Midsommar: expect the unexpected from the director of Hereditary

Midsommar subverts our expectations of a horror film in this first teaser from director Ari Aster.
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How can you spot a horror film? Dark, harsh lighting, claustrophobic, insular settings and a high-pitched scream are often tell-tale signs that a fearful experience awaits. Yet, besides some ominous music and the sporadically terrifying imagery, you may not be able to identify that Ari Aster’s next film, Midsommar, is indeed a horror.

The marketing campaign for Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary gets underway this month, with the first teaser trailer giving us an insight into what the writer-director has cooked up for fans eagerly awaiting his sophomore effort. While Hereditary proved divisive among general audiences, cinephiles particularly cheered for its success: earning $79 million on a $9 million budget, the film became A24’s highest-grossing release to date and earned itself an armful of award attention.

Very much in keeping with our first impressions from the vibrant poster art which debuted last week, Midsommar—Swedish for Midsummerfeatures a color palette far richer in its vibrancy than any other horror marketing campaign in recent memory. With Instagram-ready filters and dreamlike lighting seeping into each and every frame of the one-minute-and-thirty-nine second video, it is safe to say that Midsommar is out to well and truly toy with our expectations.

The general plot revolves around a couple who travel to Sweden to visit their friend’s rural hometown for its fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. And the trailer gives us some glimpses of this.

Luscious florals adorn the A24 logo, which is often enough to get audiences familiar with the entertainment company’s output charged and on board. As our unnamed protagonist enters an outdoor clearing, she is introduced to a “crazy nine-day festival that only happens every ninety years”. So far so sweet. The light cascades throughout the greenery, cheery faces (clothed in bright whites and flower crowns) dance around the May Pole and the decorative halls suggests that more has been spent here than on your average summer park fest. Quite honestly, it looks lovely.

And then the imagery starts to sprinkle in. There’s some blood, a carcass, a cult-like ceremony and some disfigurement. Maybe this isn’t somewhere you would take your kids on a summer afternoon after all.

Mastery in its uneasiness

A number of the genre ingredients are in place but you would still hesitate to call this a horror film. Beyond the above symbolism, almost exclusively contained within the final ten seconds before the title card, it lacks the distinctive tropes of a ‘normal’ horror.

Packed to the rafters with blues, and yellows, and oranges, and pinks, it’s a stark contrast to your blacks and grays and reds that generally form the basis of the most frightful films. Flowers as dainty as those interlaced throughout the marketing so far are often kept to your rom-coms and Disney releases, not for the newest exercise from the man who—spoiler alert—gave us a decapitated Toni Collette during the shocking finale of his last feature. The soft focus lighting that gives the trailer a dreamlike sensation is not something you tend to find in a film hoping to scare you senseless – and yet it creates an uneasy sensation because it doesn’t feel natural.

This trailer isn’t scary so to speak but it will agitate audiences who expected something else completely – and that’s where its mastery lies. Expect the unexpected.

It’s incredibly intriguing that the first teaser for the hotly anticipated Midsommar is going so far out of its way to subvert our expectations entirely, which in itself magnifies the uneasiness the distributors are clearly aiming for. Following such a critically acclaimed and embraced film, there would undoubtedly be a built-in audience for Aster’s follow-up, many eager to see whether Hereditary was birth of a new horror mastermind or a once-and-done triumph will not be replicated. With a more risk-averse studio at the helm, you can’t help but envision this easier path being taken.

So A24—and indeed Ari Aster’s—bold, brave and pretty admirable decision to overturn our preconceived assumptions implies that we have quite a journey ahead of us. Given the nature of a teaser trailer, only intended to whet our appetite, we don’t get much in the way of plot beyond that which hasn’t already been prompted by way of the official plot synopsis. But we’re just over five months away from the film’s August 9 domestic release date and it remains to be seen whether they continue to keep the cards close to their chest. At the very least, I’m utterly fascinated.

We’ll leave you to mull over the official synopsis of the film and delve into the trailer to discover more.

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