(Release Info London schedule; July 3rd, 2019, Curzon Aldgate, 2 Goodman's Fields, Canter Way, Whitechapel, London E1 8PS, United Kingdom, 8:50pm)
Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynar) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy befalls Dani, grief keeps them together, and 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 adventure 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. From director Ari Aster comes a dread-soaked cinematic fairy tale where a world of darkness unfolds in broad daylight.
Dani is a young American woman navigating personal loss as her relationship with her boyfriend Christian crumbles. At the outset of "Midsommar", Dani’s relationship is on the rocks, as Christian selfishly places his academic pursuits and male friendships before Dani’s emotional needs. Then tragedy strikes. She suffers a devastating loss and becomes orphaned, left with nothing in the way of family except Christian. The closest person to her is this guy who's on the brink of leaving her. He’s decent enough that he doesn’t leave, given the situation. But it’s a matter of duty for Christian, and Dani is well aware of not being embraced by his friends. Those friends include Josh (William Jackson Harper), a 'PhD' student whose interests lean toward anthropology and folklore; Mark (Will Poulter), a caustic and chauvinistic goofball with negligible boundaries; and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a Swedish exchange student who has invited his friends on a summer trip to his ancestral home in remote Scandinavia. After initially concealing the trip from her, Christian feels pressured to invite her along, much to the chagrin of his close-knit boys club. Josh, Mark, and Pelle simply want to cut loose with their own kind, threatened by anything that will distract them from their personal and selfsh goals, whether it’s furthering their academic glory or getting laid in Sweden.
Eventually Christian caves, inviting Dani on the trip. She accepts a false invitation, knowing Christian’s friends don’t like her, and from here the movie becomes a question of how this toxic dynamic will resolve itself. He’s staying in the relationship out of obligation, and she’s clinging to him as a result, sensing he wants to leave, but also knowing she can’t survive on her own. They’re at a standstill. Their relationship should have ended a long while ago. Despite circumstances and the need for comfort, it continues. Complicating the dynamic is an unspoken academic rivalry between Josh, a natural-born scholar utilizing the trip to do research for his 'PhD' thesis on Pelle’s ancestors, 'The Hårga', and Christian, who doesn’t seem to have a genuine affinity for academia. The film establishes a quiet tension between them that explodes when Christian decides he's also going to write his dissertation on the customs and rituals of 'The Hårga'. As multiple relationships unravel over the course of the film, it becomes clear that everyone in this boys club is just out for themselves; they’re not even true friends to each other. From it's inception "Midsommar" is a horror movie, instead viewing the project as an epic adventure unfolding in a strange hermetic world. When 'The Americans' enter this landscape, they walk through pearly gates into a new realm.
Arriving in Sweden, Dani and company travel to remote 'Hälsingland', where Pelle’s tribe is in the midst of celebrating a purification ritual occurring once every 90 years. Joining 'The Americans' are Simon (Archie Madewke) and Connie (Ellora Torchia), British travelers of color, an important clue to one of "Midsommar’s" more sinister undercurrents. After consuming psychedelic mushrooms, the new arrivals journey into the forest, eventually wandering through a wooden portal into what appears to be a shimmering fantasy world. It's a journey into the heart of darkness as an American couple, Dani and Christian, find themselves unexpectedly drawn into the world of a mysterious and dangerous primeval cult during a vacation getaway with their friends in a bucolic, hidden Swedish village. As Dani journeys from emotional neediness to questionable empowerment, the film examines a rich array of ideas, from personal fidelity to social influence to cultural legacy. Lying at the heart of "Midsommar" is the ancestral 'Hårga' village, a series of rustic buildings including a bunkhouse, kitchen, and temple set across a vast field nestled beneath an idyllic tree-lined ridge. As the outsiders acclimate to their new surroundings, participating in meals, ceremonies, and dances with the sixty-odd members of the tribe, they come to discover a close-knit, seemingly benevolent and even jubilant cult of revelers, each clad in customized white linen uniforms bearing runic symbols. But amidst the glaring and relentless sunlight, things soon take a darker turn.
A young woman who travels to the ends of the earth, only to find herself indoctrinated into a chilling pagan cult. What appears to be a sunny paradise populated with friendly villagers frolicking in nature quickly shifts towards something sinister. As Dani battles her own inner demons, and Christian plunges deeper into the mysteries of 'Hårga' in the hope of achieving academic glory, the couple find themselves submerged in values, traditions and rituals that are disturbingly different from their own. It's a story of a woman who's losing her mind and her bearings, and it's very interesting to put her in a stressful situation where the sun is always up, and there’s no distinguishing between night and day. There's thematic resonance, given that Dani is not really directly examining her situation. Arriving near the end of the film is another engrossing and evocative piece, depicting Dani as she participates in 'The May Queen' festivities, alongside young women from the village who compete for the honor of being crowned 'May Queen'. They dance in tandem until they collapse one by one from exhaustion, and only the winner remains. "Midsommar" has always been a kind of horror movie about codependence.
