When Ari Aster hit the scene last year with his feature film debut, Hereditary, he made an immediate mark with horror critics by setting what many took to be a fresh approach to his pacing and tone. Now he’s back with his sophomore outing, Midsommar, and his unique approach continues to evolve and in its way, improve.
The story is not a complex setup: a group of college friends on summer break decide to travel to a remote commune in Sweden where one of them had grown up. It’s not just for fun, because the Swede, Pelle (played by Vilhelm Blomgren) has told them that the people of his hamlet have an elaborate midsummer celebration, and two of the classmates – Christian Hughes (played by Jack Reynor) and Josh (played by William Jackson Harper) are anthropology students and want to study the festival.
When they arrive in the remote wilderness where Pelle’s ancestral home of Hårga, the earlier jokes of commune and cult becomes far less humorous and more menacing. It’s a film that the less you know about, the more impactful it’ll be.
Similar to Hereditary, it’s not really horror in any classic cinematic reference. For myself if asked to put a term for it, I’d think of it more as a tense suspense thriller. There is little that happens that hasn’t been telegraphed for a half hour and more. Aster is sublime in her approach, however. There’s almost never anything in the frame that isn’t part of that foreshadowing or setting part of the tone. He builds tension, but the boogyman is far more in the mind of the viewer than hidden offscreen.
Similar to Get Out, Midsommar through camera angles, framing, and an out of kilter pose, instills an feeling of unease and tension. You know something is going to go very wrong, and you probably even know how, but the craftsmanship is stunning so you go along for the ride.
There’s going to be a large segment of the horror audience that will go to this film and get something very different than what they expected. It’s not a killer at Camp Crystal Lake. It’s not a slasher/jump-scare film. A phrase used for Hereditary is even more valid here: If you’re going in looking for a “scary movie,” you’re doing it wrong .
At various points in the scene things will seem to be almost comical, and some in the audience I wonder if they’ll wind up not getting what’s being expressed by the characters and laughing in response. But if you let yourself get swept up and perceive what’s driving the community and why they do what they do, it moves to the begin to reveal the method to the madness, both in amongst the village as well as in the mind of the filmmaker.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.