Film Corner: Midsommar


[Content Note: Self-harm. Gore. Ableism. Incest. Rape. Drugs. Pandemic.]

I haven't had a live-watch in a while. I was getting married to Kissmate (which was very distracting), but today we're sick from some delivered food that maybe wasn't reheated enough, and the point is we have time AND stomach pains. Let's do this. I've been wanting to do MIDSOMMAR for, like, forever now and also before it stops being on Amazon Prime. "An American couple, their relationship foundering, travel to a fabled Swedish midsummer festival where they become trapped in a sinister nightmare." This is obviously the best choice for something to watch while dealing with food poisoning, as we are right now! (I do want to say that covid has entirely fucked up how I watch movies now. A fictional governor ranted about "200 Americans dead" in a movie the other day and I was like "pffft, like you'd care" because I mean. *frantic gestures at covid count*)

We start with a pretty mural which is actually kind of terrifying because I think that nice woman has tentacles and is killing people while more people offer her skulls. RUSTIC. The scenery turns mountainous and wintery and there is sad vocalization. We have turned the music up all the way trying to hear so when the movie rings THE LOUDEST PHONE IN EXISTENCE in our ears, we both literally jumped in our seats and screamed. Phone rings. Answering machine picks up. A daughter, Dani, frets that her parents might not be okay because a "Terri" sent her a scary email. Mom and Dad sleep through the message and seem fine?

[TW: Self-harm] Oh, shit, the sister situation looks like maybe a self-harm situation. Dani frets over the phone to boyfriend, Christian, who is basically a shit about Terri having bipolar disorder. We hate Christian. Dani worries that she's leaning too much on her emotionally-distant boyfriend and ouch this is a little too relatable. I like Dani.

Ooh! It's time for twenty minutes with jerks trope: Christian and his friends trash-talk Dani and are leery and gross at the local waitstaff. We will savor these boys' impending messy deaths that the trailer hinted at. A cute little filming detail (Kissmate is great at noticing these) is that there's an enormous picture of cleavage just behind and above the boys: it's "on their minds" by being positioned above their heads like a thought bubble.

[TW: Self-harm] Oh shit. Uh. The sister, Terri, apparently gassed the entire house with car exhaust and now Dani's entire family has died. I wasn't expecting that and we have to pause here because that's a lot. I'm so sorry. We don't really understand what is going on, but Kissmate points out that the gas hoses look like the woman with tentacles at the beginning. I thought this was going to be, like, WICKER MAN or something. Well, this is a raw beginning and terrifyingly detailed, so if you have triggers around self-harm, uhhh, be aware that's an immediate thing in this movie. We didn't know that in advance.

Oh! That's Chidi! And that's Eustace from Narnia! The boys are planning to go to Europe for midsummer in a couple weeks and this is news to Dani despite apparently living with Christian now. Kissmate is lividly cursing Christian out and it's great. Christian swears he wasn't lying to Dani and that he "only decided today" that he was going to Sweden, but Dani points out that he already has a plane ticket. Dani uses her words well to point out Christian's bullshit in non-aggressive terms, but he angrily gaslights her and escalates the conflict.

Christian tells his friends that he's invited Dani to come to Sweden with them on their summer sex fling, and that she's accepted, but he's really hopeful she won't *actually* come. The boys look shocked. Like, we've actually had to pause to breathe and cackle at the... the... the audacity of "guys by the way I invited Dani and she accepted but don't worry she definitely won't actually COME don't worry". "And just so we're clear, you guys all TOLD me to invite her and you all know she's coming. Okay?" as Dani *knocks on the door*. He waited until the LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT to drop this on them. [Kissmate: "Well, at least Christian is as much a shitty friend as he is a shitty boyfriend. He is CONSISTENT and I admire that."]

From left to right, we have Josh's "I'm too tired for this" grimace, Pelle's "lol, what" smirk, and Mark's "NO. NO. NO." eyebrows happening. It's a lot of eyebrow on Mark's face. Pelle is actually nice to Dani. Pelle may survive the winter. Kissmate keeps pointing out neat little cinematography touches, like how the wall above Josh's head is crammed full of cards, making him seem filled with thoughts/words but keeping them to himself in his silence. Pelle is either a genuinely nice and awkward good bean OR grooming Dani to be, like, a human sacrifice for the Euro-volcano. I'm not sure which. And there's a great transition in which Dani goes from apartment bathroom to plane bathroom. Very artsy.

