The construct of horror often begins with something out of place. In Ari Aster’s sophomore film, the writer/director returns to familiar themes of isolation, guilt, grief, and yet what’s out of place has, again, nothing to do with any of these. Raised in New York, perhaps influenced by the mysticism underlying his parents’ Judaism, Aster seems fascinated with atavistic dread. Like Hereditary, Midsommar begins with a family tragedy ultimately tied to some larger, sinister purpose.
A remake of the 2003 Danish film directed by Carsten Myllerup, the film opens on a Scandinavian tableau. Following the sudden and unexpected murder-suicide of her mentally ill sister and their parents, Dani (Florence Pugh) hitches onto her boyfriend Christian’s (Jack Reynor) travel plans. Christian’s friends see this as an intrusion on their opportunity to woo Sweden’s finest women. At the suggestion of Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), Christian, Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper), set out to the rural, Swedish village of Hårga¹, some 300km north of Stockholm, during the week of midsummer—the summer solstice.
In the province of Hålsingland, before their destination the group pauses on a hilltop to partake of local hallucinogenics. The trees appear to “breathe” as the gang’s thoughts drift under a perpetually-lit midnight sun. Upon arrival in the village, they’re greeted by song and music—suspiciously resembling a Shepard tone.
Purpose appears as a recurring motif. At the beginning of the trip, aimless in his studies, Christian borrows from Josh’s thesis about the locals. Dani searches for respite from her grief. As the solstice ceremonies commence, Dani’s breakdowns give way to dreams and contemplations. Visible early in the film, bedsheets and wall coverings in her parents’ house, as well as a painting gifted to Dani, suggest an ancestral connection to this place. One of them finds meaning out of all this, but not in the way you think. You could say the writing is literally on the wall(s).
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