Release Date(s)2019 (October 8, 2019)
Studio(s)Square Peg/B-Reel Films/A24 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D+
Midsommar starts with a grisly scenario. Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers tragedy when her bipolar sister commits suicide by piping the exhaust from two running cars into their closed house. Her parents, asleep in their bed, are also victims. Dani’s boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), is on the verge of breaking up with her but holds off after the tragedy and instead invites her to a small commune in Sweden for Midsommar, an event the commune celebrates once every 90 years. Joining them are Christian’s pals Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter). The four Americans are guests of Swedish student Pelle (Wilhelm Blomgren).
Initially, the celebration appears to be all about drugs, dancing, and sex. Hallucinogenic substances abound, which alter perceptions and cause both good trips and bad, with the latter dominating. A gruesome ritual involving two of the commune’s eldest members shocks the Americans, who then rationalize it as a cultural matter. Dani, now without family, is embraced by this odd community. Rather than run for the hills after that first brutal ceremony, she remains, in a state of hypnotic fascination.
Reminiscent of 1973’s The Wicker Man, Midsommar elicits the same type of dread and paranoia as the commune turns out to be more than just a group of white-clad hippies high on drugs. After the first shocking sequence, the suspense amps up as we wonder what terrible incidents will follow. Unlike most horror films, which take place in dark, shadowy locations, Midsommar is ablaze with the far-northern summer sunshine that never fades into night.
Director Ari Aster (Hereditary) sets a leisurely pace that allows the weirdness of the commune and its members to creep up on us. Rather than depend on a handful of jolting moments, he builds the atmosphere and dispenses its horrors gradually. A number of the rituals involve special meals at long, white-draped tables glowing under the sun, but things turn darker when people begin disappearing and a bizarre sexual rite uses Christian as its centerpiece.
With nudity, graphic sex, visceral images, and violence, Midsommar is the kind of movie that lingers long after you’ve seen it. It defies the horror genre norm by developing in matter-of-fact blandness, then building tension by dispensing information about what initially appears to be a harmless group of druggies frolicking under the sun.
Fans of horror will appreciate how carefully this film is crafted, but its casual brutality, extremely violent images, and constant fear that things will only get worse may repel people with shaky or sensitive constitutions.
Rated R, Midsommar deals with a closed community centered on celebrating and reliving an ancient mythic past, excusing crimes for the greater good of the community. But what is Aster telling us? After the gore, ritualistic sex, and violent brutality, what’s the point? It’s one thing to craft an unsettling movie, but when it rises above the genre standard, it should say something.
The Blu-ray release, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.00:1. Early scenes tend toward darker colors when the tragedy in Dani’s life unfolds. Later, interior scenes with Christian and his friends continue the somber palette, with few bright colors in clothing or decor. The village’s far northern location makes summer days seem endless. The sun-drenched outdoor scenes at the Swedish village contrast dramatically with the dark subject matter of the film. Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski gives scenes in which characters have been drugged a gauzy, other-worldly look. Expanses of green grass and surrounding trees break up the very bright scenes. In violent moments, the sudden appearance of excessive blood strikingly contrasts with the peaceful dancing and the 1960s-like hippie commune. The May Queen festival provides splashes of vibrant color, with Dani’s ceremonial robe of multicolored flowers and garlands of flowers adorning the heads of participants in the ritual.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Composer Bobby Krlic (stage name, The Haxan Cloak) has written dark and creepy instrumentals that are an apt accompaniment to the film. Subtly spooky with an air of foreboding, the music works with the visuals to close in on the audience as things in the village get weirder and weirder. Atmosphere is enhanced tremendously by the score. Early scenes at the village are very quiet, with dialogue dominating. When there are pauses in the dialogue, it’s almost too quiet, adding to the mood—though all of the dialogue is distinct. Occasionally, the locals speak in Swedish, translated into English in subtitles. This is preferable and adds a sense of reality amidst the odd goings-on. The Maypole dance provides an extended musical sequence as men and women in festival costumes move in concentric circles and in opposite directions around the pole. Their singing can be heard from the left, right, and center channels.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include the featurette Let the Festivities Begin: Manifesting Midsommar, the Bear in a Cage Promo, and 3 trailers. Sixteen chapters allow for easy and quick access to specific scenes and a Digital Code is included on a paper insert. Unfortunately, the Director's Cut of the film has not been included.
Let the Festivities Begin: Manifesting Midsommar – Writer/director Ari Aster refers to the film as an “adult fairy tale” and a “pervasive wish fulfillment fantasy with Dani and her dilemma at the center.” Aster hired Florence Pugh to play Dani after he saw her performance in Lady Macbeth. Dani is a co-dependent person who goes through a family crisis and is “broken.” Christian has been ambivalent about his relationship with Dani. He is the one constant person in her life. Josh is the intellectual intrigued with Northern European folk traditions. The film was shot in Hungary with an entire village constructed in a large field. Harmony with nature is preserved in a celebration held once every 90 years. It took two days to film the Maypole sequence because of the intricate choreography. Aster refers to his approach to filming as “dancing with the camera.” The feast scene was shot under the hot sun for two days with food rotting and drawing insects. The payoff is slow as audiences discover things for themselves. The violent parts are extremely visual.
Bear in a Cage Promo – This simulated musical advertisement for a toy featuring a roaring bear in a wooden cage parodies TV commercials. Children in the ad wear white outfits and flowered head wreaths, suggesting the costumes in Midsommar.
Trailers – Three theatrical trailers are included for High Life, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Hereditary.
– Dennis Seuling