“You’re in a cult, call your dad, or someone that can help you.” The now iconic line from My Favorite Murder’s Karen Kilgariff ran through my mind through much of Ari Aster’s newest opus, Midsommar. A gargantuan horror flick, with the theatrical cut clocking in at 147 minutes (and a rumored three-hour extended cut coming this fall on home video), this film felt its runtime, and not a minute longer. At no point did this monster of a movie feel long in the tooth or like it was beating me over the head with whatever point it was trying to make. I understand that the runtime might have some potential viewers thinking twice, but I can assure you that the journey is worth it.
At the behest of their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), Christian (Jack Reynor) and Dani (Florence Pugh) visit his family’s home in Sweden for their annual midsummer festival, a pagan ritual based on bizarre traditions. Flanked by their friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper), with whom Christian is competing against for their respective thesis projects on the festival, can the couple’s relationship survive the nine-day retreat? Or will the growing unease, caused by the couple’s conflict and the foreign nature of the rituals, end the courtship before their return home?
To say that this film is weird, bizarre, or even fucked up is to greatly undercut the impact of this film. To question the film’s status as a horror movie is to do it a disservice. Midsommar is a head trip of a film that delivers on psychological and existential horror. What is normal for these people partaking in their religious tradition is absolutely bonkers to the central cluster of Dani, Christian, Josh, and Mark, and even Pelle’s attempts to put them at ease do little to soothe their fears.
When this film hits the viewer with a shocker or a twist, it hits like a ten ton hammer, snapping the viewer out of the trance that the scenery puts them in. The fact that the majority of the screen time sees the events playing out in broad daylight is a jarring fact all on its own, and is excellent at subverting the darkness trope in horror. Further subversion comes in the form of the film’s handling of PTSD, as carried by Dani. Without saying what causes her disorder, the way that the film harkens back to that moment and shows why Dani is so shaken during moments of duress is done excellently, between sound cues and Florence Pugh’s acting chops. She is a strong character, but just flawed enough to be truly likeable.
The film is visually gorgeous. The field in which the festival takes place looks like something from a postcard, and just as the lighting does, it jars the expectations one has about a horror movie. It takes the tropes and key facets we’ve come to know in the genre and asks, “How can I turn this on its ear?” Admittedly, I have yet to see Ari Aster’s previous work Hereditary, but after seeing Midsommar, I am anxious to see what else this auteur is capable of, especially when it comes to turning the old standards of the ages-old genre around.
And I especially can’t wait for that three-hour extended cut. Come through, NC-17 content!