Read This Before You See Midsommar

Gather 'round the maypole, friends — Ari Aster's Midsommar is nearly upon us! This unique-looking piece of horror seems set to be a bit of a spiritual successor to some folk horror classics like The Wicker Man, although Aster and distributor A24 have played it pretty close to the chest about what exactly to expect from the film.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited, however. It's only Aster's second film (more on that in a bit), but he has shown a lot of promise and an inventive eye for scaring the hell out of people. A24 has a solid track record when it comes to plucking out some great films for distribution: Room, Ex Machina, Moonlight, Good Time, Lady Bird... They clearly have a knack for grabbing strange, remarkable indie films and bringing them to a wider audience.

Before you head off to see Midsommar on July 3rd, you may want to know a bit of what you're getting into. Grab your flower crown: here's everything you need to know before you check it out.

The follow-up to one of 2018's best horror movies

The name Ari Aster may not ring many bells for you. After all, Midsommar is only the second feature film he has directed. However, his debut was one of 2018's best horror films, and many would argue one of the best horror films of the last few decades: Hereditary. Starring Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, and Alex Wolff as a family faced with a sudden, horrible tragedy, it's a slow burn of a film that ratchets up the tension all the way through before unleashing hell in its last act.

In fact, Hereditary was such a total package that there was even some "Best Actress" Oscar buzz for star Toni Collette. She did not receive a nomination, but the fact that she was even in consideration for a straight horror film — something the Academy typically ignores — should tell you something about the kind of "oomph" that Hereditary is packing. Don't let Aster's small filmography fool you: if Midsommar can shake audiences like Hereditary did, he'll certainly be known as an impossible filmmaker to ignore.

"The Wizard of Oz for perverts"

Director Ari Aster has an odd way of classifying his movies. If you showed most people the trailer for Midsommar, they would be able to instantly tell that this is not a movie for the faint of heart. It looks intense, frightening, and horribly unsettling. Aster has a few other ways to describe it, however.

In a discussion with Vulture, Aster described Midsommar as "a breakup movie, in the same way that Hereditary was a family tragedy." He also expressed his desire for the movie to be viewed on its own merits — those who go in expecting the same thing as Hereditary, the director explained, are going to be disappointed. When pressed on the issue, Aster got even weirder.

He thought about his upcoming film for a long while, then laughed and described it as "The Wizard of Oz for perverts." That description alone should be a pretty good indicator of whether or not Midsommar is the kind of movie you should see.

It features some impressive young talent

There are not a ton of huge, A-list stars in Midsommar; most of its primary cast is a group of talented young actors who are sure to make audiences say, "I know that guy! What's he in?" before leaping to their phones to check. Here's a rundown of who you'll see in Midsommar.

Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor take the lead as Dani and Christian. Pugh is probably most recognizable from her role as Katherine in Lady Macbeth, but she also appears in films like Outlaw KingFighting With My Family, 2019's Little Women, and Marvel's upcoming Black Widow solo film. Meanwhile, you might recognize Reynor's voice from the Andy Serkis-directed Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, where he played Brother Wolf. He also appeared in Grassland and 2015's Macbeth.

Will Poulter plays Mark, and you probably know him as Colin from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, though he also played a prominent role in the Maze Runner series. Finally, William Jackson Harper plays Josh. He's best known as conflicted ethics professor Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place. We'll have to see if his inability to solve the Trolley Problem comes up in Midsommar.

It also features some well-known Swedish talent

Midsommar is set in Sweden, and it follows a group of Americans who head there for a festival. As such, there is also a good deal of Swedish talent in the cast. They are best known in their native country, but may well be recognizable to American audiences in some regard. Included among the Swedish talent are Liv Mjones, Anna Astrom, Julia Ragnarsson, Bjorn Andresen, and Henrik Norlen.

Mjones is probably the most well-known, appearing in many films and TV shows on both sides of the pond. Astrom, Andresen, and Norlen are all mostly featured in Swedish television and film, but have made a few jumps into smaller roles in the United States. Julia Ragnarsson may be recognizable for another reason: she has also done some video game voice work. In 2018's A Way Out, she played the role of Emily.

