Release Date(s)2019 (July 20, 2020)
Studio(s)Square Peg/B-Reel Films/A24 (A24)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: D
[Editor’s Note: This release is currently only available through A24’s website here.]
With just two features under his belt, writer/director Ari Aster has already established himself as a singular voice in the realm of horror. Both films have mined familiar subgenres, but they’ve done so in ways which still manage to feel fresh. Hereditary was an unconventional take on conventional supernatural horror, and Midsommar is an unusually disturbing trip through the world of folk horror. It burns slowly but surely, especially in its 171-minute director’s cut version. Each sequence, each shot, and even each individual frame builds on everything which has come before, all of it leading to a seemingly inevitable conclusion—although that outcome may only be inevitable in hindsight, despite the fact that Aster left clue after clue along the way. The fact that those clues are hidden in plain sight helps to make Midsommar particularly rewarding on a second viewing.
The story follows Dani (Florence Pugh), a college student traumatized by a recent tragedy, as she accompanies her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and several of his friends on a trip to Sweden. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) is taking them to his home village of Harga, a small commune which celebrates the old ways of life. The longer that they stay, the more that they see of the ancient rituals celebrated by the community, and they find themselves facing varieties of dangers, including some which result from the growing separation between Dani and Christian.
While Hereditary and Midsommar operate in very different milieus, they both share Aster’s interest in the complex and frequently uncomfortable ways that relationships can unravel, familial or otherwise. Heredity’s family issues are replaced in Midsommar by the dysfunctional romantic relationship at its core, and yet family is still the key factor in the narrative. Midsommar is essentially a fairy tale, and the driving force behind such stories is often one of abandonment—think of Hansel and Gretel or Snow White. The tragedy which opens the film is what sends Dani on the path that leads to her decision at the end, and her struggles with Christian are an outgrowth of her unfulfilled need for a sense of belonging.
If Aster’s films can be summed up by a single word, it would be “precision.” Everything unfolds carefully and deliberately, with nothing left to chance. The smallest details of the production design, set dressing, and costuming are all significant. The compositions within the frame have meaning. More is not always better, but in this case the lengthier director’s cut of Midsommar is an improvement because the extra accumulation of detail gives more power to the conclusion. It better establishes the problematic nature of the dynamic between Dani and Christian, and that’s crucial for feeling the full impact of the ending.
Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski captured Midsommar digitally using Panavision Millennium DXL2 cameras. Scenes set in the United States were captured at 5K resolution using Panavision Primo Prime 35 mm lenses, while the scenes set in Sweden were captured at 8K using Panavision Primo Artiste 70 mm lenses. The film was then finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and framed at Aster’s preferred aspect ratio of 2.0:1. A24’s Ultra HD release presents the film in its native 4K, and includes high dynamic range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. Unlike many digitally photographed productions, nothing was added to mimic the look of film, and as a result the image is absolutely razor sharp. Every hair on the heads and beards of the actors, every thread on the costumes, and every blade of grass or other environmental detail is perfectly delineated. There’s little in the way of noise or other digital artifacts, either—it’s just a clean, pure image. The wider gamut of HDR improves the contrast compared to the Blu-ray version, with deep blacks but plenty of detail in the shadows, and the color balance is superb. Aster and Pogorzelski used the look of three-strip Technicolor as a reference, but in a more naturalistic fashion—they wanted it to feel like Technicolor more than look like it. The colors are enhanced without being oversaturated, and there are many more refined shades visible. The grass isn’t necessarily more vibrant, but it has more color detail, and the costume designs are heightened without being overtly vivid—Dani’s headdress and her suit of flowers really shine here. It’s an outstanding transfer for a remarkable film.
Audio is available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. Many of the visuals in Midsommar are of a subjective nature, and the sound design is no different. The surrounds are used for subtle ambience throughout, but they’re also used much more actively in subjective sequences such as Dani’s dance, where the world swirling around her is represented for the viewer by specific sound effects circling the room. It’s dizzyingly effective. There are also a few extremely important sound effects which play off-screen, such as a faint sound which indicates the fate of one character—Aster rewards those who pay attention. The frequently disturbing score by Bobby Krlic (as The Haxan Cloak) is reproduced well here, and it’s a major contribution to the effectiveness of the film as a whole.
The director’s cut of Midsommar is only available directly from A24, in either Ultra HD or Blu-ray versions—there’s no combo pack. Whichever version you choose, the single disc is housed in an oversized clothbound digibook, with a clothbound hard slipcover to protect it. The 64-page book features an introduction from Martin Scorsese, artwork for the film by Ragnar Persson, murals from the youth house, and murals from Siv’s house. Be forewarned that Scorsese drops a blatant spoiler for Hereditary, and also take note that the artwork is frequently NSFW. There are no extras whatsoever on the disc—not even a menu, but just a title screen which offers the choice to watch with or without subtitles. Missing from the theatrical cut Blu-ray is the Manifesting Midsommar featurette, the Bear in a Cage Promo, and the theatrical trailers. The lack of extras may be disappointing at this price point, but on the other hand, the packaging itself certainly qualifies as a special feature of its own, and as of this writing, it’s the only way to get the director's cut on physical media in either Ultra HD or Region A Blu-ray. (There's an Australian Region B-locked Blu-ray available from Roadshow Entertainment, but no UHD.)
Like most folk horror films, Midsommar is decidedly not for all tastes, and Aster’s precision extends to the exacting way that he presents some sights which can be difficult to watch. But for patient viewers with strong stomachs, Midsommar is a rewarding journey which affirms Aster as a major filmmaker.
- Stephen Bjork
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