“Midsommar”: an anthropology graduate student and friends meet existential road horror in a commune in Lapland

I was curious about the opening of “Midsommar” (officially July 3) because a couple of very critical scenes in my own novel occur in Finland, although Midsommar is supposed to happen in northern Sweden. Actually, it was filmed in Hungary, with a critical outdoor sequence in Utah.  I actually took the train from Narvik (Norway) through northern Sweden, and stayed a night in Kiruna, before riding back to Stockholm, in 1972.

Ari Aster, the director, is known for horror (“Hereditary”, June 12, 2018) and the film opens with a long prologue introducing the major young adult characters in an unspecified midwestern college town, perhaps in Ohio. The mood is set by music by The Haxan Cloak, which often builds suspense with very simple scales and intervals in repetition. The style reminds one of Yorgos Lanthimos.

Dani Ador (Florence Pugh) has lived through the murder of her parents (carbon monoxide) by her bipolar sister, who also dies in the event. The buildup to that is like a short film, and it is hard to tell what is going on at first, with all the dropped cell phone calls and social media messages. Her relationship with a somewhat charismatic boyfriend, anthropology graduate student Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor) is on the rocks.  There is a scene in Christian’s apartment, which is rather cluttered with stacks of books, where he decides to go to Sweden to investigate a cult that has a bizarre midnight sun ritual, as part of his dissertation. Dani invites herself to go along.

There is an awkward film cut to the lavatory of a plane, where she is dealing with air sickness, but quickly the friends arrive in Stockholm, and apparently rent a car to drive north.  Soon they arrive at the commune (it’s about 35 minutes into a 140 minute film) which is excessively sunlit even towards midnight.

Now the commune appears at first to be an income sharing intentional community (like Twin Oaks in Virginia) with a few buildings around, one or two of which look like Finnish log cabins built without nails or bolts. There is a huge communal dorm space, where the walls are plastered with runic art work, which had been shown at the film’s opening as the first image, which is followed by a few images of northern forests in snow at winter solstice.

The people also seem very connected interpersonally and ritually (which is not necessarily true of an economic intentional community) and by about an hour into the film, a certain menace is in the air. Christian seemed naïve about how risky it could be to walk into a pagan cult without more awareness of the danger their beliefs could pose to him. He has friends, like Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (William Poulter).  They meet a British couple, Simon and Connie (Archie Madekwe and Ellela Torchia).

There is a huge outdoor communal dinner, where the tables are arranged in a grid as if to suggest infinity. The music plays an upward scale theme. Soon, we notice that Simon is a bit suspicious. He wears an undershirt and shows less of himself.  Soon he wants to leave and does. That’s a warning sign.

We’re also told about how the artwork and runes are drawn, partly by people born with disabilities because of inbreeding. And we’re told that the commune believes in a definite life cycle, divided into four seasons of 18 years a piece.  After that, old age and senescence is not tolerated.  You must move to your next reality.

The film’s middle is marked by a violent and gruesome event that requires high places (northern Sweden does have some mountains).  You wonder how the tension will grow for another hour, and it does, as next you learn, well, about human sacrifice.

At this point, the film perhaps seems derivative of other rode horror films, especially the two films of “The Wicker Man”, or maybe “Altar” (2016). Dani gets to be petty as she becomes a forest queen.  What happens to the other guys is pretty horrible, but I can imagine ways the rituals could be carried further, when it comes to body sanctity.

But the commune indeed needs fresh sperm.

For a performance of “Finlandia” see June 3, 2019 posting.

Kiruna montage, Lapland, Sweden (wiki)

Jack Andraka, at Stanford, mixes anthropology with medicine and epidemiology as apparently he does a second summer (2019) in Sierra Leone.   This would make a good documentary film subject for Sundance (see “Science Fair”, Sept. 28).

Name:  “Midsommar”

Director, writer:          Ari Aster

Released:         2019/7/3

Format:            2.00:1  HD  some Swedish

When and how viewed:          Angelika Mosaic, 2019/7/3, daytime, small audience

Length:            140

Rating: R  (some full nudity, both sexes)

Companies:     A24

Link:    official

Stars:   *****

(Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019 at 1 PM EDT)