Writer and director Ari Aster has quickly become one of the foremost auteurs working in the horror genre today, and his latest film, Midsommar, cements that rise to prominence. It's now in theaters, having received largely positive reviews, and it shows that Hereditary was no fluke--Aster is very, very good at making cerebral, tense, terrifying horror movies.
Midsommar is another film filled with daring creative choices, one of which is apparent to anyone who's watched one of the movie's trailers: It's set almost entirely in daylight.
This is a unique choice for a genre that so ubiquitously relies on darkness as a tool to create scares. The fear of what you can't see--of the unknown--is prevalent throughout horror movies, and setting movies at night, in dark dungeons, or in otherwise unlit circumstances is the easiest and most common way films tap into that fear. Daytime in horror films is usually when things like the basic premise are established--like during a horror movie's opening scenes--or when the threat is finally over, like when characters re-emerge back into the sunlight at the end.
The fact that Midsommar manages to be tense and horrifying without the use of that common tool is remarkable. But the movie's lack of darkness is not a gimmick--it's a deliberate feature, one that Aster said he never felt hindered by.
"I don't feel that lighting is my primary tool to create a mood or atmosphere or a feeling of dread," Aster told GameSpot. "It wasn't really a hurdle for me. I don't know why."
Midsommar's constant beating sunlight in fact frequently adds to the movie's sense of unease and unreality, as Sweden's very real "midnight sun" makes it difficult for the characters (and by extension, the audience) to determine what time it is at any given point, not to mention how many days have passed in the nine-day festival taking place throughout the film. As a viewer, you might start wondering about fundamental questions of time and place, and even whether something supernatural is going on in the remote Swedish village the characters are visiting--all of which adds to a pervasive feeling of anxiety throughout the movie.
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"For me it was enough to have this dynamic between these characters that was always unsettled, and if that carries into every scene, then no matter whether it's blistering daylight or utter darkness, there's still that tension," Aster said. "So I don't know. If anything, I tasked myself with forgetting about that and just doing my best to tell the story."
Shooting in broad daylight did present other challenges inherent to the craft of filmmaking. "You're beholden to weather every day, and you're chasing the sun, which is a huge, huge nightmare for continuity," Aster explained. "I would say primarily, there's just the logistical nightmares that one deals with whenever you're shooting outside.
"We shot for three days outside in Hereditary, and those were without fail the hardest and most painful days. On this one, it was every day, which was--I'm not desperate to make another movie outside for a while. I'd love to just stay on a stage for the next couple of movies."
Midsommar hits theaters Wednesday, July 3.