In Stockholm, the boys are super creepy about women, asking why "the women here" are so much sexier than the (American?) ones back home. There's definitely a WICKER MAN feel going on with Pelle's hometown being (apparently) a pagan commune, but all the other kids have Biblicalish names: Christian, Mark, Josh(ua), Dani(el). The visuals are arty and great but Kissmate wants to kick the sound guy. The reverb is making our windows tremble.

The van stops in the middle of a field where the Swedish commune kids are bringing their various American and London exchange students to meet and possibly do drugs. It sorta already feels like each Swedish boy was told to bring foreign students back with them. Dani hesitates on the drug use, saying she wants to find her footing first. The boys pressure Dani into getting high with them. They sit around and ponder the bright sky and "midnight sun" which indicates they're in the arctic circle...but isn't there still a sunset? Maybe it's supernatural? After a bad trip, Dani and the rest of the boys are backpacked into the woods to a commune full of white robes and cheery sun imagery. "RUN," Kissmate helpfully informs everyone.

The houses look like something a child drew and then they built at wrong angles to everything else, so that's alarming in a more mundane way. Children run up to the visitors to give them strawberries and take their luggage, and I have an idea for how to rob Americans. They get the tour around the village. Over there is the mysterious yellow temple no one is allowed in. Over here is where you'll be staying. Ah, yes, here is the sleepy bear in a cage. For reasons? Over here is the tapestry that includes a close-up of a vaginal bush trim, and I swear I am not making this up. We didn't explain the tapestry but it was pretty clearly a "love spell" involving the feeding of one's pubic hair and menstrual blood to an outsider (based on his clothes?) so that's terrifying considering the situation. "Love spell" there in huge quotation marks because that's rape. So... trigger warning for that, probably.

Pelle takes them to the communal living quarters and off-handedly mentions that elders are killed when they reach 72. The Americans treat this like a joke, whereas I would ask more questions about that. The Americans get to sleep in the communal "kids" quarters which means screaming babies and... someone put scissors under the crib pillow? What. I hate communal sleeping and Kissmate doesn't love babies so this is basically our own personal hell. Google is telling Kissmate that scissors under the pillow keeps away nightmares, which makes sense, but on the other hand: BABY.

Girls walk backwards while gathering the list of flowers from the tapestry love spell instructions, which is alarming. 4 girls and 4 outsider boys. Everyone sits for a very quiet meal, followed by a tearful toast for two elders. I'm wondering if they've reached the deadly 72 years of age. [TW: Self-harm] HOLY SHIT. The two elders are carried to the top of a cliff and ceremonially throw themselves to their death. I'm- I get why Dani is in shock, but the rest of you need to be LEAVING? Oh my god, the crowd only loses their shit when the second elder doesn't die cleanly and needs to be finished off with a hammer, and also this is very gory.

Our London secondary protagonists, bless them, are the ones to freak out and storm off, telling everyone to go fuck themselves for the generous helping of trauma. Dani runs off to weep while the American boys fight about their thesis projects. They will not survive the winter. Christian wants to do his thesis on these folks and is basically trying to steal Josh's thesis out from under him. We're on Josh's side and Christian is a hack, but also...maybe...LEAVE NOW. Dani wants to leave and Pelle starts trying to recruit her as an "orphan" to his "new family". It's really manipulative and terrifying. Connie, the Londoner, tells Dani that they're leaving only to be interrupted and told that her boyfriend has left without her but is totally coming back any minute now. RUN. RUN. Props, really, to the Londoners for being so much smarter than the Americans.

In the movie, Mark pees on the sacred burial tree where the village stores its cremated remains. Connie storms out of the village, refusing to believe the obvious lie that her fiance just left without her without telling her goodbye. Christian asks a villager about incest and is told that they "often have to invite outsiders". Dani is invited to help make "meat tarts" after being reassured that Simon, who is missing, is definitely fine. There are six tarts placed ominously off to the side. Six guests. There are also six bottles of liquid. So there's... pubic hair and menstrual blood in all that, right?

