Midsommar: The most morbid break-up movie of the year

Midsommar movie photo via A24
Midsommar movie photo via A24 /

Ari Aster, fresh off of the success of Hereditary, tackles grief in another fashion altogether with his sophomore feature-length folk horror film, Midsommar. A.K.A. Men are Trash: The Movie.

Caution: There are spoilers in this Midsommar review.

Ari Aster is something of a rare artist in today’s world of mainstream horror. On one hand, the young filmmaker comes off as a man who is unapologetic in his artistic vision to the point of alienating potential audience members with the final result. This is something we saw with Hereditary, his feature-length debut that didn’t pull any punches when it came to depicting a depressing reality within a broken household.

On the other hand, all of this comes with a level of self-awareness that is not often found in ambitious filmmakers looking to try something different. Filmmakers who try to break into the mainstream often try to do so by forcing the audience into taking them seriously as artists, which is likely not to happen if the content doesn’t have a connection with them and is more focused on the art of its own being. Self-indulgent is the word I’m looking for here.

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But Ari Aster seems to get it from an audience perspective. He knows that above all else, people go to the movies to escape their lives and have fun with the premise of whatever movie they’re watching. Hereditary offered up no fun for the audience, plunging them into a world of grim family drama. But Aster’s sophomore feature-length film, Midsommar, approaches its subject matter with a far more different approach to his previous film.

Midsommar hardly lets the horror of its conflict settle in too deep in the manner that Hereditary did. Instead, Aster’s Swedish folk horror flick explores both the horror and unusual comedy that comes from experiencing the major culture shock felt by our main character and her group of friends. This movie is just as hellbent at making you belly-laugh as it is at disturbing you with the various events that occur during the two-and-a-half hour runtime.

Field trip to Sweden

Midsommar is very different from Hereditary, but their portrayal of grief is something shared, with a horrible family tragedy kicking off the former in depressing fashion. Dani (Florence Pugh),  the live victim of this tragedy, is stuck in an aimless part of her life at the beginning of the film. In addition to the tragedy leaving her with serious PTSD, she must also put up with her uninterested and distant boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), who tends to spend more time with his boys than his own girlfriend in obvious need of support.

This manifests into Christian reluctantly inviting Dani to go on a trip to Sweden to meet up with his Swedish friend, Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) commune in northern Sweden, accompanied by his two graduate student friends, Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper). As soon as they arrive, the festivities of the midsummer celebration begin, with various rituals and dances that slowly begin to turn grim by the minute. From there, Midsommar completely dives into the folk horror in a delightfully wicked manner.

Midsommar is both straightforward and slightly vague in its narrative presentation. There is no room for beating around the bush, but the story doesn’t always stay focused on Dani’s point of view. The two-and-a-half hour duration allows for the film’s story to build up the various men accompanying Dani and their own attitudes towards the commune’s way of living. From selfishly snoopy about the commune’s culture to actively disrespectful of the whole ordeal, the film follows each character’s reaction to the festivities with patience and subtle build-up.

It is here where some may feel that Midsommar becomes aimless with its story. But I personally view it as a slow attack on toxic relationships, the Western treatment of unfamiliar culture, and of course grief. There’s a level of disconnect existing within the main characters and their own relationships with each other, which manifests into their own squabbles disrupting the festivities and worsening Dani’s condition, leading up to the film justifying its break-up movie label in gloriously excessive fashion.

Midsommar movie photo via A24 /

Tension within the commune

It is here where Midsommar sets itself apart from Hereditary in the furthest possible manner. Rather than the latter exploring its subject with an uncomfortable sense of realism and dread, Midsommar progresses as something of a genuine celebration, complete with screaming and laughing. There is a joyous atmosphere to the film even as the rituals become more gruesome and it leads to the film exposing its morbid, yet genuinely hilarious sense of humor.

A large part of the humor is provided by the always-entertaining Will Poulter, who brings a sense of clueless curiosity and acts as a vessel for the audience to come through and engage with the film’s complicated universe. Poulter’s Mark could not care less about the commune’s customs as he only aims to hook up with whoever strikes his interest, bringing a disconnected sense of humor that is outrageously out-of-place in the village, making for some of the film’s funniest gags even in the face of the horror that is present.

But Poulter isn’t the only humorous aspect of Midsommar. Indeed, Ari Aster’s self-awareness shines through in this otherwise grim folk horror that plays up the absurdity of its own premise with a casual nature that aims to be jarring to the audience. Aster’s film does not take itself entirely seriously, despite the very-real notions of PTSD and troubled relationships that are explored in the film.

The tension within Midsommar almost seems to make the audience turn against most of its main characters, resulting in the later events of the film being delivered in a disturbingly humorous way that allows for the audience to have fun with the movie instead of just observing the drama and horror. The story and its execution encourage audiences to actively go “What in the hell?”, both at its most humorous and horrific. It is not a stretch at all to call this film a comedy at its core (well, more dark comedy, but comedy nonetheless).

Bringing a level of reality to the film’s crazy story is Florence Pugh in what I predict will be one of her definitive roles to be talked about in the future. Her portrayal of a broken woman alone in a cruel world is equal parts entertaining and enthralling. Pugh’s physical performance is easily comparable to Toni Collette’s own phenomenal turn in Hereditary and the Oscar buzz should NOT exclude Pugh. Her vulnerable performance holds up as among the best in the genre and her name should be buzzing in the years to come.

Related Story. Colin Stetson talks composing Hereditary's score. light

Fun for the family

It’s strange to say that an artsy folk horror film like Midsommar is somehow more accessible than Hereditary, but here we are. Ari Aster’s post-breakup horror film doesn’t even seem to stand as a horror film. It’s actually much more comparable to a dark summer comedy, totally hilarious in its utterly absurd premise while still giving way to some disgusting stuff rearing its ugly head. But it’s all delivered with the fine precision of a next-level auteur who has managed to make a film exploring the dark reality of toxic relationships to be so much fun.

Complete with dazzling visuals and amazing cinematography that lets us soak in the summer sun, Midsommar is simultaneously high and low-brow in its presentation, pulling off the pulpiest of shock horror with the craftsmanship of a director akin to Alejandro Innaritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen, and even Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick in particular also injected many of his movies with a sick sense of humor and Aster manages to pull off something similar without having to outright steal from his contemporaries and influences.

This mixture of expert craftsmanship and mindful nature of audience expectations leads to Midsommar becoming the horror ride to see this summer in all of its glory. There’s just something so wonderful about the film’s existence that propels this feature past Hereditary. It left with me with a strange sense of satisfaction and I predict that its insanity may win some people over in the end, even if they’re not thrilled by how dark the movie is at first.

Ari Aster proves once again that his artistry may be second-to-none in the world of mainstream horror. Much like Jordan Peele, Aster is using his newfound fame to deliver ambitious horror that is both fun and purposeful in its existence. Midsommar comes to us as a feature fully aware of its absurdities and, much like the Swedish commune in the film, happy to invite us to join in the festivities. You may see a lot of weird stuff, but this is a festival whose finale you will NOT want to miss, no matter how much you think you don’t need it.

Next. Midsommar: Explaining that twisted ending. dark

Final Verdict: 9/10

What did you think of the movie? Did you like it or not? How would you compare it to Hereditary? Sound off below!

Midsommar is out now in theaters.