Have you ever been in a relationship you wish you weren’t in? Try being on the other side of that; the person who’s way more invested into a person who doesn’t want to be with them anymore. Both sides suck. I’ve been there. The feeling’s not totally mutual, you loved so much harder than your partner did. Because of it, everything you did came across as clingy and overbearing, and it probably was. Was that totally your fault? I don’t think so. I’m glad that I had the balls, regardless of how long it took, to do something about it. Love hurts. Love is and can be an endless pursuit. The yearning for affection, attention, companionship.
Love is hard. Love is a lot of shit.
Love is not just romance or “Eros”, that passionate and sudden love. I’ve learned as I’ve grown into the man that I am about Agape, Mania, Ludus, Pragma, Storage. I’m not like one of those spiritual crystals kind of guys, but I do appreciate the investment into understanding things about life in a new way and learning about different love styles helped me get to know me and how I relate to other people and things around me.
That may explain why I connected to “Midsommar” in a way I wasn’t prepared for leading up to my screening. I should start out by saying that I wasn’t a big “Hereditary” fan. It’s far from a bad movie, I just came to the party late. I probably watched it a couple of weeks after it came out and found it to be a bit overrated. Ari Aster is a tactician in storytelling and the technical merits in “Hereditary” are sky high for the genre. It’s the story I couldn’t find a connecting point with and after a certain while if you’re not invested subjectively into a film than the pay off in the end may not satisfy you. That was my experience.
Like Jordan Peele’s sophomore follow up to “Get Out” with “Us”, whether fair or not, Ari Aster had a lot of weight placed on his shoulders to deliver. Damn, did he. A little different than with “Hereditary” I was very excited to see this film. The trailer was thrilling and cut in a way that would challenge all your senses when you’d watch it. This was in my top 5 anticipated movies for 2019 and I had to wait well after its debut to see it as I was on vacation. I tried to find it playing in France, but I don’t think the French Dubbed would’ve did it for me. I’m very proud of my patience and the respectfulness from the Twitter circles I’m in that didn’t give anything away.
“Midsommar” is excellent!
Dani (Florence Pugh) travels with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to Sweden with a close group of his Grad school buddies to visit a small commune in which one of his buds, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) belongs. They agree to take part in a 9-day Mid-Summer festival. Dani is still dealing with the trauma of a horrific Murder-Suicide her sister committed against her parents. That grief compounded with a rocky relationship with Christian who isn’t all that invested in to any longer is enough to push Dani to a breaking point. However, she manages to find a way to snap back and against Christian’s wishes she travels with them as the 5th wheel and experiences things emotionally and spiritually she never could’ve imagined. As the festival proceeds and the groups numbers dwindle, and the intentions of the commune become more mysterious both Dani and Christian are faced with a decision neither of them is prepared to make.
Ari Aster tells a story that’s deeply personal and very straightforward. Its evident how much he researched this subject before shooting as the community in which he’s depicting is filled with nuance and practicality to thinking, faith, relation to each other and outsiders of the commune. The pacing of this film is incredible and as I watched I was able to experience everything with Dani and Christian like the way they did. There’s such an organic progression in their relationship you become increasingly invested as to how it plays out. I was able to see myself as Dani and Christian and that creates an emotional conundrum you try to reason with as you watch. The horror elements to this film is all a back drop to the deeply conflicted character study at work.
Florence Pugh delivers an out of this world performance as Dani. She’s your every girl. I can’t say there’s anything special to who she is or how we perceive her, yet she radiates when on screen. It’s not her looks or her personality that draws you in, but its Pugh’s powerful portrayal that you gravitate toward. She demonstrates a well of emotional range and exerts a hypnotic physical performance to go along with it. Her decision making throughout the film is problematic and you actively root against it, however she’s a victim and feels the sorrow that’s plaguing her, and it hurts to watch.
This film isn’t as horror filled in my opinion as it is extremely uncomfortable. We witness things between characters that sting because of how blatantly wrong it feels to watch or be perpetrated against someone. There’s so much subtext underneath all the dialogue its really magnificent to how it pays off. Aster writes a script that is spectacularly human. I was trying to find the right way to vocalize it, but I think this is the best on screen written and performed human person to person dialogue that I’ve ever watched. It’s so hard to explain, but you know how you watch a film and can applaud the strong writing, and how like with Sorkin for example, its movie dialogue. It’s not 100% how that person would sound carrying a conversation in real life, but it’s the best way we have accepted on screen within a film. This is something different, something extra special. The dialogue between Dani and Christian feels so real and so lived in as if Florence and Jack have been dating for almost 4 years. Their timing is picture perfect. Their delivery is perfect and when you contrast what they’re saying to how they’re saying it, it’s such a complicated feeling you get as you digest the film.
This is a story that is not for everyone, nor can everyone handle it.
Thankfully Ari blends its balanced comedic notes to cut the tension, which there’s a lot of. I mentioned how well the subtext is handled in this movie, that can be equally said of the comedy which principally is dispensed by Mark (Will Poulter). He is a much-needed emotional change up to remind you that at the heart of all the grief and crap we experience in our own lives and what we’re watching on screen, there’s always room for a laugh. What’s great is that his timing for a joke never cheapens a situation playing out on screen. A lot of horror films can veer into “Camp” territory easily if the comedy is misplaced. This never happens.
The characters constructed in the script all balance each other out. Dani and Christian are the Drama, Mark is the comedy, Pelle is the horror and Josh (William Jackson Harper) is the sci-fi. His entire approach is in tune and aligned to his characterization and heightens the conflict. It’s so unique to see a cast symbolize so much in one movie and not be overly complex about it. All the character’s goals are evident and each of the time we spend with them is very rewarding.
So much so, in the pursuit of what they want it’s how they meet their… … .. Nope, not going to spoil it.
Additionally, the camera work employed is great. The things that are done with the camera, playing with the focus, the obvious use of daylight are all innovative and breathtakingly used to great effect. The effects within the atmosphere are as trippy as the shrooms everyone takes at the beginning of their hike to the festival. It’s weird, after I initially watched the film I didn’t have the urge to go out and watch it again. Not because the story I described isn’t incredible, but its most definitely a hard watch. In a classic horror, there’s an overt villain for the most part out to get you, and we as the audience root for our protagonists to survive. That’s not the case here. There’s no jump scares, there’s not even many scary scenes, but there are terrifying scenes, uncomfortable depictions of faith, life, death, transition, lust, hate, and acceptance. As I’m writing, I kind of want to watch it again now. I’ve never experienced a film where I was able to see myself in all the core characters, well maybe not the Swedish guy, but I’ve been Dani, Christian, Josh, and Mark. And their journeys are a terrifying reminder of how much of your life is not in your own hands. And as scary as that sounds, Ari makes it so digestible.
He builds a cinematically stunning cultural experience that is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. “Midsommar” is a graphic grief trip and is powered by incredible writing and a powerful performance from Florence Pugh. It’s not as horrifying as the trailer sells you and I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for the masterful blend of comedy and anthropological terror that puts the meaning of life, family, and belonging into new perspective. I’ve learned a valuable lesson too; keep your enemies close and your friends far away.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 9/10
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren
Run Time: 147 mins