Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
The heightened horror genre has found solace within the personification of grief. This genre has now found its zeitgeist with “Midsommar,” an aesthetic treasure trove that never shies away from it masterfully crafted portrayals of mental illness.
Anxiety, dread and depression — these are the true horrors that haunt the deep recesses of our minds. The sun may illuminate one’s world, but these nagging feelings will cloud one’s judgment and terrorize one’s entire social landscape.
Ari Aster’s beautifully disturbing sophomore feature, “Midsommar,” encapsulates internal horrors and projects them onto the viewer’s psyche in a way that can only be referred to as true art.
Aster made waves in the horror genre last year with “Hereditary,” his gripping family drama masked as a horror film. While both “Midsommar” and “Hereditary” tackle similar themes of grief and trauma within family, the abandonment of all horror tropes in “Midsommar” excels the film to a transcendental experience that will leave many audience members shaken to their core.
“Midsommar” throws the viewer into a failing relationship between protagonists Dani and Christian, played by Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor. After a family tragedy strikes Dani, the couple find themselves leaning on each other in a time of despair. This codependency is challenged when they are both invited to Sweden by their friend Pelle to participate in a nine-day midsummer festival.
While the plot might sound tame, the film wastes no time when it comes to disturbing the audience.
The true horrors of the film are introduced through Aster’s aesthetic choices once the characters arrive at the festival. Although the film is a horror, the constant glow of the sun leaves no room for jumpscare tropes. Instead, it puts the viewer face to face with disturbing horrific imagery. Aster’s illuminated and saturated color palette overwhelms and disorients the viewer.
All of Aster’s directorial choices are driven by a subtle allegory of mental health. The festival is in a wide open field, instead of a cramped and contained space typical to other horror films. This choice might seem minor, but the never-ending fields of grass insinuate the feeling of being misplaced and lost.
Instilled light and wide open scenes are the complete antithesis of what horror is known for, but it works. The film’s frightening nature doesn’t boil down to its horrific imagery, but to the real horror that bubbles within the character’s headspace.
The looming threat of Dani’s trauma-fueled anxiety attacks cranks up the suspense to an 11. This could not have been achieved without Pugh’s stellar performance. Her grief-driven screeches and manic gasps for air strike a chord that no jump scare could ever reach.
The film’s brilliance resides in these human moments of disturbance, and Aster knows it.
So many masterful long takes track the degradation of the human psyche, and so many have stuck with me long after an initial viewing.
An early scene tracks Dani as she frantically rushes to the bathroom to release pent up anxiety, while the camera looms above her head. When she releases the anxiety with a muffled scream, the camera drops to eye level.
This scene allows the viewer to see the impact these thrashing thoughts can have on us. It was so incredibly brilliant and mind opening that I audibly gasped, “Oh my God.”
There are so many jaw-dropping moments like this throughout the incredibly dense film. Every painting in the background and line of dialogue holds so much foreshadowing, and multiple viewings will create an ambiance of dramatic irony.
All of this dramatic irony is incredibly executed at the end. It’s hard not to feel like the entire film was building up to one of the most disturbing punchlines ever conceived through its final shot. It will hit close to home for anyone previously involved in a codependent relationship, and it might enlighten those who are presently within a toxic relationship.
The line “it has to be seen to believe” is thrown around a lot, but nothing embodies this statement like “Midsommar.” The amount of care put into every aspect of this film resulted in one of the best portrayals of the real horror that haunt us all — our own mind.