Cults and high-control groups aren’t always strange social clubs that pop up and then draw in followers from all walks of life. On occasion, they can be subcultures that read as normal but hide some dark secrets. The communal culture shown in this 2019 film seems like a relic from a past age, but under the hood, it contains many red flags for a cult scenario — including drugs, rituals, sacrifice, and even murder.
The sophomore film from Hereditary director Ari Aster, Midsommar feels like it was made on a dare. Every element seems to go against horror film expectations. Every scene is well lit, the shots are often symmetrical, the people are happy and dressed in white. But beyond the superficial aspects, this is a horror movie to its core.
On the surface, Midsommar is a film about a group of young adults invited to a remote village in Sweden to observe a once-a-century festival. At its core: Dani, a young woman played by Florence Pugh, coping with the recent death of her entire family, as she tries to navigate her way through her new Swedish surroundings and its dark secrets.
Dani, for all intents and purposes, is the prime candidate for cult recruitment. Having undergone extreme loss, she would potentially be looking for family and belonging, and could find it within this village. Yet throughout, she sticks to her gut and appears to be the only one who questions the events around her.
One aspect of cults that Midsommar really nails is the concept of ritual. If you’re surrounded by people who believe a certain event is traditional and normal, you’re more likely to participate in that ritual yourself. It explains how most of the visitors, and later Dani herself, buy into the strange practices of the cult. It’s amazing how much people will do for fear of being rude or culturally insensitive.
Perhaps it’s this disillusionment that makes Dani so skeptical of the cult and its agenda. Her grief has numbed her from feeling any emotions, including the ones that would help her fall in line with the cult’s way of life.
Even before the feature film’s release, the boldness of Midsommar was present in the trailer. The standard black bars used to maintain the aspect ratio were instead white. A small change at first glance, it adds a lightness to the images that make it feel like a normal travel film — until you stop to consider the haunting score, that is.
While the version available for streaming on Amazon Prime is missing the white bars from the teaser trailer, try to watch this one at home the way Ari Aster would like: on a sunny spring day, not in the dark. It’ll only heighten the truly pitch-black scares along the way.
Midsommar is now streaming on Amazon Prime.