Back in July 2019, I decided to take a semi-permanent break from this site to focus on other things. I think even though I had no plan to come back into regular reviewing on Sarah Saw a Movie at the time, I always knew that one film would leave me so desperate to write about it that I would come back.
That film, is Midsommar.
Beyond fashionably late to the Midsommar festivities, I watched it for the first time as 2019 (and an entire decade) was coming to a close. A film hasn’t floored me this much in a very long time, and I knew that I needed to find an outlet to share my feelings on it. And of course, that outlet already exists so here we are!
As a complete “horror wimp”, I have not been brave enough to watch Ari Aster’s Hereditary. However I have read enough about it to know that it is a film I will never watch, for reasons that are far too complicated to get into now. However, there was something about Midsommar that intrigued me. Like most millennials on the internet, I love a weird documentary about a strange cult, so Midsommar‘s themes immediately appealed to me. Additionally, I couldn’t remember having ever seen a horror film set in broad daylight, so that piqued my interest also. Having seen the film “memed” to death on Twitter for almost a year, I finally decided to take the plunge and see what the fuss was about. And boy was it a trip I was glad to take.
For many, an issue with Midsommar was the run-time, but this was never something that concerned me. In fact, I decided to jump right in and watch the almost-three-hour Director’s Cut, and from the start I was completely mesmerised. In fact, it is the slow burn amble to the inevitable madness that I loved so much. It is brazen of a film, particularly one in the “horror” genre, to have such a weighty runtime, and one which has more of a focus on building atmospheric tension than it does on endless scares. It is also the film gift that keeps on giving, with countless background details and foreshadowing that will make you grateful for the fact the film takes its time.
The slow start is also necessary in establishing the key themes and relationships. Central to the story is the relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Raynor) who we meet in the beginning in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy involving Dani’s family. Christian is an inherently unlikeable character which immediately places us on the side of Dani – something which is absolutely essential given the films shocking, and slightly divisive ending. The film tackles the themes of grief, loss and co-dependency in particular, and even amongst the ritualistic nightmares and drug-induced mayhem that follows, this is never lost.
There is one particularly cathartic moment that occurs late into the film that was truly unexpected. After losing her parents and sister, Dani only really has Christian to rely on, however he isn’t able to provide her with the support needed. After persuading her to join his “lads” trip to Sweden to spend time amongst the Hårga community, things begin to take a slightly more sinister turn as the strange rituals start to impact on the outsiders. Dani however, in the absence of her family or a supportive boyfriend, begins to feel more at home with the Hårga. After she witnesses Christian being unfaithful, the women of the community rally with her, weeping and screaming with her and providing the support she hasn’t so far experienced following her loss.
It is through moments of catharsis such as this that film manages to keep a grounding, despite the surreal and strange things that happen. Anchoring the entire thing is Florence Pugh’s exceptional performance. In a just world, she would be in conversation for awards for this performance, because it would certainly be deserved. She has the entire film to carry, and as well as having to portray the raw emotion required, she also has to remain likeable and believable throughout; no easy feat, but something which Pugh excels in. It is through the strength of her performance that the shocking ending feels – dare I say it – justified! The film closes with Dani, the newly crowned May Queen, deciding that Christian should be offered as a sacrifice in the final Midsummer ritual, meeting his fiery end inside a bear skin. Whilst the imagery is bizarre and startling, it isn’t something which feels entirely out of character, given how we have seen her being treated throughout the film. Her smile at the end is a shot which will linger with you long afterwards as well. It encompasses relief, joy, closure and a strange finality to her grieving process, and Pugh completely sells this without a single word.
There is so much to be said about this film, but one of the most startling things is the way it looks. Aster’s decision for much of the film’s “horror” to occur in broad daylight is a bold one. There are no shadows or dark places for the scary things to hide, and that somehow makes the whole thing even more terrifying. There is a subtle “trippyness” to the visuals in this film as well which will have you questioning your own sanity and the things you are seeing on screen. From the movement of trees and flowers, to the faces that appear in the woods and the grim foreshadowing of the film’s tapestries and paintings, Midsommar is a veritable feast for the eyes and one which will offer something new on each rewatch.
Whilst it is undoubtedly a film that requires patience of its viewer, it has far more to give to you than you have to give to it. It is rare to watch a film with such a weighty runtime that you then immediately want to rewatch straight after, but for me, Midsommar was one such film. Perfection.