Director Ari Aster likes to defy genre conventions, even though his two feature films so far have been labeled as horror. While 2018’s Hereditary is a long, dread-filled journey deeply rooted in horror, 2019’s Midsommar isn’t such a straightforward dive into terror and fright. The film, which follows a group of Americans who travel to Sweden for a once every 90 years midsummer celebration in a small cultish community, proves far more muddled when it comes to genre designations.
At the center of Midsommar is the problematic relationship between Florence Pugh’s Dani and Jack Reynor’s Christian, which is fueled by the neopagan nightmare unfolding around them. Does this make Midsommar a romantic drama more than a horror film? Or do its folk horror vibes override everything else?
It’s obvious from the beginning of the film that Christian wants to dump Dani. When Dani’s sister and parents die in a horrific tragedy, Christian stays with his girlfriend out of a sense of obligation.
This is far from a healthy dynamic to maintain. Dani, sensing this, tries to start an open and honest dialogue many times about their relationship, but Christian refuses to engage with her. Instead, this tense situation, made worse by Dani’s family tragedy, follows them to Sweden.
Romantic dramas don’t possess the level of gore and body horror seen in Midsommar. Once in Sweden among the Hårga’s close-knit community, Christian and Dani are thrown right into the dark underbelly of ancient rituals when they watch two elders from the commune die by suicide as part of a tradition referred to as an ättestupa.
After audiences experience this, a sense of imminent doom pervades every scene. In true horror fashion, Midsommar truly delivers from there.
Even with all the terror unfolding around them, Dani and Christian’s relationship is still central to how the film’s narrative evolves. Christian proves to be the consummate bad boyfriend, even forgetting Dani’s birthday when they arrive in Sweden.
It only gets worse from there, as Christian clearly lacks the skills or desire to truly support Dani through her mental health struggles. Instead, Christian bickers or evades whenever Dani tries to have an adult conversation about what’s going wrong in their relationship, which creates a stark contrast between these two characters.