both Pelle and the other Hårgan were interested in women they brought and they hoped that the boyfriends will be killed and the women will stay in the village. In Pelle's case his dream came true.
Pelle offers no remorse for his actions (in the script you sense he does), but unlike any of the other men he actually offers comfort to Dani, shows interest in her and raises a great point that she never feels held by Christian. The Hårgans do practice macabre rituals but there's a real sense of community, family, support there. It's a shame that the scene from the script in which a Hårgan woman, upon hearing Dani has no family left is deeply upset and consoles her was cut. It made the cultists appear warmer, it made them appear to be far better people than emotionally crippled Americans.

In fact this film does a great job of making it difficult to view them as villains, up to a point, of course. Siv's explanation for the elderly committing suicide is a great one - they simply wanna go out on their own terms instead of growing old and sick. Their rituals seem odd at first but it's a cultural difference. It's only when the subject of inbreeding on purpose comes up and we see one of the Hårgans wearing Mark's skin over his own, where it's impossible to be on board with any of this anymore.
That sequence is genuinely chilling and it's filmed in such a patient, scary way. There's a lot of stuff that on page was disturbing enough, but what Aster did directing it, elevates it even more. The explosion of surreal imagery, gore, horrifying practices and primal shouts and wails in the end is very bizarre but the film already crosses that border in the walling scene which is the weirdest thing I saw in any movie in years. The build up to it is incredible - Dani continuously hushes herself, tries to stop herself from crying. But in this moment all of her grief and all of her anger finally find a way out.

But what is the scariest thing here is, as in the case of Hereditary, showing us the nightmares that exist in the real world. Loss of a family member, being alone, feeling aimless, being stuck in a dead relationship. Midsommar, unlike Hereditary, is cathartic. There are tales out there already of couples starting to fight after watching that movie, probably ending their relationship afterwards. Aster shows so well how there is no point in being together if it brings you no joy and only misery.
In the end Christian pays for his sins and Dani finds a family and finally feels held. The film ends with here smiling but any joy you can feel for her is short lived. After all, she ended up there after being lured, she was heavily drugged and by the end of the movie looked completely unhinged and at times catatonic. Her new family will be there for her, but in the end it is just another cage - made of rituals and traditions, fake concepts designed to make people feel less miserable.

This is why Aster's horror films are so frightening. He tells it how it is. In the end there is no hope. In the end, the queen rides alone and so do all of us. But we can forget about that, if only for a brief moment, and focus on Dani's smile, feeling held.
92/100 (2019, 147 min)
Plot: A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown's fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper


18 comments:

  1. I'm so damn excited for this movie but I'm not seeing it till tomorrow so I'll come back and have a read when it's safe to!

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  2. I am so intrigued with most Midsommar reviews especially those featuring most enigmatic imagery from the movie, but the movie itself isn’t going anywhere to screen until August here. Guess I will come back by then.

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  3. I like this but where i can get it?
    Thank you

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  4. Really great review. I'm becoming a big fan of Pugh!

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    1. Thank you! She is awesome,this is her best performance yet!

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  5. Fantastic review (as always). I sooo wish I was as excited as you are specifically with how the movie's final third played out. Pugh is such a freaking force and she really carries the load. For me, the guys couldn't hold a candle to her. I felt Aster lost his way in the final act but Pugh never misses a beat. She's so good.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah the guys were really mediocre comparing to what Florence did here

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  6. Lovely review! I haven't yet started my own, I'm on a mission to read a lot of reviews before I write it because I started to wonder what others think of it. There's a great deal of cultural similarities within Midsommer and my own, so I feel like I viewed this film a bit differently.
    Also, there are already so many pieces written by the runes and how they connect to all of them. And so many little details. Ugh, I kind of want to dive deep into it and analyse it shot by shot.
    Finally, I like how you mention that Ari doesn't take us for idiots. He really doesn't. Yes, he shows the entire movie in that first image (brilliant move!), but it's not really a spoiler because I looked at it and thought, clues, and then when Dani let's out that scream, I had already completely forgotten all about that plot image. Plus, I love it when movies hide things because they prompt multiple viewings from the viewer. Like, damn, I missed something, I need to go back. More movies should be like this.

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    1. Thank you! Oh it would be awesome if you wrote about those similarities in your review, I'd love to read about this!

      Yes! I love finding the details on rewatches too, it's so much fun and it makes the film feel even more impressive if the director managed to hide something in plain sight. Hereditary was like that, Aster is so good at this!

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  7. Great review, read it all, including the spoilers, since I won't be seeing it (no horror films for me, thank you very much). I'm glad you liked it, and I understand why by the way you talk about it- it seems to be an atmospheric horror film that explores psychology in a subtle way. I'm sure it's smartly built. Unfortunately, horror films rarely get nominations, hopefully at least the director will get a nod for it this year.

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    1. No horrors at all? :D I get it, I am like that with musicals - just cannot stand that damn genre.

      Toni Collette was such a fan favorite for nomination last year for Hererditary, but she didn't get it so I think Pugh won't either :(

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  8. I'm back! I'm finding I liked this movie more and more as time goes on. I love how Ari Aster trusts us to work things out for ourselves. That lingering shot at the dinner table was perfect. I was focused so much on the hair in the pie that it was ages before I noticed the drink was a different colour. Can't wait for what movie he does next!

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    1. Right? At one point you just go...wait a minute, his drink is different....OH NO :D

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  9. Fantastic review. This film really had so many layers to it and it has images that are hard to shake. Florence Pugh gave it her all here.

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    1. Thank you! In a just world she would win all the awards

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