‘Midsommar’ is an Experience That Doesn’t Go Away When You Leave the Theater
Midsommar is the kind of film that leaves a bad taste that never goes away. Visually, it is not the most brutal horror film I’ve ever seen, but it is raw, psychological, and systematic in the way it breaks you down right from the start. It is the kind of film you watch pensively, quietly holding onto your seat with silent anxiety. When it is over, you walk out and don’t say a word. You think about it the entire way home. When you go to bed, you have nightmares about it. A week later, it still hasn’t left you. It hit home more than you expected.
Grieving the death of her family, Dani (Florence Pugh) is reluctantly invited by her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to travel with him and his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper, The Good Place), Mark (Will Poulter, The Maze Runner), and Pelle (Vihelm Blomgren), to a far-off village in Sweden where Pelle’s commune holds a rare summer festival. As Dani’s experience there unravels, what at first seems like an innocent ritual influenced by hippy vibes and flower-powerisms — as well as a ton of shrooms — turns into a living nightmare.
Directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary), Midsommar is a bad trip with beautiful cinematography and unique designs juxtaposed by dizzying hallucinations, such as grass growing through Dani’s hand and a number of objects warping before our very eyes, and made worse by unrestrained graphic violence shown in great detail during broad daylight. Aster doesn’t hold back, making you watch things you don’t want to watch, and the way he at one point cuts back to a horrific act of violence perfectly reflects the way your mind flashes back to traumatic moments.
As brutal as the violence is, what unsettled me the most was how genuinely awful the people were surrounding Dani. In the opening scenes, she is on the phone with her friend venting all her worries that her anxiety is pushing Christian away. (A disembodied voice on the phone, this friend is the wisest person in the film as she responds, “Then he is not the right one for you.”) Meanwhile, Christian is at the bar with his friends having the very discussion she probably fears he is having, as they are telling him to break up with her, to find someone who is more “sexually available,” that he is going to hook up with so many women at the festival. Later, when Dani is at their apartment, clearly grieving, they react with indifference to her trauma, mostly ignoring her and walking away. Christian himself would rather go to parties than be with her in her time of need. (Note that the talk of him hooking up at the festival doesn’t stop despite him not ending the relationship, implying that he is open to cheating, if he hasn’t already.) And this behavior only gets worse. The more the film progresses, the more selfish and insensitive her “friends” become, with their absolute worst being how they react to one of the film’s most shocking scenes.
Dani, on the other hand, is an empathetic lead. As compassionate, concerned, and genuine as they come, you don’t want her to go to this festival. You want her to stay at home and mourn her loss in safety while whatever happens to Christian and his friends. But you are powerless as you watch as she goes anyways and she experiences those traumatic events and is paralyzed by numerous panic attacks, and you endure those panic attacks with her.
By the end of it, I found myself rooting for the outcome. Upon reflection, I am not sure if that’s a good thing. Are my feelings being manipulated just as Dani’s are or is that the people around her are so horrid that I really don’t in the slightest what happens to them? In reality, it is a hard case of both, but that is why Midsommar‘s experience is so potent; I feel both catharsis and guilt for allowing to feel said catharsis.
Make no mistake, Midsommar isn’t the kind of film you can just go with friends, munch on some popcorn, smile, laugh, and go home happy. The resilient way it unsettles you, builds up dread, attaches itself to you and burns grotesque images into your brain, it will not make you feel good. And in a way, that could be the best compliment you could give a horror film.