Ari Aster Wanted Midsommar To Leave The Audience Laughing

Horror is not an exact science, though Ari Aster's directorial debut, "Hereditary," has been scientifically shown to elevate heart rates better than any other horror movie. With "Midsommar," Aster avoided the sophomore slump, just as he avoided the dark suburban interiors of his first film in favor of bright pastoral exteriors. Crowning Florence Pugh's protagonist, Dani, the May Queen in colorful flowers against a green backdrop, "Midsommar" was at the forefront of the 2010s folk horror revival, but it isn't as frightening as "Hereditary," nor is that its aim, to hear Aster tell it.

There are times when "Midsommar" almost seems to be going for a farcical tone, never more so than when we see Dani's boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), staring out in dumb amazement from the mouth of a hollowed-out bear. When Aster spoke to The Atlantic about his intent for the film, he seemed to recognize that horror audiences have seen it all by now and need fresh emotional engagement. The writer-director said:

"I'm not here to subvert the genre, but at the same time, we all know what's going to happen. So it's not that interesting. If anything, I respect you as a viewer — you know they're all going to be killed — so that's not where the surprises are going to be, and that's not where the joy is going to be. Don't come to me for the movie with the most inventive kills. That's not where my interests lie. At the same time, there's a certain sort of joy to be had in making something where everyone knows where you're going. How do we get there in a way that's emotionally surprising, as opposed to a left turn in the plot? How do we stay on course, move toward something inevitable, and hopefully have an experience?"

'I hope it's wrenching and funny'

This section contains spoilers for the ending of "Midsommar."

One obvious touchstone for "Midsommar" is "The Wicker Man," which practically wrote the genre manual on secret cults and human sacrifice. However, when asked if he referenced any other daytime horror movies, Aster instead pointed to influences outside the realm of strict horror. One of those was "Black Narcissus," a film we revisited on its 75th anniversary in 2022.

It's no secret that "Midsommar" is a breakup movie, with the question "Do you feel held by him?" forcing Dani to reconsider the nature of her relationship with Christian amid his neglect and unfaithfulness. This gives the time-honored, ritualistic "Christian" sacrifice (and metaphorical breakup) at the end a different underpinning than what we've seen in other folk horror films. Speaking of collaborators like his cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, Aster said:

"We were talking more about breakup movies than horror movies, like Albert Brooks' 'Modern Romance.' If 'Midsommar' works beyond my wildest dreams, it would be something you go to after a breakup. Like, every time after a breakup, I watch 'Modern Romance.' On 'Hereditary,' the movies we watched [during filming] weren't horror movies, and on 'Midsommar' too. I love horror — 'Hereditary' was absolutely a horror film, I wouldn't argue against that. This film is adjacent to horror; I wouldn't call it a horror film. I think of it as a fairy tale with horror elements."

"Horror-adjacent" is certainly one way to describe "Midsommar," but Aster also seemed to indicate that he wanted it to land as a horror comedy or horror dramedy of sorts. "I hope it's wrenching and funny," he said. "And I hope you're laughing at the end! Best-case scenario, you're laughing at the end, and the laughs catch in your throat a little."