[TW: Ableism. Incest.] I don't even know how to trigger warn this. An elder informs us that they deliberately use inbreeding to create artistic oracles with "unclouded minds". They use these people to create holy scriptures and art. Josh's face is unhappy and so is mine.

Lunch is served and Christian finds a hair in his meat pie. Mark immediately leaps on whether or not the slender fiber is a pubic hair or not. I cannot enough stress that this is in-character for Mark. Mark asks this question about EVERY hair, I bet. Josh sneaks out at night to take illicit pictures of the holy scriptures, then appears to be killed by... one of the oracles who is wearing Mark's face as a mask? This is a very unsettling movie.

I really do not understand how these American kids don't notice half their party is missing. They're essentially on vacation in a place the size of summer camp, with one dorm and no television. You don't notice the others are missing?? Oh, clever. The elders have announced a holy book has been stolen and are implying that the missing students ran off with it. Christian kisses ass, because he continues to be the worst.

Dani is given more drug-tea before what looks like a sort of maypole dance, and begins hallucinating grass growing through her feet. The elder explains that the dance is based on a dance of death, and the last dancer standing who doesn't faint from exertion is crowned the winning May Queen. HEALTHY. Meanwhile, Christian is asked whether he'd like to "mate" with one of the young village girls. He walks out without us seeing his answer but he doesn't look thrilled. Dani dances the dance of exhaustion and I'm having a hard time believing that a city girl is going to outlast country girls who do manual labor all day. On the other hand, everyone dancing is high as a kite and there's a sort of "right foot on left" Twister quality to the dance.

Kissmate points out that "dance while exhausted" is basically a metaphor for Dani's life and I do like that. Okay, now Dani can understand Swedish and is the last girl standing after accidentally hip-checking one of them. Dani is carried away from Christian by the crowd, having been crowned as the May Queen. We aren't sure whether this is good or very very bad. Dani is loaded up into a carriage to "bless" the crops while Christian looks like he's having a particularly bad drug trip. A girl strews petals to lead him to, presumably, his chosen villager "mate". [TW: Rape] Christian is led to a fertility ritual full of naked women in which he's way too drugged to consent and his "mate" is way too young. It's super uncomfortable and we hate it.

I don't see Dani settling down happily ever after here. Um. Okay. Dani sees Christian and runs back to the dormitory to scream at the horror of this place. The other girls wail with her. Christian flees the ritual and runs around the village, discovering Josh's foot in one of the gardens and a decoratively-hanged Simon (I think?) in the hen house. It's all very gruesome. I question the gardening techniques of this place, because I was pretty sure you couldn't safely compost bodies into things you planned to eat (crops, hens, etc.). This movie is a slog and I can't say I recommend it. It's really pretty and artsy! But, like, the artistry is just used to gross you out?

As May Queen, Dani is forced to choose whether to sacrifice Christian or another (random) villager. Then we see the sacrificed kids wheelbarrowed into the death house after having been stuffed with straw. Christian gets sewn up into a bear, put in the death house, and set on fire. Everyone descends into religious hysterics as Dani looks on in horror. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, Dani smiles to the camera and now seems on-board with all this and presumably happily joins the commune now. That was so weirdly pointless! I want my time back, oh my god, that told no story, went nowhere, arrived in no place, and had no point? I enjoyed Nicolas Cage's WICKER MAN remake more than this. There, I said it.

OOOH. The 1978 WICKER MAN is on Netflix and Kissmate has never seen it before. Stay tuned.

In closing, I'm just going to note that you CAN break-up with your shitty boyfriend; you do not HAVE to join a pagan murder cult just to be rid of him. A little public service announcement there. Wait, no, I'm going to add that something really bothered me: I didn't like that the opening tragedy was caused by a person with bipolar disorder. People with mental illness are already stigmatized so often as dangerous when we're much more likely to be killed by the rest of folks. It just felt very much like a gut-punch that never lessened. I thought the twist was going to be that, like, the sister knew about the cult and was trying to save them all through death, but nope, she was apparently just a Dangerous Crazy Person, and siiiigh.


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