Midsommar [movie reaction]

Florence Pugh as Dani Ardor in Midsommar (2019)

When we think of horror, we think of darkness - unknown things haunting at night or strange things creeping in the dark. The horror film Midsommar (2019), written and directed by Ari Aster, is the opposite. Everything is bathed in stark light and saturated color in the clarity of a high noon sun. The Swedish commune which turned out to be a sinister pagan cult is all smiles, with bright clothes and faces, creating frightening normalcy and even a sense of delight and happiness at their brutal practices. This dissonance, the killing and the sacrifices portrayed in such bright color and pastel madness, makes it scary.

Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) is a student in America. Christian, her boyfriend, is growing distant. Christian's friends in graduate school don't seem to like Dani very much and are urging him to dump her. Then there's an accident - Dani's bipolar sister kills herself and both their parents. A reluctant Christian brings Dani on a trip to Sweden, invited by Pelle, one of his friends. Pelle is inviting them to a Midsummer festival in his hometown in Sweden. Christian's two other friends have their own agenda: Josh is planning to write his thesis on the community, Mark is looking forward to meeting girls to sleep with. Pelle is attentive and friendly to Dani, compared to an uncaring Christian.

The trip begins well. They are welcomed to bright and sunny Hårga, celebrating a special Midsummer festival. This one is unique, as it only happens every 90 years. The rural beauty and local artwork are stunning, yet looking closer they are quite sinister - tapestries detailing love spells and other disturbing rituals. The group is traditional and still follow their old religion.

Things seem to be going great until they witness a terrifying ritual that shocks them. It's sick how the shock quickly turns to fascination - Josh and Christian suddenly want to write about it in their research. Dani seems confused and unsure, but Pelle comforts her. As most horror storylines go, of course, that was not the only scary thing going on. More creepy pagan rites are on the way for them.

Midsommar is a surreal experience - it's like having a weird acid trip. As the cult gets weirder, our protagonists are served intoxicating food and drinks that make them hallucinate and more prone to the cult's persuasion.

Despite their practices, there are things in Hårga society I find beautiful. They live in a communal home until they reach a certain age. When one member is in pain or agony, the group mimics the sounds of suffering, creating the effect of complete empathy. It's striking how Dani always hides when she feels pain. Near the ending, her pain, trauma, and heartbreak finally show. There's a  powerful scene of screaming hysterical women who scream along with Dani, the first time in which Dani actually felt sympathy she didn't get from her boyfriend and his friends.

Christian and Dani grow even more distant. One of the girls is attracted to Christian and is trying to hex him into falling for her. Their companions disappear one by one with no explanation until only the two of them are left in the hands of the Hårga. The rituals get more bizarre until the climax - Dani is crowned May Queen and Christian succumbs to a pagan sex rite (which is probably the weirdest sex scene in recent cinema).

Florence Pugh is really the star of this movie. She's starring in several big films lately but it's the first movie I've seen with her.

In a twisted way, if you erase the horror elements, it's the story of a girl who has finally found belonging. Like bright sunlight at the back of your eyelids that stays long after you close your eyes - Midsommar is a film you won't forget after watching.

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