One of the most talked-about movies of any genre last year was the horror drama Hereditary. The feature debut of writer/director Ari Aster, it gave us images we’ll never get out of our minds. Now, Aster is returning to theaters with his sophomore feature, called Midsommar, and it looks like another memorably eerie effort.
Not much is known about the upcoming movie other than it follows a couple (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) and some friends to a beautiful Swedish community’s special midsummer festival, which is only held every 90 years. Once there, they slowly realize that the place and its people are not quite all right.
A24 has just released the first full trailer for Midsommar, and when you watch it, you’ll understand that this is going to be an intensely disturbing movie from a unique cinematic voice. Fandango had the chance to discuss the movie with Aster on the eve of the trailer’s release. Check out our conversation after watching below.
Fandango: Is that community worshipping King Paimon? Is Midsommar actually related to Hereditary?
Ari Aster: Nothing as explicit as that. There's no Paimon involved. But I would say that the film is something of a companion to Hereditary, although the similarities didn't really occur to me until we were on set. And thematic ties became apparent to me. But nothing so overt as Paimon worshipping.
Fandango: They’re both horror movies with cults, but they do seem totally different, at least in their aesthetic approaches. This one is so bright and pastel. Was that a conscious choice to make it look so different than Hereditary?
Ari Aster: I certainly thought about it. I wrote Midsommar four or five years ago, before I made Hereditary, and it was the 11th feature script I had written, so at that point I wasn't really writing in response to Hereditary. I was just writing. And then, of course, I just had to reevaluate what I was doing aesthetically here versus Hereditary. But I wasn't too self conscious about it.
It is a film that is naggingly bright. All the way through. In fact, once they arrive in Horka, which is what the place is called — the community — we never leave the daylight. It stays bright all the way through the film. It's certainly a thing. Once we were making the film, our attention definitely went there.
And it also kind of occurred to us, on the ground, that there were huge logistical hurtles to overcome. The hardest thing to do is to shoot outside in the sun, because the sun is always changing place and so continuity becomes an issue. And then, of course, weather becomes an issue. If the clouds are covering the sun and you were supposed to shoot in daylight, you have to wait for the clouds to leave, and you have a very finite amount of time to shoot before the sun is just gone entirely. So logistically, this was definitely the hardest thing I had ever done. And I'm sure it's the hardest thing the cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, had ever done. Our producers, the whole team, was put to the test.
Fandango: Was your choice to shoot in Budapest over Sweden related to that? Is it easier to shoot that way there as opposed to filming during midsummer in Sweden?
Ari Aster: It was just logistical. Budapest allowed us to stretch the dollar a lot further. Sweden is a very expensive place to shoot. Otherwise, I'm sure we would have shot there.
Fandango: Have you been to a festival like this? Does that exist? What was the inspiration for the setting?
Ari Aster: We’re drawing a lot from folklore. And we're drawing from Swedish tradition. And we're drawing from tall tales. I was drawing a lot of inspiration from different anthropological studies. Not all of them were tied specifically to Sweden, but many were broadly European. Then there's a lot of invention happening, as well. It's a melange.
Fandango: What about all the markings and symbols we see in the trailer, is some of that taken from your research?
Ari Aster: All the runic stuff is pulling from runic alphabet, but then we also created something of a language for these people, and then there's a lot of symbolism that we created alongside the found symbolism. Then there is a lot of art that we kind of brought in ourselves that we made.
Fandango: Was there any Scandinavian folklore traditions that you discovered that surprised you?
Ari Aster: Yeah, there were. There were traditions that surprised me. And I wish I could go into them, but the ones that especially surprised me found their way into the movie. So, the answer is yes, but it's a tight-lipped yes.
Fandango: Why did you want to set a movie in Sweden? I know you’ve talked about a love for Ingmar Bergman films.
Ari Aster: I mean, I love Swedish cinema. Beyond Bergman, who is one of my heroes, Roy Andersson is a brilliant filmmaker. And Jan Troell and Bo Widerberg and Ruben Östlund. I really love the films that have come out of Sweden over the years.
But no, actually the concept of Americans visiting a Swedish pagan cult was brought to me by a Swedish company called B-Reel, and then from there I sort of took that concept and made it something personal for me and found my way in. So the film is very much, on its face, it's a piece of folk horror, on the surface. Then really, at its heart, the film is kind of an existential breakup… allegory? I don't know what you would call it. I think I ran with the initial concept and turned it into something closer to a fairy tale.
Fandango: So, is the basis of this movie that it’s a relationship drama that then is also a horror movie, like how Hereditary is first a family drama and then it became a horror movie, too?
Ari Aster: That’s the hope. To take what would otherwise be your standard issue relationship-in-trouble drama where the couple go on a trip, which is always the weird thing to do if your relationship is on shaky legs. It's in the same ballpark as having a child to save your relationship. It sort of takes that germ and then kind of blows it up and allows it to grow into some operatic, extremely heightened surreal places.
Fandango: So we haven’t really gone much into the plot. We see in the trailer that Florence Pugh’s character has some tragedy in her life or something. Do you want to talk about what that is, or can you shed any additional light on the plot of Midsommar?
Ari Aster: Not really. I really think the best way to go into this film is to have a vague idea of what you're going to watch. As with Hereditary. I think the trailer does a good job of teasing information and giving you just enough to get you through the door. Hopefully it's enough to get you through the door.
Fandango: But one thing that’s more apparent now is that this is Florence Pugh’s movie, right? It’s a relationship drama, but it’s mostly about her side?
Ari Aster: It is Florence's movie, yeah. But it also is a relationship film. So it is split between the two of them, but the audience is with her. Absolutely. The audience is with her the whole way through.
Fandango: Audiences are probably expecting a certain kind of movie from the director of Hereditary. Is it as scary? Or scarier?
Ari Aster: With Hereditary, even though that was my first film, there was a certain level of hype that was dangerous, and at that point people come in with certain expectations. And I even felt that that film, which was, again, my first film, was sort of a victim of high expectations in some cases, where people went in expecting so much that nothing could have measured up to the predicted result in their minds.
Now I'm fully aware of expectations, and the film is not Hereditary. It's really leaning more on suspense than it is scares. 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.
Midsommar hits theaters on July 3. Sign up for a fan alert to be the first to learn when tickets go on sale here at Fandango.