I still can’t put my finger on it, and maybe writing this will help, but there was (as with Hereditary) something missing…
Warning: Spoiler HEAVY
I’ve been mulling over this for a while now, and I can’t work it out, but there was something about Midsommar that didn’t sit with me. So I’m going to brain-dump into this blog, picking apart the key elements: the plot, the characters, the look, the horror and the ending.
Hopefully you’ve seen Midsommar already, or I’m about to ruin it for you.
Dani suffers a great family tragedy, loosing her family (mother, father and sister) in one swoop. Her sister, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, uses car gas to suffocate them all. I’ve seen some people say that Dani couldn’t help because she lived far away, but this wasn’t alluded to, it was actually more the case that her sister had caused alarm before that meant Dani didn’t immediately go to her family’s aid.
Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, isn’t happy in the relationship, partly because of how much Dani leans on him. However, Christian does end up (unwillingly) inviting Dani on his lad’s holiday to Sweden with his friends Pelle, Mark and Josh.
The group arrive at their first stop in Sweden. Pelle’s “family”, a cult called the the Hårga, in Hälsingland, are holding a festival they hold every 90 years. A couple from England are also present. This ensues a series of weird, scary and sometimes beautiful rituals including a self sacrifice by two elders, hallucinogenic drug taking, the sexual exploitation of Christian and the crowning of Dani as the May Queen. In amongst which is the “disappearance” of Mark, Josh and the English couple.
I’ll discuss the ending later, but I didn’t have a huge problem with the plot as a whole. The first 20 minutes were harrowing. Not to get all Christopher Nolan on you, but one of my biggest fears is not having the person I love feeling the same way, and this was shown here – it set me up for an anxious 2 hours. The bulk of the film, which takes place in one field in Sweden, centred around a festival, which meant there was a good pace to it, a clear beginning, middle and end were defined. However, I did think it was a little long. Nearly 2.5 hours is a long time to stay captivated, especially when there’s only one location.
I also had a little bit of a problem with the drug taking. That’s not to say I hate drug taking in films, that’s certainly not the case. I wish the weirdness and the visions had been more supernatural, attached to being in the place itself, instead of being a product of drugs.
Generally, I liked the plot, that wasn’t my big issue here.
Florence Pugh as Dani was fantastic. I was fully invested in her, I cared about her, I wanted her to survive, to succeed, to be happy. Having a protagonist who fulfils this is connection is super important and Pugh more than delivered. Jack Reynor played Christian, Dani’s boyfriend. Christian was the opposite of Dani, unlikable because of how much you cared about Dani. Their relationship was clearly not only on the rocks, but at the point of breaking, if it hadn’t been for the tragedy that hit Dani, it would have probably have been off. Then there were the friends, always present in any horror, ready to be picked off. The joker, Mark (Will Poulter), the black guy, Josh (William Jackson Harper of the Good Place fame), the couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe) all played their part as they should have, none of them particularly affected me or particularly annoyed me, as it should be in a classical horror. Vilhelm Blomgren played Pelle, who was the facilitator – the friend who invited the group to Sweeden, he was adorable, sweet, likeable, which in itself was disturbing.
Along with the main cast there was the group of the Hårga, swedes who make up the cult, all of whom were wonderfully indoctrinated and creepy as hell. I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t the cast, or the actors, who left me with my feeling of unease.
Just wow. The film really did LOOK amazing. The first shots, where you’re in Dani’s day to day life, are dark and bleak, you know something horrible is coming because you can feel it. Then, in Sweden, it’s bright, light, bold, it’s summer. Even though you’re there thinking, get the fuck out get the fuck out, you’re also sitting there going ‘wow it’s so pretty I really want to be there.’ I loved this paradoxical feeling. The look definitely wasn’t the source of my mixed up feelings.
Yes, Midsommar is a horror film, but also no, it’s not. It’s a drama. It’s a film about grief. It’s a film about a strained relationship. It’s a film about not knowing where you belong. But, there was horror. There was classical gore and there was psychological thrills.
The main points of gore were wonderfully done. They weren’t held back, there was no fear to go full kilter and show brains, inners, blood… the full works. I was mightily pleased. I like to be in a cinema and hear audible, sharp intakes of breath or see people turn away while I’m grinning at the screen. [There’s only one thing I can’t watch, and that’s men shaving their faces with a safety razor.] Psychological thrillers are harder to review. Everyone finds different things uncomfortable. Like I said, I found the tension between Dani and Christian really hard to handle, but I also found the sexual manipulation of Christian super squirmy.
Personally, the main point of “horror” for me came very near the beginning, when you see Dani’s family having been gassed to death, accompanied by her cries and screams, and Christian walking in the snow. Honestly, I can’t see how it could have been done better.
And so we have come to the point that I will need to unpack. The ending – what was my problem with it? You come to the end of the movie and Dani must make a choice. She knows that her friends have been killed for a ritual sacrifice and that two of the Hårga have volunteered themselves also. Now she must choose who will join them: Christian, who she knows has had sex (consensual or not) with another Harga, or another Harga man.
By now, it’s clear that Dani has become one of the Hårga, but it is not clear who she will choose. Then we see Christian, dressed in a bear skin, placed in the hay filled cabin, ready to be burnt alive. (Another great bit of horror ensues.) Dani has found her family.
Reasons why I wasn’t 100% satisfied with this ending:
- We’re hard-wired to want the protagonist of any horror to get themselves to safety. This didn’t happen. But that’s ok, if the ending is satisfying of itself (see The Mist.)
- This film is about grief, and yes Dani found a “family” but she didn’t grieve, she didn’t allow herself to feel, she didn’t realise that this wasn’t a solution to her pain. And I was invested in her happiness, I felt for her.
- Yes, Christian was an ass. But what happened to him was manipulation, and his punishment for not wanting to be with Dani was to die a slow and painful death? Would that have happened if he had been honest with her? It’s not like I wanted him to survive, I’m just not sure I wanted him to die either. I’m more confused than upset.
- I wanted the film to end zoomed in on Dani, as she was making her decision, letting the audience decide who she chose. Yes, that would have eliminated some of the awesome horror of the ending, but it would have given us some power.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews with ‘Midsommar explained’ or ‘theories’, when actually I don’t think there’s anything too unexplainable here, but just a few too many elements of deviation from horror to be one, which is what I wanted. That’s not to say I don’t think it was a good movie, I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and that, is a real shame, because it was so nearly there.