A dark fairy tale about a grieving woman who becomes transformed in a landscape of ancient pagan rituals, "Midsommar" centers on Dani’s gradual indoctrination as she pulls away from Christian and the turmoil of her past, toward a new life in a new family, inside a distant tribe and culture that's distinctly matriarchal. The film begins in the world of men, as Christian and his fellow academics jockey for professional success while making crude sexual jokes about the women in their lives, Dani among them. But as it opens up into the world of 'The Hårga', the story becomes increasingly female-dominated, culminating in a fertility rite that's among the most powerful and timely screen images in recent memory, a defiant statement on female agency in a time when men still routinely attempt to control women’s bodies. There’s a balance between men and women in 'Hårga', but women clearly have more power. Some of the guys in the movie are jerks. That said, this eventually reveals itself to be a story of female empowerment, albeit one that's bittersweet and not exactly clear-cut. Dani is empowered; but she’s also not. As 'The Americans' are guided through the archaic customs of 'The Hårga', Dani receives acceptance, empowerment, and even deification among the people of Pelle’s tribe, finding herself reborn through their ancient rituals. She begins to allow herself to hurt and feel all the overwhelming emotions she has been suppressing. It’s the first time she listens to her pain, and accepts it. It’s a perverse wish fulfillment story.
It’s like this warped, fantastical version of what you might see and hear in a rural 'Hälsingland' village during a midsummer festival. On the costumes you see a combination of 'The Runic Alphabet and 'The Affekt Alphabet'. As a character grows up in the cult, he or she's assigned a specific rune, which corresponds with their unique background. 'Hårga' swoops in to give Dani what she's missing in her life and also take away what she hasn’t had the courage to eliminate. Dani, gets a taste of 'The Hårga’s' true motives, to surreptitiously recruit select outsiders into their customs and way of life. It’s no coincidence that several characters, including Josh, Simon and Connie are people of color stumbling into the overwhelmingly white environment of 'Hälsingland'. But it’s Dani and Christian, white 'Anglo Saxon Protestant Americans', who are initiated into the darker mysteries of 'Hårga'. In "Midsommar", the true villain is not the villagers themselves, who are merely acting out the same rituals they've for centuries, but rather their ideas, values, and customs, which find a new home inside Dani as the story reaches it's incendiary climax. That Dani finds herself empowered and transformed by these outmoded traditions is what lends the film it's unique power and horror; we don’t often sense poisonous ideas circulating in the world until they're already planted inside us. Once they take root, it can be too late.
This film is based on James George Frazer’s 'The Golden Bough', a globe-hopping anthropological study of paganism as it yielded to 'Christianity', to the spiritual traditions of philosophers such as 'Rudolf Steiner'. We get a grasp on how people in rural and religious Scandinavian communities lived, from 500 years ago up until the present day. The film looks at the natural elements, how people took care of nature, including plants and animals, as well as the structural elements and the art that surrounded them, including wall paintings. Culture is very strong in these parts, we get a sense of how they communicated, which is more often than not through music. As we move darker, we find ourselves immersed in more nefarious customs, including Viking torture methods. Juggling darkness and light. The screenplay inserts a group of modern young Americans into the alien environment of an eerie cult performing a once-in-a-millennium series of rituals during a summertime festival in remote northern Sweden. The film concocts a tale of escalating horror and dread that unfurls in glorious, unrepentant daylight, during a time of year in Sweden when nightfall never completely arrives, plunging the outsiders into an additional layer of disorientation that, as "Midsommar" reveals it's deeper mysteries, coalesces into a hallucinatory freak-out. We've to look at it like an anthropologist might approach 'Candy Land'.
In "Midsommar", every shot is a puzzle, with all parts moving individually, eventually becoming an entire field of orchestrated parts. Being part of the imagination is terrifying, and just as exciting. The initial image that sort of catalyzed "Midsommar" involved the sacrificial burning of a temple. Fitting the ‘breakup movie’ into a new setting, putting an operatic spin on the rote sort of cathartic ending we’ve seen in those movies before, you know, where the jilted protagonist burns the box containing all the items Dani collects over the course of the relationship she’s finally liberated herself from. So that by the end, even though this tribe remains a mystery, it’s also intricately defined. "Midsommar" pushes the horror genre in new and unpredictable directions. An apocalyptic adventure on a grand scale. The film constructs mesmerizing and unique world from the ground up, replete with it's own language, history, mythology, and traditions. It's a dark and hallucinatory fairy tale that's as thought provoking as it's viscerally disquieting.