“Do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”
You know when you were a child and you get separated from your parents in a crowded place, like a mall or a grocery store? You look around, clinging onto random strangers, only to discover that they’re not your parents. Soon, a panic settles in; tension builds in those couple of minutes while your eyes search the crowd for your home-people. Your tiny brain works out that you’re lost and that you’re alone. If you have anxiety, like I do, your tiny brain would go through at least fifty different scenarios that all end with you being one of the orphan girls in Annie. And then, minutes later, your parents find you and scoop you up in their arms (or yell at you, depending on what kind of parents they are) and you’re safe. You’re found. You’re home.
Midsommar, in a nutshell, is that moment you realize you’re lost. Except a parent doesn’t come to find you. You’re just left in a suspended lostness that you feel like you’re breathless, drowning.
Ari Aster’s sophomore offering follows Dani, a girl who loses her family and is on the verge of losing her boyfriend who, in some capacity, she’s actually already lost. This leaves her in that suspended state of lostness. The film wastes no time in making the audience feel safe—we watch Dani’s life break apart in the first five minutes. The anxiety doesn’t leave us even as the credits roll. In fact, it took me days to properly digest this film, and trust me, this review would have been totally different had I not calmed myself down.
Anyway, people who have seen Hereditary already know that Aster knows How To Make Movies. Grief? Loss? Pain? We all felt it along with Annie and Peter when their family started its descent into a cult-driven collapse. A part of me was expecting that level of suspense, the classic horror scares, and the loose ending. What Midsommar did was turn all of that onto its head and overexpose the shit out of it. I’m not complaining.
There is something to say about how something that’s marketed as a horror movie uses light like that. It’s refreshing and it’s different. I particularly appreciate seeing the insides of someone’s skull in max brightness. However, what the brightness puts a spotlight on isn’t its gore or its blood, or even its love-potion-making tapestries. It signifies greatly how open and real everything was.
The people of Harga weren’t fooling around with their rituals. Letting old people fall off cliffs? Burning the bodies in the middle of the community? That was their norm; it wasn’t any evil thing. Why would they do that in the dark when they have nothing to hide? That was their life, their culture. It was out in the open for everyone, basking in the light.
Now take that and put it up against the anxiety that Dani has; anxiety that society, and the world in general, tells us not to feel, to put aside, to hide in the dark. There’s nowhere to hide in the Harga commune, nowhere to tuck away these feelings that keeps being ignored by people we’re supposed to rely on for support. We see a clear representation of this after Dani and the boys take those mushrooms. Yes, she was tripping, but she was also having a panic attack under the bright sun in the middle of an open field, and that’s fucking scary my dudes. When she does find solace in the comfort of a dark shed, she finds it suffocating and she escapes.
“You are the family now, yes? Yes, yes, you are the family!”
One of the most prominent themes in this film is community and, with that, belonging. The reason our neighborhood cult sacrifice wrangler Pelle chose Dani to be a part of their Swedish adventure trip wasn’t because he was going along with it like Mark and Josh were. He realized early on that Dani was an orphan, alone, with no home and no family. Later on, he makes her realize that as much as she wanted to hold on to Christian for support, he wasn’t supportive at all. In fact, throughout the whole film, Christian is more preoccupied with learning about ancient rituals than his girlfriend who he asked to come.
As the days pass, Dani realizes the actual state of their relationship and how distant Christian was; how detached. Still, she clings onto him until just before the very end because she had absolutely no one. That, combined with her nightmare about Christian and his friends leaving her alone at the commune, ties into the very real fear that many people have but don’t voice out loud enough—abandonment.
That lostness is what this entire movie feels like. Dani gets her redemption in the end, a sort of closure as she is brought back to the ground by the Harga commune. Prior to that, however, it’s just been fear, fear, fear for over two whole hours! And not the kind of fear that you usually see in your typical horror movie either.
To capture that anxiety and tension for such a long time is a feat in itself. Ari Aster managed to scare us in ways that aren’t typical for the genre he’s rooted his film in. When people talk about movies “being a genre of its own,” Midsommar definitely fits the bill. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not because of jumpscares or suspenseful music (although that transition from the prologue to present day?? *chef’s kiss*). It’s not because of a scary monster. It’s not even because people are getting their skulls bashed in. The film itself, with its humor and the uneasy nature of the premise, combined with Dani’s inner turmoil, is something we are familiar yet uncomfortable with. It’s two sides of a coin. It’s the stuff you ignore to keep yourself comfortable, amplified with a score that grates your mind and visuals that keep you engaged.
Don’t get me wrong. Midsommar is far from being the perfect film. It made me uncomfortable during parts and laugh in others. I had to take a breath after the final scene played out because it was so intense. I couldn’t breathe! But that’s the point, right? I hate using cheesy quotes but art is meant to disturb the comfortable, isn’t it?
I could write a whole other essay about the flaws of this film and how, from a break-up film perspective, this film reminds me of the long poetic rants I’d post on Tumblr when I was a teenager while I was getting over a crush. All flowery words with beats and pauses, with run-on sentences, metaphors, and creative imagery. Messy, seemingly empty, but filled to the brim with raw emotion. However, beyond that, it is a film about abandonment and loss, and how, if you let yourself surrender to that oblivion, you can be found.
[All photos from Midsommar (2019)/A24]