Graduate students Dani Ardor and Christian Hughes are suffering a meltdown in their relationship. Dani has suffered a shock—her parents and mentally ill sister have committed suicide. Christian has come to the realization both his anthropology thesis and his relationship with Dani are failing. They decide to take a trip to their friend Pelle’s home, a creepy commune in northern Sweden where the couple and their group of friends take a journey of self-discovery that parallels the unveiling of the darker plans the commune has in store for them.
While MIDSOMMAR contains several familiar horror movie tropes—scary Scandinavia à la THE RITUAL, and the “we gotta get away from the twisted cult” of THE APOSTLE, it manages to steer off the heavily trafficked highway into its own territory. It dispels any typical “pagans are so wild and scary as opposed to what we’re used to” themes. It doesn’t go into great depth as to what the Hårga cult actually worships. In fact, Hårga’s cosmology/mythology is very sketchily drawn. It is refreshingly not “Cthulhu-esque”, there are no deities emphasized. Instead it is a kind of sun-cult mixed with a fear of a dark beast/devil from the woods. It draws in part from the lyrics of a folk song in which the young people of a village are seduced into an addiction to dancing. The cult’s beliefs center generally on cycles of nature drawn in basic terms.
One twist is how the cult views time—on the one hand, it strictly delineates what is appropriate for each period of a person’s life. As Pelle explains to Dani, “spring” lasts until age eighteen, “summer” thirty-six, when a person is free to wander, “fall” thirty-six to fifty-two, when it is time to work, and “winter” lasting the remainder of their years until seventy-two, when it’s time to die. A time outside this structure is the Midsommar celebration during which the film takes place. This is a symbolic “time outside of time”. It parallels the period of life the main characters are going through, and the heavy ingestion of psychedelic drugs serves to prolong it. The lingering scenes where the Dani and her friends talk about their relationships and their careers meander from places of happiness and confidence to those of fear and anxiety about the future, and whether or not the members of the group will successfully transition to the next stage of life. They try and fail to escape their fates—they receive punishment for turning the cult into a graduate thesis, taking casual sexual pleasure from its members, and even for hubris at a simple potential marriage and career success. All collapses at the hands of the Hårga cult which itself becomes a metaphor for respect for the complexity of time, stages of life, and relationships.
Dani remains the ultimate focus. The story belongs to her more than to the group and she and Christian as a “couple”. As the cult dissects the group of friends, bringing them one by one to gruesome ends, Dani must navigate her own fate. Her family’s death and her flashbacks and memory of it also take on a metaphorical status. Her sister is very much her old self, and her parents a home that is now gone. Startlingly grotesque scenes follow, showing the price of failing to transition. The film takes on a feel more like a Grimm’s Tales for grownups than pagan bloodbath. Dani must outlast the Hårga cult members in a Maypole dance in order to become the May Queen. Christian must mate with a chosen maiden to supply new babies for the cult. They are two last chances for transition, but only one will make it through.
In the end, MIDSOMMAR celebrates Dani’s awakening. She breaks free of the group that is slowing her down. She learns to show no mercy to the past and embrace her future, even if it involves the brutal sacrifice of those she once loved. Like a carnivorous flower, she gives us a new flavor of horror and follows through on how scary seeing the light can be.