Midsommar: The bad trip you’re not prepared to handle

Gari De Ramos, Scarlet Staff

Last week, the Clark University Film Screening Society (CUFSS) brought a little bit of summer into spooky season by screening “Midsommar” (2019). The second film by writer and director Ari Aster of Hereditary (2018) fame, “Midsommar” tells the story of five PhD students visiting one of the five, Pelle’s, rural hometown in Sweden to celebrate (and for the anthropologists Christian and Josh, study) the town’s fabled mid-summer festival. 

I did not see “Midsommar” at the CUFSS Screening, but I did see it in theaters. I, a lover of all things horror, had an experience I know will never be replicated while watching this movie. I was curled up in a ball, eyes glued to the screen, jaw ajar the entire time. In the car ride home, I was completely silent and numb for twenty minutes until I burst into tears with how impactful the movie was.

When asked about the film in an interview with Vulture, Aster said, “I really don’t know what I’ve done.”

Aster then went on to explain that in the filmmaking process, he got so close to the film that he asked himself, “What are the broad strokes that I was even intending?”

While Aster may not know exactly what he has made, we can look at the film itself. This is not a drama, nor is it a horror movie. This film is about a cult and the psychological damage it does to the four visiting PhD students. This film is out to move you. While “Midsommar” cannot easily be called any one genre, it can easily be described as a bad acid trip that leaves even the toughest viewers a little traumatized. To get a taste of exactly what is so jarring about the film, here is a copy of CUFSS list of trigger warnings for the film.

“Dog death, horse death, animal abuse, graphic animal death, teeth damaged, anxiety attacks, incestuous relationships, jumps scares, flashing lights, head gets squashed, blood/gore, parent death, unhappy ending, broken bones, cheating, suicide, drowning, falling to death, self-harm, vomit, drug use, burned alive, gaslighting, sexual assault, stalking, torture, claustrophobia, hanging, bodily mutilation, sexual content, sex scene, naked bodies, shaky cam, and cutting.”

Skip this paragraph if you do not want spoilers or do not want to read descriptions of graphic imagery. While some may brush off these trigger warnings, believe me, this film needs them. To get more specific, the film depicts the ritualistic suicide of two elders, which is cheered on by cult members, slowly and with precise detail. The film depicts its main male character, Christian, hypnotized and forced to impregnate a cult member in front of a crowd of women chanting and singing to encourage pregnancy, again, slowly and with precise detail. The film shows a mutilated body hanging from the ceiling by all four limbs with the skin of its back peeled and lifted to resemble a butterfly.

These images were horrifying, but it was difficult to look away. It is important to note that Aster is not being graphic for the sake of being graphic. “Midsommar” focused on the main character, Dani’s, progression (or, regression) from traumatized daughter – whose sister and parents were killed in the beginning of the film with a murder-suicide – into someone who seeks belonging and comfort in this cult. Aster’s stories are intentionally deep dives into trauma and people’s relationships with one another, and I believe his imagery is used to elevate that message. The story of “Midsommar” would be incomplete without the cinematic and powerful imagery.

For someone with only two films, Aster is already establishing himself as an auteur. Both of his films have defied genre and captivated audiences. While “Hereditary” sparked a viral image showing how high audience’s blood pressure levels were while viewing with how tense and terrifying it was, “Midsommar” is on a whole other playing field.