Ari Aster’s Midsommar is filled with wonderful contradictions. The film is just as dark in tone as his debut feature Hereditary but features elements of a sweeping romance. The most obvious of those elements is the film’s score and visual motifs. When paired with the disturbing narrative of the broader story, Midsommar becomes a distinctly unique horror film of deceptive beauty.
One of the intended contradictions you will notice immediately in Midsommar is its score. A sweeping harp with an angelic choral underscores the opening title and teases away any notions of a traditional horror film. In fact, most of the film is visually dream-like and romantic. However, the beauty of the score is most effective when paired with the film’s more disturbing scenes. During the final sequence of the film, we get another prime example of contradictory elements. The action on screen is horrific and shocking. As the scene progresses, the score takes over and is both tranquil and somber. Instead of overemphasizing the horror with menacing cues, composer Bobby Krlic uses a seemingly unrelated musical tone which places all attention on the action. The stark contrast between brutal action and beautiful score is more effective at conveying a feeling of uncomfortable tension.
The visual characteristics of Midsommar also play an important role in breaking down traditional horror tropes. Once the film transitions to the Swedish village, the color palette completely changes. The frame is full of lush and vibrant pastel colors reminiscent of sweeping romantic films. Ari Aster plays into a false sense of tranquility through the use of color. When the village is showcased for the first time, it appears almost dream-like. The green pastures, villagers in gleaming white garb, and flower adornments give the illusion of paradise. As the film continues, that illusion slowly dissolves and the action grows further apart from the beautiful imagery. Despite the horrific events taking place on screen, Ari Aster maintains the bright contrasting color palette throughout the film.
Horror Behind the Beauty
When the score and visuals come together, they create a uniquely beautiful backdrop for a profoundly disturbing story. With Hereditary, Ari Aster proved that he understood the best elements of horror to deliver a modern classic in the genre. Midsommar showcases his innovative approach to storytelling within the same genre. He has developed a reputation for pushing the limits of the human experience. In the case of Midsommar, pairing beauty with horror delivers a new level of disturbance and reminds us that the genre never looked lovelier.