MIDSOMMAR – Ari Aster’s Latest Uniquely Disturbing Horror

Has anyone actually recovered from Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY from last year? I still get chills picturing THAT scene with Toni Collette. Well in less than a year Ari Aster is back with MIDSOMMAR to take us on another completely disturbing horror journey. This one isn’t so much jump scare standard horror, as in IT, it’s more about taking you on a disturbing acid trip and making you terrifyingly uncomfortable for two hours.

MIDSOMMAR is out now. It was released by Roadshow, runs for 147mins, and is the first film in a very long time to get an R18+ rating in Australia. But the gore level, full frontal nudity and vulgarity takes it across the line. And apparently a lot of the film was cut with a director’s extended version coming that is even more gruesome.

*** Please Note: This review DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS ***

Midsommar - William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor
William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor

BY JASON KING

MIDSOMMAR SYNOPSIS:

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing.

Midsommar - The Communal Sleeping Hall
The Communal Sleeping Hall

ASTER SO MASTERFULLY EATS ON YOUR SOUL:

There is no denying it, after two films Ari Aster is up there as one of the best horror film directors of recent times. While both his feature length films are polar opposites visually they do have a couple of things in common. They slow build and peel off the layers like a horror onion while both dipping their cinematic toes into the world of cults. HEREDITARY deals more with darkness, Satan and Christian horrors. It is mostly set in the dark with lots of jump scares.

MIDSOMMAR is shot mostly in bright daylight with the sun not setting in that part of the world until 10pm and rising at 4am. It has no jump scares but more visuals that will turn your stomach. It deals with Swedish Pagan horrors and it will not give you nightmares but the visuals will stick to you and keep you thinking long after you leave the cinema. Kernel Elie is petrified of horror films and has nightmares after them – for this one he did not – our very own horror litmus test.

Aster’s slow build in this draws you as tense as a violin string then strums rock and roll style. You know the cast are all lambs to the slaughter as soon as they meet the white dressed bleached blonde haired Swedes who are too nice for their own good. Everything from the get go is just a little off kilter putting the audience into a state of perpetual unease.

Midsommar - Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh
Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh

VISUALLY SPECTACULAR:

MIDSOMMAR shares a little inspiration with THE WICKER MAN – one of the grandfathers of pagan cult films. Also – “shall we just ignore the bear?”

Aster has described the film as a pervert’s WIZARD OF OZ, meaning, most likely, a fairy-tale about an innocent girl transported to a foreign land where her magically ordained future awaits.

I would happily join this cult. I love the white clothes, the living with nature and beauty of flowers. It’s just everything else I dislike, like you know, drinking menstrual blood and having pubes in my food if someone is crushing on me. Also sacrificing yourself at your age limit isn’t ideal but alas that’s enough spoilers to give you a hint.

Visually MIDSOMMAR is spectacular with bright saturated colours and open fields. The runic symbols and stylisation of the film while also beautiful is also part of that otherworldliness to further keep you on edge. I see Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and Aster having a long cinematic collaboration – they work so well together.

Likewise the musical pairing of Ari Aster and The Haxan Cloak is perfection. The Haxan Cloak is Bobby Krlic and his music production is electronic meets pagan. I am listening to his Spotify as I type this and I am feeling very on edge as it is haha. Check him out HERE.

FAMILY AND ODD LAUGHTER:

Oddly the main theme of this horror film is finding love and family, something Dani (Florence Pugh) is desparate for since losing her entire family. She grows towards the Hårga as they start offering it to her. She is without anyone that loves her and the Hårga fill the void. It’s an odd theme that works as most of the time it doesn’t look like Dani is accepting this. But slowly it starts seeping in. It starts with her first shroom trip when she notices grass blending with her toes while on her acid trip. This escalates until we see her in a complete living shroud of flowers indicating her completion of joining the pagan cult.

