About once a year, a movie comes out that’s “too scary to watch” - a film that claims to send audiences packing while piling on the horror. These claims are generally exaggerated, but the 2019 film Midsommar truly delivers on its upsetting promises. The second film from director Ari Aster, whose first offering was the unnerving Hereditary, Midsommar delivers on gore and pushes the audience to question their own place in the world.
From gruesome rituals to hallucinogenic trips - all set against a bright, cheery backdrop - Midsommar provides an especially brutal theatrical experience. This breakdown of the film's most unsettling scenes contains plenty of spoilers and delves into the psychological tricks that make Midsommar so scary.
Before Midsommar's opening credits begin, the audience is introduced to Dani (Florence Pugh), a distressed young woman who can't seem to contact her sister. The film soon reveals Dani's sister committed a heinous act - filling her parents' home with exhaust fumes from multiple cars - before securing an exhaust hose directly to her own mouth.
The camera lingers on the family's bodies in darkness before the score rises and the opening credits roll.
In several particularly upsetting scenes, the terror is aided by the characters' use of hallucenogenic mushroom tea. During the first of these scenes, Dani sees grass growing through her hand - an unsettling and trypophobia-triggering sight.
Following this vision, the trees begin to melt and pulse, and everything grows foggy as though filmed through gas fumes. Dani's recently deceased parents make an appearance, sending her into a panic attack.
One of the most unsettling sequences of the film revolves around a ritual known as "ãttestupa," or the ritual sacrifice of two elders in the Hagar community. In what GQ called the film's "most jarring" scene, two elders who are near the end of their lives are brought to a high cliff where, following a blood ritual, they each throw themselves to the rocks below while the community looks on.
While the woman perishes immediately - as evidenced by some grisly cinematography - the man survives the fall, prompting the community to put him down with an enormous mallet.
Following the ãttestupa scene, the film cuts back to the elderly couple's bodies frequently and without warning. Their remains continue to appear throughout the film's next act, either in the background or burning on a large grill before their ashes are placed on a ceremonial tree.
While these elders provide some of the film's most upsetting visuals, even more body horror is used throughout the film. A final chase through the Hagar camp finds a leg planted like a tree, a body hung from the rafters of a chicken coop, and a close-up shot of a bear's innards.
While many of these scenes are presented clinically - designed to inquire into the ephemeral nature of life - the intense visuals are still difficult to absorb.