by Mitchell Brown, Reporter
The horror genre, in both film and literature, is primarily a nocturnal affair, “Night of the Living Dead,” A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Dracula.” In many ways, horror represents humankind’s collective fear of the dark, things that go bump in the night, fear of the unknown, that something sinister lurks in the stillness of the night.
The absence of the backdrop of the night and the addition of the presence of seemingly endless daylight becomes unsettling in all of its disorienting unorthodoxy. That’s what “Midsommar” is, unsettling and unnerving.
“Midsommar,” directed by Ari Aster, stands as an instant horror classic. Horror tropes can be predictable, many have been exhausted. Horror movies that are the most effective and memorable often give an audience something they haven’t seen before, twisting and altering elements of the horror genre. The film is a roller coaster of nerve racking intensity. Everything from the audio and musical score to cinematography to the pacing of the film feeds a feeling of disorientation.
Before the story is thrown into the burning bright daylight, we are brought into the world of “Midsommar” in the dead of the night, as a still silence is broken by the sound of an alarm clock – louder than one would expect.
Right from the start a sense of looming dread is present with the film.
A series of cryptic Facebook messages are being read by the main female character Dani, played by Florence Pugh. They are coming from her sister. Dani takes to sending panicked text messages and calls about them, which are dismissed by her boyfriend Christian, played by Jack Reynor, and his friends, as calls for attention and exaggerating what is actually happening. It’s not completely clear as to what these messages are all about, but a sense of foreboding doom is present – that doom is realized as Dani faces a family tragedy.
While facing the tragedy, Dani becomes one of the walking wounded, plagued with symptoms of PTSD.
Most of the film’s characters are portrayed in an emotionally gripping and realistic manner, as many of the more common horror movie tropes and cliches aren’t as present in “Midsommar.” The cast includes Josh, played by William Jackson Harper, Mark, played by Will Poulter, and the Swedish-born Pelle, played by Vilhelm Blomgren.
The characters in “Midsommar” appear to be in their mid to late 20s, grad students or possibly PhD candidates, not the long-standing horror movie trope of naive teens being hacked up. They appear more worldy-wise.
Josh is dedicated to his anthropology studies – he and all of the others are on board when a trip to Sweden is proposed by Pelle. Upon arriving in Sweden, the group makes their way to a secluded village of Harga, and they are treated as welcomed guests by the inhabitants.
The backdrop of the village is full of lush, serene nature. Those in the commune are a close-nit homogenous bunch, dressed in garb that lends itself to past centuries, and this sect uses the Nordic Runic alphabet.
This small Norse tribe is removed from modernity. A cultural exchange is present, one world meeting another. There is plenty of getting to know each other and getting oriented and adjusted to the new environment. Pelle has invited his American friends to the village during a festival, which occurs once every 90 years.
This festival coincided with the time in Sweden in which the sun is visible for a continuous, extended period of time.
The celebration appears to be in reverence for nature and the season. Soon the serenity in the commune is punctured and disrupted by bloodshed, as a village elder jumps to her death from an exceedingly large rock formation, followed by a male village elder jumping. He doesn’t die upon impact, but his leg is badly disfigured from the fall, so he is bludgeoned to death with a large mallet.
This is a point of acceleration in the film – the visitors are shocked.
It’s not stated directly, rather implied that at this point in the movie that all bets are off. In an environment in which life can be disposed of so flippantly, then the lives of the travelers from outside the commune are probably in danger.
Worlds have collided, and the group of friends is thrown into survival mode and also gripped by an increased sense of anxiety, but alas most do not make it out alive.
Parts of ”Midsommar” share some similar dynamics with “Cannibal Holocaust.” Although “Midsommar” is not as gory and graphic, both movies are rife with cinematic tension which was a prevalent element within many Italian horror films. Like “Cannibal Holocaust,” “Midsommar” is set in a world where the lines between what is civilized and brutality become are so thin and quickly fade.
It could possibly be one of the best movies of the summer and one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in a long time.
“Midsommar” captures a world of nightmares coming to life in broad daylight, making them all the more frightening.