What did I just watch?
That was the question running through my mind when the credits started to roll. Best viewed with an audience, “Midsommar” is not so much a movie you watch as one that you experience. It’s something of a cinematic ordeal, and I mean that in the best possible way.
“Midsommar” starts with a gut punch. When we’re introduced to Dani (Florence Pugh), we follow her through a highly traumatic event that will define both her character and the film we’re about to watch. Soon after, she tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to Pelle’s home, a tight-knit commune in Sweden for its annual midsummer festival. What begins for the travelers as an interesting peek into the life and customs of a remote European village slowly turns into a nightmare for most of them.
The key word here is “slowly.” “Midsommar” is the slow burn to end all slow burns. For nearly 90 minutes of 147 minute running time, precious little happens. We learn more about the characters, the village, and their customs. We see ominous wood carvings, runes, and pictures that just hint at what’s lurking just below the surface of this seemingly peaceful and idyllic village. In that sense, it reminded me of “The Blair Witch Project” – another film that seemingly took forever for the true scares to start.
But that’s where the comparisons end.
While it’s relatively easy to spot its cinematic influences, “Midsommar” is undoubtedly its own thing. Director Ari Aster (“Hereditary“) has a unique voice defined by its pacing, deliberate scene composition, and a score that can alternate between comforting and jarring. These elements combine perfectly to build a sense of dread that reaches a crescendo at just the right moment. Aster expertly taps into our fears by exploiting some of the most primal elements of our humanity, while at the same time deftly exploring his themes of grief and toxicity in relationships.
It’s rare that I see a film that will stay with me as much as “Midsommar.” In a world of background noise, this movie cuts through it with the precision of a scalpel. I won’t be able to shake it anytime soon.