Midsommar tells the story of a group of Americans heading to a unique and unusual Swedish pagan ceremony. More than this though, it tells the story of one girl’s unbearable grief and her crushing anxiety falling trauma.
The film begins with the devastating news that Dani’s bipolar sister has taken her own life and has murdered their parents in the process. Dani is used to receiving worrying messages from her sister and is living in a state of high anxiety, leaning on her boyfriend for support. Florence Pugh gives an exceptional performance when Dani discovers the news. Her pained cries are ear-piercing and the whole sequence is poignant and stays with you throughout the rest of the feature.
It is unclear how much time has passed when Dani agrees to tag along with her partner’s friends to visit Sweden. Christian’s Swedish friend, Pelle, belongs to a pagan community and every ninety years, a special nine-day festival takes place. When the group arrive, they are instantly offered magic mushrooms. Reluctantly, Dani agrees.
By beginning the trip with magic mushrooms, the lines between reality and delusion becomes immediately blurred. The bright and welcoming community that Dani has been thrown into is so drastically juxtaposed to the dark and crushing space that she is navigating through mentally. This makes the film jarring and unsettling to watch, even before there are signs that something unusual is actually going on within the community.
The first shocking event that takes place in the community is the joint suicide of two of the community’s elders. This scene is perhaps unnecessarily gory as the camera continuously pans back to the smashed in face of an old man. While the group of Americans frantically squirm and cry out in horror, Dani stands still in silence. It is later, when everyone else has calmed down, that she appropriately reacts to the situation. Her delayed emotion effectively portrays the detached and disturbed state that she is existing in. It’s this detached internal lens through which Ari Aster tells the story.
As the film slowly progresses, it becomes clear that the commune is a danger to the Americans. The horror is in the fact that they have no way of contacting the outside world or leaving, even though they know that something is not right. What is remarkable is that the film takes place almost exclusively in daylight. While most horror films lean on the night for thrills, Aster suspends a feeling of terror and discomfort while the sun shines bright.
It is uncertain what Aster was trying to achieve with Midsommar but I am certain he achieved it. The feature truly defies genre and pulls its audience into a disturbing and jarring space, where it is unclear what is “normal” and what is insane.