I Watched Midsommar.
Midsommar is a movie you have to see while you’re mentally in a peaceful place. I’m serious. You absolutely must be in a peaceful state of mind. This film was hypnotic, one that you do not want to take in if you are in a state where you will have any possibility of a “bad trip”. Even in your purest form, in a state of mind that is clean and composed, it will make you feel as if you are spiraling in on yourself. Personally I went in there a bit excited, expecting a bit of a downward turn through some terrible and black vibrations, but I was not ready for this. I felt like I was standing face to face with the pulsing microverse in the basement in the lighthouse in Area X from Annihilation.
This movie is intense.
Throughout, I experienced elements of Sigur Ros, not only in terms of the serene music but also in the manifestations of peaceful nordic valleys that their music can conjure. In other veins, I felt echoes of Bjork. Again, I wasn’t met specifically with her music, but the way that her concepts can be enormous and organic, very deeply tied to a biosphere that we just need to reach out and touch. I think her music videos spoke through this film more so than the music itself. Though there is much to be said about the score performed by The Haxan Cloak who is a frequent collaborator with Bjork.
I also noted inspirations from a ton of diverse places ranging from long hard stares at the grotesque a la Alejandro Jodorowski, the resonant vocal frequencies of Tim Hecker, and flowery pale and pink elements of the visual design of Far Cry 5. All of these aspects work as more of an inspiration instead of collage. This film was extremely and wholly Ari Aster. From a pacing standpoint, absolutely. Though now having seen this one and Hereditary, I noticed that he brings us down to the brass tacks of the characters that we’re watching implode. You see them as flawed people in their entirety. From the wretched things that make them deplorable to the shaded corners that they don’t want you to see. You watch these characters squirm with their imperfections, with their demons and with their personal back catalog. He paints deep and intricate portraits of the broken. And we follow them all the way down.
This is slow, meditative stress. This isn’t a fear that’s going to blast around you like a wave, sending you reeling and recovering. This will submerge you in its maw, while you mentally explore it, dissecting as you go, only to realize you’re unable to surface for days. This is an Ari Aster trademark. He is a master of keeping you held captive, despite your willingness. He doesn’t rely on gore, but he uses it. The timing of the shots feels like you’re just barely missing something off in the corner, or worse, just barely seeing too much. Tension builds not because some beast is coming, but because some beast has been here and you know that there’s only a matter of time before it sees you.
From the very opening of the film, while we wait to find out more about what the sister’s e-mail portended, we are teetering on the edge of a tragedy. Those tragedies become intermingled with human complexity as we don’t watch them dealt with head-on, reacting to the core. Instead, we watch Dani cope with her family’s situation through the web of how others will tell her how to feel and how to react. Later, she agrees to go with the group to Sweden, with every turn becoming further exposed and more deeply insecure, free-falling to whichever branch that will catch her. Dropped into the well, we listen as she falls deeper and deeper, and we’re just waiting to hear the echoed impact on return.
We’re introduced to a seemingly docile commune of people named the Hårga. They are open and they love freely, calling each other family and welcoming one another as if in a deep and meaningful relationship. There is a connection with each of them throughout. While some of what they do is beautiful and nurturing like music and dance, we gradually become exposed to the rituals that terrify us by our own culture’s standards. While watching the Hårga following their rituals and pageantry, the sense of evil isn’t there from a cultural standpoint. We see that the Hårga aren’t introducing menace or malice into the equation, but simply trying to continue their current state of being, to flourish in the way they know how. From what we perceive as horrifying murder or sacrifice, they instead perform these rites to lengthen their lives, to enhance their spirits, to prolong their way of life, and to bolster the prosperity of the land that they own. It’s almost more intimidating that they believe that this is right and good. Aster’s method of showing these events and instances in a beauteous place can feel like we’re having our eyelids held open by a loved one, yet we’re shoved through a corridor of our darkest nightmares… while we get to listen to our favorite records.
Through these events, we spend a ton of time on the sidelines while we watch Dani’s personal exploration. She escapes the confines of her home which has become a place of mourning. She is dragged alongside a dismissive boyfriend who can barely remember the reason they’re together or for how long. We watch her experience a culture she wasn’t ready for, a culture who holds life in a different regard than we do. By the film’s climax, by the time the screen hits the final blackness, I was hit with a wash of emotions. There was triumph and transformation on many scales. Dani had shed an old skin, molted thoroughly, and was in a new formation as a person. We watch the circle close on an old being and open on a new one. The same way that the Hårga experience this, as one, is the same way that I felt this. Completely synced up with the closing moments. Front to back, this film is a brilliantly told story.
So many of the events within this film feel like they are visions that Aster has been having for a long time. Roughly sketched horror ideas that, within the valley of Hälsingland, finally found a resting place and a home. There are disfigured characters as visionaries, harmonious cults, noospheric connections and more.
Within these frenzied and horrifying moments, we see a lens trained on anxiety. Within that, there are many references to the architecture of breathing. First, during moments of Dani’s full-bodied panics, we hear her respirations on full display. The deep whooping crying, the focused anxieties of deep breathing and trying to center during bad trips. But also the Hårga’s behavior of a quick deep breath out followed by a sharp breath in. Even the scenery breathes. We watch pleasant gusts pass over meadows in a wide open valley. There’s also a stunning portrayal in a chicken coup towards the end of the movie that puts breathing, slow and metered, on full display.
I love this movie and I can’t wait to see it again. I want to feel the terror again. I can hear the score any time, but I want to hear those songs while in that valley again. There is a special call that this experience has had on me, and it’s not left me for the last few days. I strongly recommend seeing this one. This is not the horror movie that you go to with your lover or “your boys” to be entertained by. This is one that you swallow, one that you breathe in and wait until it takes you over.