And the odd laughter is something Elie mentioned from his public screening, Claire and I did laugh at odd moments and notice the audience doing the same during our screening. Kernel Elie and a couple of other reviewers suggested this is because Aster may have missed the mark on where he took certain scenes. I suggest an alternative. Aster takes the film to a place rarely visited in horror. It’s on the precipice of where horror meets the ludicrous, the preposterous, the totally absurd. It is a step from total darkness and we laugh at these scenes as we don’t know what else to do. Seeing the drawings of the pubes to make people love you can be seen as funny and ludicrous or if we look into it it’s fucking terrifying.

Midsommar - Will Poulter
Will Poulter

THE NUMBER 9:

Nearly everything in MIDSOMMAR revolves around pagan symbolism. It is so otherworldly that it appears as alien to the viewer, something else to mess with your unease. It is why, as English viewers, we love Japanese and Korean horror so much. The foreign element takes you more out of your comfort zone basically hyper-driving the terror.

MIDSOMMAR’s feast revolves around the number 9: the complete ritual lasts for nine days, in which nine lives are sacrificed to purify all the town.

In addition, Pelle explains to Dani and the rest of the newcomers that the cycle of life conceived by Hårga’s people marks at 18 years the end of childhood (9×2), youth at 36 (9×4), maturity at 54 (9×6), and aged life at 72 (9×8). Oddly enough, the sum of ciphers of each age of Hårga’s cycle of life (18, 36, 54 and 72) is 9. In addition, the feast is celebrated once each 90 years (9×10), implying that each one of the sacrificed are 10 years of purity for Hårga’s people, and even their own feast’s name, Midsommar, has 9 letters.

The importance of 9 derives from the old myth of Odin, father of all Norse gods, who was hung up upside down for nine days in Yggdrasil, Tree of World, in order to bring knowledge to the world, creating Futhark, Runes’ language, which it would appear is the runic language adapted for the movie. For a complete run down on the deep meaning behind the runes used in MIDSOMMAR check out this article HERE, it’s an interesting read.

Midsommar - Jack Reynor and Gunnel Fred
Jack Reynor and Gunnel Fred

LIKE LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER:

The acting from the lambs ticks all the boxes. I had no idea who Florence Pugh was but she does carrie the film as the prime lead. From not hearing her name before MIDSOMMAR to this week seeing here in the LITTLE WOMEN trailer and discovering she in the upcoming BLACK WIDOW movie is a good indicator of her career trajectory.

The chemistry between her and Jack Reynor is non-existent but it’s meant to be this way. A relationship continued because you can’t really break up with someone when their entire family is murdered haha – that would be the ultimate of relationship dick moves!

Jack Reynor is a guy I have crushed on since seeing him in WHAT RICHARD DID back in 2012, I love his acting, his looks, and now I can say his full frontal haha. You basically see everything from Jack and most of it was his decision. He suggested that since most horror films of old centred around a terrorised and/or brutalised woman running away covered in blood and naked that this time it should be a male’s turn. Go Jack, the women and the gays approve but please wash your butt from that ancient woman assisting with your thrusting haha.

It was nice to see the ironically cast William Jackson Harper aka Chidi from THE GOOD PLACE in a role visiting a good place that turns into a dark place. And Will Poulter basically scene steals every scene with his wonderful horny arrogant douchebag teenager performance – bloody love this guy in movies!!

Midsommar - Creepy Swedish Cultists
Creepy Swedish Cultists

IN CONCLUSION:

MIDSOMMAR will not be for everyone. For me it borders on a masterpiece that takes the viewer so far out of the comfort zone that it’s over two hours of feeling disturbingly uncomfortable. It doesn’t give horror jump scares but it does give us something far more visceral to digest. For Ari Aster, thank god we have directors out there still willing to push the boundaries to absurd levels and give us original cinema that will stay with us for a long time. And for my final words on the matter, “Hoo Hah.”

JK’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL CLAIRE’S POP SCORE:

KERNEL ELIE’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.

** Some information in this review is copied from external sources.