Writer-director Ari Aster creates films that get lodged in your brain. He did so with his 2018 feature debut, Hereditary, a dark, moody supernatural horror film about grief and inherited trauma that also reminds you not to stick your head out of a moving vehicle. In 2019, Aster debuted his sophomore feature Midsommar, a film in which sunshine and flower crowns do only so much to mask the sinister nature of Swedish commune of Hårga, and the true nature of its titular festival. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the community is as passionate about maypole dancing and hallucinogens as it is human sacrifice.
For anyone reeling from a breakup, far more unsettling than the bodies burned in broad daylight — and, err, the situation with the bear — was the emotional horror of the movie. Midsommar heroine Dani (Florence Pugh) and woefully mediocre boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) are on the verge of splitting, but neither are brave enough to jump off the (in their specific case, metaphorical) cliff. The film drowns its audience in the uncomfortable tension between Dani and Christian that neither will speak of — so much so that when something truly horrific happens at Hårga, it’s almost cathartic.
Aster’s director’s cut — available on AppleTV Tuesday September 25 — offers 20 more minutes of Dani and Christian’s pre-breakup dance, as well as a more fleshed-out depiction of the death-obsessed commune.
On the verge of the nearly three-hour-long director’s cut release, Refinery29 spoke to Aster on the phone about Midsommar’s legacy, how his next project could possibly top his two previous films, and why he won’t answer that one burning question about Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).
Refinery29: Midsommar was critically acclaimed. Do you have any hopes for awards consideration this year?
Ari Aster: “It would be great to be considered for any awards. My team and I took great care in making the film, and we tried to be as thorough as possible. We are all very proud of what we were able to do. We built the entire village from scratch in a short amount of time. I’m really proud of how handmade the film feels, and is. It really was this immense passion project for everyone involved, including the many artists we commissioned to contribute to that world and its details.”
It’s inevitable that there will be Midsommar Halloween costumes this year. People love a flower crown, even if it has a sinister meaning.
“It’s always flattering to see people pay homage, one way or another. It’s also surreal, because I’ve only been making feature films for the last couple of years. It’s always strange to have these reminders that these movies came onto the world and were more or less well-received. I’m at FansticFest right now, kind of just for fun, and there are a couple of people in cosplay outfits wearing Hårga clothes. It’s always really nice to see.”
Midsommar is a visually gory and disturbing movie, even more so in the director’s cut. How do you balance the shocking moments with the emotional nuance of the film?
“I try not to do anything cynically. I’m not meeting a certain quota with how many shock moments I have. I’m really just trying to tell a story. There are a lot of genre fanatics who have given themselves over to that, and other people who take umbrage with it and feel like the film itself isn’t genre ‘enough’ [if there’s not enough gore.] This film is about Dani. It’s her story. The first cut of the film was very long — the assembly cut was four hours long — and we started to arrive at cuts I was really happy with at about a three hour [runtime.] We got to a two hour and 40 minute runtime, which felt pretty definitive, but we had to keep going. It is a genre film, and at a certain point, it becomes unreleasable. We kept chiseling at it, and we lost 20 more minutes. I believe in that cut, and I’m really happy with the [theatrical cut], but there were 20 minutes of material I had a hard time losing. The theatrical cut is maybe the better paced movie, but the director’s cut is the more complete film.”
What are some things that fans who saw the original Midsommar can see in the director’s cut, specifically?
“You have a better sense of the community [of Hårga], their customs, and the [members of the community] have a stronger identity. Dani and Christian’s dynamic is more fleshed out. The movie is meant to reflect the way a dying relationship feels. It keeps taking steps forward, and then step backwards. The director’s cut reflects that, and it’s deliberately more repetitive: Dani and Christian keep having the same conflicts, and keep stepping back and giving into ambivalence. The director’s cut has one more argument, and one more making up scene. The point of that was always to push the audience to want one of them to take some sort of action, and make it unbearable that they just aren’t. It helps make the ending feel more cathartic.”
You’re working with producer Lars Knudsen on production company Square Peg. Outside of your own projects, what kind of stuff are you interested in producing?
“We are excited about working with writer-directors, and filmmakers who have a singular vision, and are trying interesting things. The thing that has been consistent for us in what we’re looking for is that we’re looking for weirdo filmmakers, that are going to make weirdo movies.”
A burning question I’ve had ever since I saw Midsommar in theaters: Were Pelle’s parents killed in the sacrificial fire? Pelle tells Dani his parents died in a fire, and then at the end…
“That’s deliberately ambiguous! It’s designed to have you wondering if that’s true, whether he’s just manipulating her, and if that’s true, what does it mean. I’m happy to leave that ambiguous. [Laughs]”
Maybe Dani and Pelle should just be together.
“I think his chances are pretty good now.”
If a Midsommar sequel isn’t in the works...what’s your next project?
“I have several screenplays that I had written before I directed Hereditary, and I need to polish all of them. Some I want to rewrite from scratch...It’s been a little paralyzing lately [to find which one to work on.] Right now, it’s just about getting reinvigorated and finding the right path for the next one.”
You made a short film called Munchausen in 2013, which is about a mother who poisons her son. There have been many stories about Munchausen syndrome by proxy lately. Would you explore that in a feature?
“I have thought about it. I kind of scratched that itch with the short, though. I did notice that it was saturating the culture in the last year or so. It’s funny how certain things are in the air, almost unprovoked.”
Midsommar is now available on all digital platforms and will be available on DVD/Blu-ray on October 8. Aster's director's cut comes with every purchase of Midsommar on AppleTV.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.