If there’s one thing Ari Aster’s horror movies excel at, it is the unsettling fear of the unknown. The dread of “Hereditary” came from the first hour of build-up, unclear where it was heading or how all the dots connected, yet every moment oozing with atmosphere, where terror potentially waiting around every corner. “Midsommar” thrives on this fear even more than “Hereditary,” leading the audience around with a trail of gruesome bread crumbs for two hours as the tension builds once you start to see that gingerbread house and the pleasant rather unassuming witch that doesn’t say too much, only grinning like a fool.
The film follows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) after a tragedy befalls the rest of her family. Her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) does what he can to support her in her time of need, but it is clear their relationship is strained. After it slips that Christian and his friends are heading to Sweden for a summer trip, Dani insists on going too, much to the dismay of Christian and his friends. Though this quickly becomes the least of their concerns once they get their friend’s Swedish ancestral commune, where their midsummer celebration that only takes place once every ninety years begins and they quickly pick up on some strange and oddly gruesome traditions within the commune.
While “Midsommar” is unsettling above all else, it was also surprisingly engaging due to its rather alien story structure. I had no idea where anything was going or what the members of this commune were trying to achieve. They certainly had ulterior motives, but nothing is spelled out, which makes the scattered bits of terror and screaming even more sickening. It’s like taking a trip with an unknown destination and trying to piece together where you’re going from the ominous clues around you.
Like with “Hereditary,” the pacing might be maddening to some people; it does take a while before anything horrific begins. But an atmosphere of impending dread constantly hangs over the movie, which more than makes up for the rather slow, almost operatic pace. Ari Aster takes this time to curiously explore another culture with the ambition of how this would effect a strained relationship, certianly made better through Pugh’s performance.
Overall, “Midsommar” is a fascinating follow-up to “Hereditary” from Ari Aster. It feels more personal and cathartic, as Dani’s emotional pain turns into a fantasy of revenge. While the pacing gets a bit grating at times and there are many repeating scenes, the unsettling atmosphere overpowers everything else, always making it seem like there’s something crawling up your spine, waiting for your most vulnerable moment to pounce.
Final Grade: B-