Midsommar and the Terrifying Complex of Daylight

How 2019’s Best Horror Movie Will Make You Afraid of the Light

Midsommar, Ari Aster (2019)

Distorting Our View

One of the many ways in which “Midsommar” can disorient viewers is in the filmmaker’s extensive use of nonlinear distortion to place them into the shoes of the characters. The clearest example of this is in a scene where the protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) takes hallucinogenic mushrooms shortly after arriving in the Swedish countryside.

Dani takes psychedelic mushrooms, Midsommar (2019)
A Terrible Trip, Midsommar (2019)

Staring a Little Too Long

Counterintuitive to most horror movies, bright sunlight is used in “Midsommar” to isolate the leading group of characters and put them out of their natural element. In one particularly disturbing scene, two members of the pagan cult perform a ritual suicide by jumping off a cliff, while the protagonists watch in disbelief, and the rest of the townspeople rejoice. During the ceremony, bodies fall into the rocks below, and the faces of the deceased are crushed to bits.

The start of the suicide ritual, Midsommar (2019)
Cliff Jump, Midsommar (2019)

Death by a Million Frames

There are several shots throughout “Midsommar” that are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of visual content in the frame. Some of the most striking examples of this occur during a sex ritual, where Dani’s boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is encouraged by a singing group of naked women to impregnate one of the Swedish girls before their eyes. When Dani discovers what her boyfriend is doing, she begins maniacally screaming in sadness and anger while the other women in the cult mimic her. The director uses parallel editing here to alternate between both Dani and Christian, juxtaposing the two characters with light and darkness. When the scene shows Dani, she is in a room flooded with light, surrounded by women wearing white floral garments crying in unison.

Dani crying, Midsommar (2019)
The crying scene, Midsommar (2019)

Foreshadow, Foreshadow, Foreshadow

The photography in “Midsommar” does not only help explain the plot but often foreshadows it. It is difficult to miss the murals throughout the film that preemptively explain all the events that will unfold as part of the festival. This imagery can be seen everywhere from the cult’s manuscripts to carvings in a wall, books, runes, and even posters in bedrooms.

The entire plot in one mural, Midsommar (2019)

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

The opening sequence is the only time in which darkness is present, which provides a contrast to the bright warmth of the rest of the film. The movie opens with Dani alone, one snowy night, concerned about a troubling message she received from her sister. When she learns that her worst fears are confirmed, and her sister has killed herself along with her parents, Aster uses a long take to depict the grisly murder-suicide.

The opening sequence, Midsommar (2019)

Burn It All Down

Dani and the burning temple, Midsommar (2019)
Ending scene, Midsommar (2019)

The Bottom Line

Throughout “Midsommar,” director Ari Aster uses photography to make audiences feel as vulnerable and disturbed as the characters on the screen. Rather than haunt spectators with darkness and confinement, the filmmaker creates a reminder about just how terrifying light and open spaces can be. Horrific images are shown throughout both in dark and light, informing audiences that evil exists even in places where it may not seem so. By using various lighting effects, shots, and distorted imagery, Aster is able to provide an experience that is fundamentally different from most other films of the horror genre. This film is photographed to feel like a hallucinogenic-induced trip that is deeply disturbing yet so visually stunning that it is impossible to peel the eyes away.

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