The movie “Midsommar” is the best type of scary movie — the type that isn’t actually scary at all.
In fact, if one were to remove like six scenes and end it a few minutes early it would fit right in as a dreamy, beautifully shot movie about a lovely commune and their new friends. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as those six scenes have a whole bunch of murdering.
The film is the latest work from director Ari Aster, who also made “Hereditary” and a lot of other, less famous films, and tells the tale of Dani, a young woman whose boyfriend plans to dump her are thwarted by her sister’s murder-suicide of their parents. So instead Christian, the boyfriend, who sucks, invites her on a trip to Sweden to visit the commune where his roommate grew up and where his other roommate, Josh, is planning on doing anthropological research for a dissertation.
The commune turns out to be kind of murdery, the kind of place where visitors mysteriously go missing and the elders commit public suicide when they turn 72. They also set a nicely arranged lunch, wear fun outfits and are generally extremely pleasant. So it’s a mixed bag.
Dani is fully emotionally dead by this point, as her family is dead and her boyfriend is holding off on breaking up with her to be a “nice guy.” So she pretty is quickly sucked into the commune’s way of life, finding solace in the intricate ceremonies and the simple day-to-day existence. Some other things happen, Christian is part of a weird group sex ritual, there’s a mask made out of a human face, and the film ends with Dani being named the May Queen and choosing to sacrifice her boyfriend, who’s then drugged and sewn into the body of a bear before being placed into a pyre. And for the first time in the film, we see her smile a genuine smile.
But the twist — because every single movie has a twist — is that the horrifying parts aren’t the parts where people die, no matter how many closeups there are of a squished-up old lady’s head. That’s just a cult doing cult things. They’re actually very open about it for the most part.
But the horrifying part of the film is just how bad Christian and Josh are at anthropology.
First off, they did absolutely no research ahead of time, despite literally living with a primary source. They just strolled on in, figuring it out as they went, without even obtaining permission from the commune to study it in the first place. In fact, they were explicitly told they would not have access to many of the most important aspects of the village elders, including the sacred text written by purposefully inbred oracles. So anything they wrote would just be pure conjecture about a society in a place they weren’t allowed to disclose made up of people they weren’t allowed to refer to by name.
Christian didn’t even go into the trip planning to do any research — he just saw the old people jumping off the cliff, thought to himself, “Dang, that was wild,” and figured he’d just slap a dissertation together.
A nearly identical dissertation to the one his good friend and roommate was writing, by the way, which is wildly unethical, probably. He finally strong-arms his way into a collaboration with Josh, then proceeds to switch between acting disinterested in what was happening around him and actively disrupting the lives of those he is supposedly studying. So yes, Christian is the worst.
And Josh isn’t much better. When he finally is allowed to view the commune’s sacred text, he sneaks around to take pictures of it despite being explicitly told not to. Which is bad. Honestly, he kind of deserved to be bludgeoned by a naked man wearing a human face as a mask and buried in the garden — you gots to be ethical with your academics.
So to conclude, “Midsommar” is both a redemption story showing that even the most broken of us can find a place to be happy, and a concurrent tale of the dangers of improperly conducted academic research. Let them both be a lesson to us all.
But actually it was kind of amazing and everyone should see it (unless seeing the insides of people makes you queasy).
Rating: Nine human sacrifices out of 9, the proper number.