A Different Cinematic Monster: The Cult of Midsommar

Maybe I’m writing this article because Midsommar (2019) is one of my favorite films of 2019 or maybe I was traumatized by the film and need to put the nightmares it gave me onto page. From the trauma Dani (Florence Pugh) experiences in the opening minutes to the trauma induced on the viewer over the course of roughly two and a half hours, Midsommar never shies away from causing severe discomfort. The monsters at the heart of the film are the traditions of the Swedish society the American travelers are subjected to as they try to maintain sanity amidst what may be a murderous cult.  

Dani’s mental health has been negatively impacted by the suicide of her sister and death of her parents. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is the textbook definition of a toxic boyfriend and may know this himself, but he still fears leaving Dani alone in her emotionally vulnerable state. Christian decides to tag along with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) to a ritualistic festival in Sweden. They’re in college so of course they’re largely in it for drugs and the chance of having sex with international women. Christian and his friends allow Dani to join them out of pity and Midsommar kicks things off from here. The first section of the film does a great job of setting up the characters and developing a sense of dread within the viewer.  

A traumatized young woman accompanying her emotionally abusive boyfriend and his college friends on a drug-filled trip to a ritualistic festival just sounds like a recipe for disaster. Writer/director Ari Aster is highly aware of this and utilizes this with his cinematic choices. As the group of college students arrive to Sweden, the camera flips upside down and stays there long enough for one to wonder: what have these people gotten themselves into?  

At the Midsommar celebration in Sweden, tradition runs king. (major spoilers follow) Can the elderly die a more peaceful death than falling to their demise over a cliff before having their head smashed in to ensure the deed is done? Nobody questions it because it is simply an accepted tradition to the Swedish while the Americans are justifiably horrified. Why is a physically-deformed person who doesn’t speak making sacred texts for them? Without any reasoning or explanation for why these traditions are honored, they become even more haunting. 

Upon subsequent viewings of Midsommar, it becomes even more apparent that Pelle is a monster in his own way. He invites Christian, Dani, Josh, and Mark to the Swedish festival with little warning of what they are about to experience. Pelle never really commits any acts of violence on screen, but his complicity is just as harmful. Josh (William Jackson Harper) is somewhat complicit as well since he knew more about the ceremonies than Mark and Christian. Sure Josh has a pretty valid reason to lie to his friends (his senior thesis), but subjecting your friends to a suicide ritual is pretty irredeemable.  

The suicide ritual is one of the most disturbing parts of the entire film. This scene was so disturbing that I watched it through my eyes during a re-watch. Having the elderly die in such horrific fashion reminds me of an episode of the 1990’s sitcom Dinosaurs, although this episode was a lot more comedic in tone (coincidentally, the age the elderly fall to their death is also 72 in Dinosaurs). In this episode, the elderly are thrown off a cliff instead of jumping themselves. Unlike MidsommarDinosaurs has a moral compass in the character of Robbie who questions this strange practice. 

Another troublesome practice by the Swedish people at the festival is their liberal use of psychoactive drugs. We are fully exposed to their abuse of these drugs through the cult’s treatment of Christian. Eventually he’s drugged into a state of complete immobility after he’s forced into impregnating a young woman. Dani becomes so under the influence that she begins to enjoy dancing around in a circle for hours in the hot sun. Josh, Connie (Ellora Torchia), and Simon (Archie Madekwe) seem to escape completely falling victim to the drugs, but meet violent demises as the cult uses them for sacrificial purposes. In the end, the cult lets their intentions be known: join us or else.  

Unfortunately for the American college students, the trip to the Midsommar festival is doomed from the start. If Pelle had been honest with his friends about the true nature of the ceremonies, they may have cancelled the trip all together. I have seen a few opinion pieces online suggesting that Pelle knew Dani would become the May Queen all along. I certainly can believe this and I’m sure another watch will make this more evident.  

A lot of horror films have characters that make consistently questionable decisions. In Midsommar, a lot of the characters’ decisions actually make sense. Josh meets his demise because of his dedication to writing a compelling senior thesis. Connie and Simon react like normal human beings to the suicide ritual and decide to leave. The viewer knows the couple’s vocal reactions may be their downfall, but any sane person would probably react in the same way.  

Even Christian and Mark, the film’s two most unlikable characters aren’t tossed into the “let’s make these characters a**holes so the audience doesn’t care when they die” trope all too common in horror films. Christian is shown to be too dissociated from the drugs to make any rational decisions and Mark acts like a dumb, horny college student so his immaturity becomes comic relief from the film’s anxiety-inducing horror.  

As I watched Midsommar for the first time, very rarely was I scared in the same way a mainstream film like It: Chapter Two can scare me. However, as I walked home and began thinking about what I just saw, the horror of the film began to settle. Eventually, I fell asleep in the later hours of the night, but the damage was already done. I felt like the American travelers who were subjected to this terrifying cult. The only difference is that I got out alive.  

Monster Rating: 10/10

The Monster: The Swedish cult in Midsommar is a terrifying force. What gives it a 10/10 for me is the fact that it’s almost impossible to stop. People like Josh who wish to expose all of the cult’s secrets (whether for personal or professional reasons) are killed. Since the cult remains secluded, people like Josh would be scarce and the cult would have few problems remaining the terrible force that they are. For these reasons, Midsommar is one of the most frightening films of 2019.

Check Out S.C.’s Analysis of Midsommar!

What did you think of Midsommar? Let us know in the comments below!

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