When I saw Hereditary in late 2018, I was left absolutely floored. I couldn’t believe a movie could hit me in so many different ways. The majority of the scares came from the tense and emotional family drama. Grief. Responding to tragedy. Trying to move on. Ari Aster had made a horror movie that found the horror in the most real and genuine moments that a lot of families have gone through (some more than others). When I saw that A24 was releasing another movie by him the next year, I knew I would be buying my tickets in advance. I’m more than happy to report that Aster did not disappoint. Midsommar is a hell of a ride. I should know – I’ve seen the movie five times. This review will deal primarily with the normal theatrical cut, but I will have a rating for both cuts of the film.
The movie follows Dani (Florence Pugh), her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), and their friends on their journey to Sweden for a festival that only happens once every 90 years. The moment the movie started I was gripped. The opening scene is intense. When I say intense, I mean wow. Genuinely gets me every time and this is before the “title” card even comes up. We get beautiful shots of nature, closeups of the tragedy to come, ominous foreshadowing, great initial character work, and an incredibly relatable introduction into the core thread of the movie- a crumbling relationship. Somehow, Aster manages to fit in a little bit of everything in a short time while giving a great road map to the tale that awaited.
Every single member of the main craw acted phenomenally. The chemistry (or lack thereof) between them makes every single element feel human and personable. Florence Pugh is downright AMAZING. The stress, the worry, the constant doubt, the co-dependency, the weariness – every element she gives in the first 10 minutes had me invested in how her character would progress. I cared about Dani. Watching her react and emote to the struggles she goes through is satisfying and makes a lot of the emotional moments in the movie stick in my head. Likewise Jack manages to do a great job of making the audience really hate him. It takes a lot to make me dislike a character that much, but I absolutely hated Christian. A lot of the time, because I could see myself in him. William Jackson Harper is great as Josh and feels like the first person who could be typecast as “nerdy philosophical guy who digs himself into serious problems”. I’m only half kidding, but his portrayal of a geeky super serious nerd is touching and alarming. Will Poulter is comedic gold as Mark and had me laughing literally every time he came on the screen. He helped keep the movie from ever feeling like “too much”. Rounding off the cast, Vilhelm Blomgren is great as Pelle. He’s calm and comforting which helps make the story feel that much more rounded in theme. The characters all play off each other well and watching the interactions bloom between them keeps every moment relevant. I always cared about what was going to happen to them.
The Director’s cut is really good at building up these character moments. Christian is more of an ass and his relationship with both Josh and Dani are fleshed out even more. It makes the payoff in the third act more satisfying and also explains some character issues I thought were slightly “too much” more understandable. If you like this movie the first time (especially if you’ve seen only the theatrical cut), I’d highly recommend watching the Director’s cut for a second watch through because of how much it reinforces and expands on what you already know from the last movie. Speaking of replay value, the movie is packed full of Easter eggs and brilliant foreshadowing. Yes, there are incredibly not-so subtle hints, but sometimes the clues are so on the nose you can’t tell if Aster was messing with you or not. The payoff to each of these moments always felt earned and made me enjoy the movie A LOT more than I initially did (which is crazy because I loved the movie the first time).
This film has been described by Aster as “more of a fairy tale than a horror film,” and I couldn’t have said it better myself. This isn’t a “horror” movie in the traditional sense. It has gruesome elements. There are certainly moments that are unnerving and unsettling. However, the main crux of the movie deals with toxicity in relationships- romantic and platonic. Friendships are revealed for what they really are- there’s gas lighting, projection, passive aggressive behavior , and insensitivity. The fact that it all feels so real is what makes it so terrifying. There’s something recognizable in each of these moments which forces you to think about yourself in uncomfortable ways. The juxtaposition of feeling redeemed but simultaneously condemned as different relationships were revealed is something I haven’t really experienced in a movie before. But that’s the thing about people right? We’re toxic at times but also go through other toxic stuff and this movie gets that and dives right into exploring the ways we hurt ourselves and others. The first time I saw the movie , I left the theater and just started crying. It was a lot to kind of process and deal with. In my second viewing, I felt joy. A sense of elation. By the end of the movie I was laughing almost gleefully. You can always find a new way to relate or enjoy something about the film if you let yourself fall under its spell.
On top of this, the movie is downright hilarious. Like I said above, Poulter is great and has a ton of great one liners. If you enjoy him, he has even more fun in the Director’s Cut (if I haven’t hinted enough I think you should definitely watch the Director’s Cut). But the fun doesn’t stop with him. The sometimes absurd reaction of certain characters to different phenomena and the way they react to certain scenarios always creates an incredibly perverse humor. There’s one scene in the third act, that had the entire audience laughing every time I saw it – but the scene itself is horrifying in terms of implication. When you realize what you’re laughing at there’s almost a sick realization of depravity. Like you’ve done something wrong, but right. That’s a special kind of humor and it never feels out of place with the other jokes.
Finally, the movie is a visual masterpiece. The movie features the use of hallucinogens. When the characters trip, the visuals match. They don’t look unrealistic or absurd like how movies want to think trips are- instead, they’re incredibly realistic. It’s honestly mesmerizing and is the best depiction I’ve seen of what the influence of those materials looks like in media. There are tons of little visual clues in a lot of scenes that will have you asking about what’s really going on. It’s a great directing technique that keeps the audience in the same frame of mind as the characters. I could feel their panic and sense of unease. Furthermore, there are so many gorgeous shots in this movie that I could easily screenshot and print out in a frame. Gorgeous wide shots of nature and the pagan festivities really sells the eerie folk feeling. The movie also takes place entirely in “the morning” which makes it even better , because the feeling of something being wrong is amplified. Aster uses mirrors and reflective surfaces to great effect, especially in dialogue scenes which creates beautiful depictions of character relations while augmenting the already astounding aesthetic.
Sound is done well and I actually noticed how well mixing was done. Sounds dim in and out based on character feeling and the intensity of the drug induced trip they’re in which only increases engagement with them. The score is also iconic and I’ve listened to it on Spotify countless times. When the music starts playing, everything starts feeling more spiritual and evocative. It’s hard to describe but it’s almost ethereal in how it amplifies the movie.
TLDR: Midsommar is a beautiful look into the way we treat each other and the consequences of abandoning responsibility. There’s a lot to unpack and a little something for everyone to get into.
Theatrical Cut: 9.7/10
Directors Cut: 10/10
I thought the movie was near flawless when I first saw it, and only loved it that much more upon watching the Director’s cut. I’ve loved and raved about the movie above, but I’d only recommend watching it if you like those artsy weird horror films – The Witch, It Follows,etc. I recognize the movies aren’t for everyone and I’d hate if you had a bad time. Additionally, if you’ve wanted to see a movie that’s bursting at the seams with Georges Bataille, you definitely need to check this out.
Note – In lieu of a spoilers section I have a much longer essay on Midsommar that should be up before the start of the new decade.