After debuting the critically acclaimed film Hereditary in 2018, director Ari Aster is back for yet another mind-bending, unique horror fest. And a festival it is; although the festivities in Midsommar do not let you just be a casual observer. Those who view it must also partake in it, if not be the stars of the festivities. Whether they want to or not. The term “cult classic” really takes the cake, quite literally, in this new film that takes place in a remote Swedish township.
**If you have not yet watched Midsommar and/or Hereditary, this post may contain spoilers**
Before seeing the movie, I did not think that anything could top the disturbing family secrets combined with supernatural devil worship horror that was Hereditary; but I was in for a shock. Midsommar topped it twice over. Or should I say, it pushed it right off a cliff, rendered it immobile, and burned it alive, snuffing out any life left in it with the swing of a giant mallet. That’s not to say Aster’s second film took away any of the brilliance that his first film possesses; Hereditary’s unexpected plot twist was unlike any I had ever seen before, and it was brilliant (check out Four Ways Director Ari Aster Creates Brilliant Movies for more about Aster’s other hit movie, Hereditary).
But Midsommar took everything that was Hereditary to the next level by introducing us to a movie that was simultaneously a story and a character experience; by this I mean the viewers get to see and feel everything with the characters as if being there themselves, while also being told the story as it happens to the characters. When the characters hallucinate from the various substances they are intentionally or unintentionally taking, you as the viewer get to see the setting of the world shifting as they do. There is also not a single instance of obvious supernatural force in the entire movie; the horror is derived entirely from real people and their decisions, which adds to the extreme shock and the “it could happen to you” factor of the movie.
Midsommar is a character experience.
You can understand where each character is coming from, and they all have unique viewpoints; as a result, they all experience the trip (and the cult) a little differently. To top it all off, delusional though they might be, the cult members think they are doing good by the atrocities they commit, so you (along with the Americans) cannot entirely hate them either.
The horror is derived entirely from real people and their decisions.
Director Ari Aster throws us bits and pieces of American vs. Swedish cult cultural juxtaposition, which is sometimes so subtle it’s easy to miss. But that doesn’t make it any less brilliant.
In the beginning of the movie we are shown American culture, where some of the male characters make comments to suggest the dispensability of women for sex.
In direct juxtaposition to this, the Swedish culture views the men in the American group to be dispensable for their seed, as one-by-one the males whose race is closest to the Swedes’ are chosen by the females of the cult to be seduced, raped, and then sacrificed — but not before impregnating the young Swedish women. Their sacrifice, however, is not as peaceful, positive, or “loving” (if you could call it that) as those of the elders, and as those done in honour. No, the cult members utter chants to banish the evil, dead spirits into the American men as they burn. Needless to say, this movie is not kind to men, especially to men who don’t treat women with respect.
Meanwhile, the main character girl is forced to once again confront the exact death she is trying to get over; the sudden death of her parents parallels the death of two elder members of the Swedish township, as they toss themselves off the township’s highest cliff. The town’s eldest members sacrifice themselves willingly, just as her sister willingly commits the double murder suicide of herself and her parents.
The Swedish member of the American group of friends then invites the main girl to take a different perspective on these deaths, telling her that it is just a custom, the way of things. She blatantly refuses this at first, but by the end of the movie she succumbs and accepts the cult’s perspectives. Again, whether she wants to or not.
Aster does not care whether you want to see the details; he zooms in, sometimes slow and other times quick, whether you care to see the graphic realism of the cult’s ways or not. And real it is. The most brutal aspect of the movie is its reality. The movie is real; it happened.
All the film’s “ceremonies” and “festivities” are taken from historical accounts of Swedish culture. Let me repeat that.
Cults such as this are real; and they are part of cultural history.
The filmmakers discuss this in the following LA Times article. They mention the mallet from the film is a replica they created from an existing one they found in a Stockholm museum.
If you take with you any real-life advice from this movie, it would be to always make sure you ask in detail about what exactly the festivities are of a culture you are about to spend more than a day with, especially if they reside in a foreign land in the middle of nowhere.
Oh, and another thing: always be a good boyfriend.
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