Horror in broad daylight

We're so used to scary films being set in the dark, tricking us with shadows and obscuring the horrors that are lurking just outside of our field of vision. It takes just one quick glance at the trailers and posters for Midsommar to realize that this film operates a little bit differently. Even a minor detail, like the letterbox of the trailer being white instead of the usual black, is off-putting and unnerving.

Everything in Midsommar is sunlight and bright pastels, and one of the characters remarks in the trailer that it's sunny even in the middle of the night — part of the natural phenomenon surrounding the area of Sweden that the characters visit. The films official logline reads, "What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing."

The bright imagery of Midsommar seems like it will lend itself well to the otherworldly feel of the film, and will also make it increasingly difficult for our protagonists to hide when it all hits the fan.

A "once in a lifetime" event

So, what's really going on in Midsommar? Well, the official synopsis reads, "Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village." Going on a vacation to fix a broken relationship is usually a terrible idea, and will obviously add to the emotional tension in the film.

This might help us understand why Ari Aster describes Midsommar as a "breakup movie." It's just going to be an even more unpleasant breakup than what we are used to seeing. It also is probably not a coincidence that the phrase A24 uses is "once-in-a-lifetime." There is a way to guarantee that something is "once-in-a-lifetime," after all.


Much of the aesthetic of the film comes from traditional celebrations in Europe — specifically, Scandinavia. Midsummer celebrations (or "Midsommar," as the celebration is called in Sweden) take place on a Friday in June in celebration of the longest day of the year. The traditions date back to pagan rituals to designed to win the favor of the sun god.

The Midsommar festival is a big deal in Sweden. Typical decorations involve plenty of flower garlands and wreaths, and businesses shut down so that people can have the entire day to celebrate. Maypoles for dancing and gigantic bonfires are common, and as the festivities wind down, there is often a reading of fortunes so people can determine who they will marry in the future. Obviously, the celebration in Midsommar is not exactly like these traditional rites, but it isn't tough to imagine those traditional activities transitioning into something horrifying as the story moves forward.

Aster's last horror?

If Midsommar proves to be the success that it is building up to be, you might start to see Ari Aster's name thrown around as a new "master of horror." However, you shouldn't hold your breath for another terrifying feature to follow up the one-two punch of Hereditary and Midsommar.

When IndieWire spoke with Aster about the film, the director said, "[Midsommar] is the only other horror movie I have. And I'm pretty sure that's going to be it for a long time. I love the genre, I consider myself a genre filmmaker in that I want to play in every genre. I would love to make a musical. I have ten other scripts that I've written that I want to make and there are other things I have. I'm writing a sci-fi film and there are at least four or five movies that I have ready to go that I am excited about making that I'd like to do in succession."

Kudos to Aster for not wanting to be shoehorned into a single genre. And he isn't saying he'll never return to horror — just not for a while.

The longest day

Horror movies usually have fairly brief runtimes. After all, it can be a challenge to continue upping the stakes without exhausting the audience to the point of checking out entirely. You'll probably want to hit the bathroom right before settling in to watch Midsommar, though, as it clocks in at two hours and 20 minutes long.

Even Hereditary couldn't quite slow burn its way to that length — it was 13 minutes shorter than the final cut of Midsommar. But Aster does favor the horror philosophy of "slowly torture your audience until the floodgates open." It will probably take a while to figure out exactly what is going on in the film, but it seems like Midsommar will be a film the audience doesn't just sit back and watch; it must be endured.

Aster hesitates to even call it a horror movie

Despite everything we've seen and said about Midsommar, one especially interesting aspect of it is that director Ari Aster hesitates to even refer to it as a horror movie. In a conversation with Fandango, Aster danced around questions about just how scary Midsommar is. "Now I'm fully aware of expectations, and the film is not Hereditary. It's really leaning more on suspense than it is scares," he explained. "In some ways, it's more surreal. I would say Hereditary absolutely was a horror film, unabashedly, and this film is, I am very careful to call it an adult fairy tale. That's what this is. This is an adult contemporary fairy tale."

The fact that Aster doesn't even like to call Midsommar "horror" should say a bit about the odd pacing and tone of his sophomore effort. Keep in mind that fairy tales can be effectively horrifying in their own right. Go check out Grimm's fairy tales — or, for a more modern take, many of the films of Guillermo del Toro. Just because Midsommar isn't an undeniable horror film doesn't mean it won't scare the crap out of you.