On July 3, director Ari Aster's sophomore horror film Midsommar hits theaters in the United States, bringing with it a film that could aptly be titled A Midsummer Day's Nightmare. If you're wondering about the one-word title and what "midsommar" actually means in the world of this bloody horror film, we've got you.
You probably know that "midsommar" means exactly what it sounds like: midsummer. But let's look at some of the origins. It's a word found in Swedish, Germany, and other European languages that translates to midsummer, but actually refers to what is technically known as the first day of summer or the summer solstice. The solstice is the time twice a year when the Earth has one of its poles at its maximum tilt toward the sun. In the summer, that gives us the longest day of the year; in the winter, it gives us the shortest day of the year. The summer solstice is always between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern hemisphere and between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23 in the southern hemisphere.
Despite the fact that this date marks the "official" start of summer, the word indicates that it happens around the middle of summer, which it does. It has to do with the fact that astronomers believe summer begins at the solstice, while meteorologists say summer begins June 1. Drama.
Either way, pagans have celebrated the summer solstice for hundreds of years and that's where Midsommar comes in. The film is about a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a special Midsommar festival that only occurs every 90 years. In Sweden, Midsummer's Eve is on par with Christmas in terms of its importance as a holiday. Traditions include weaving wreaths and crowns, eating herring and strawberries, doing a traditional frog dance, singing songs, and decorating the maypole.
In the film, me meet a group of friends: Christian (Jack Reynor) and his girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh), Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Mark (Will Poulter). When they arrive in the remote village looking for a little rest and relaxation, and while they find all the idyllic activities mentioned above, they also find violent and disturbing pagan rituals in which the locals insist they participate. That juxtaposition is exactly what makes the whole situation so incredibly jarring.
It's also what's made the film popular among critics — on Rotten Tomatoes Midsommar holds a 94 percent "fresh" rating and Refinery29's movie critic, Anne Cohen, describes it as "a slow descent into frenzied, ritualized madness." In a Fangoria issue (released via Entertainment Weekly) where Aster is interviewed by fellow horror director Jordan Peele, Peele says Midsommar might be “the most idyllic horror film of all time.”
“It is an ascension of horror … It’s a very unique feeling for a film to conjure because after it ended, I found myself looking back at the final act like, ‘Holy sh*t.’ That was some of the most atrociously disturbing imagery I’ve ever seen on film, and yet I experienced it with this open-mouthed, wild-eyed gape,” says Peele. “I think that part of how we get there is never reducing the villains to any kind of snarling monsters with an evil agenda.”
And considering that the term "midsommar" has become attached to this "atrociously disturbing imagery," we're gonna venture out on a limb and say it's got a whole new meaning now.