Ari Aster’s last slow burn horror movie ‘Hereditary’ (2018) was a film that divided audiences, and I strongly suspect that Midsommar will do the same. Where Hereditary’s major touchstone was (in my opinion) Rosemary’s Baby, Midsommar leans into The Wicker Man as its primary inspiration. I really liked Hereditary, and I love folk horror in general, so I had high hopes for Midsommar.
I was not disappointed.
The film opens with Dani (a fantastic Florence Pugh) going through what can only be described as an ultimate family nightmare, depicted in an emotionally visceral tumult of horrible events. Dani is left broken, rent by trauma.
Six months later, we return to Dani, her boyfriend and his somewhat annoying friends. (One of whom is played by the awesome Will Poulter, who is literally great in everything he’s in. Cast him in all movies always, please.) It turns out that they have from their Swedish friend Pelle finagled a trip to Sweden to witness a once-every-90-years midsummer at his family commune, the Hårga.
The events in Sweden are where we enter prime Folk Horror territory. The film hits several plot beats and some of the aesthetics of The Wicker Man, but for the most part is its own thing. The brightness of the land of midnight sun means the vast majority of the film takes place in clear, strong daylight, a bold choice for a horror movie. I don’t want to talk about the plot in detail as almost anything I say could be a spoiler, so I’ll try and talk about the movie in general terms.
Firstly, the film is beautiful to look at. Bright blue skies, flowers, comely maidens running hither and thither in floaty white dresses and floral garlands. Stones carved with runes. Artwork on the interior walls of the buildings. It looks like the sort of place where you really would love to spend a midsummer. The cinematography is almost overwhelmingly lovely.
The soundtrack, from Bobby Krlic of The Haxan Cloak adds a lot of atmosphere and tension. Eschewing the lively songs of The Wicker Man, it instead concentrates of drones and reels for the most part, adding a wonderful sense of history and place.
In terms of the horror, Aster doesn’t really do jump scares (thank goodness), but instead builds tension over and over, leaving the viewer constantly anxious. The moments of horror are sudden and brutal, and Aster manages to both show intensely gory scenes whilst balancing them with more ‘inside your own head’ horror. Some of the images are extremely disturbing and are likely to stick in the mind for a long time. There are moments of levity, however, which break (and occasionally enhance) the tension.
In many ways, it’s a less ambitious movie than Hereditary, but that is a strength. Aster has described Midsommar as a ‘break-up movie’ and when you’ve seen it, that description makes total sense. In my opinion, it’s a future classic of folk horror, a worthwhile addition to the genre. If you like slow burn horror, it’s a must.