Ari Aster: I’m putting myself into Dani, primarily. But I think we’ve all been on either side [of a breakup].
Sims: Going on a crazy vacation to shake things up is a thing a lot of 20-somethings do.
Aster: And it’s always the perfect remedy; it fixes everything. Just like having a baby if the marriage is in trouble. Perfect idea! No consequences in that!
Sims: You made this film very quickly after Hereditary. Is Midsommar something you’ve always been working on, or was it more of a thunderbolt?
Aster: I usually find that writing comes easiest to me when I’m in a crisis. It becomes a tool for digging myself out of the crisis. Or at least navigating it. Otherwise, I’m just torturing myself. You always want to write a breakup movie when you’re in a breakup, and every time I’d been in one, I’d thought, “I want to write about this, but I’m not inspired. I just wanna die.” And so, this time I just happened to find the way in. You find yourself parsing through the ruins, blaming yourself, blaming the other person, working through these things.
Sims: And turning it into a script.
Aster: The first version of this script was twice as long and had way more, the kind of thing you hand off to any responsible reader who says, “You’ve said this already.” Then you shape it. The first cut of this movie was three hours and 40 minutes; there are plenty more little moments that weren’t necessary, but I would have been very happy to include. I would say this was, for me, a way of making a breakup movie and having fun with clichés and tropes that are inherent to two different genres, doing something that’s simultaneously absurdist and nakedly vulnerable. It’s folk horror, but being given to you with the trajectory of a high-school comedy. It’s about a girl who everyone knows is with the wrong guy, and the right guy is under her nose.
Read: ‘Midsommar’ is a fascinating departure from the brutality of ‘Hereditary’
Sims: In terms of folk horror, it’s obvious what’s happening the whole time, and everyone’s basically up front about it. Anytime any of the Americans ask any of the village members a question, they basically just tell them the truth.
Aster: Yes! As they say, “It strips you of your defenses and opens you.”
Sims: You’ve also kind of made a slasher movie with no kills. You don’t really see the murders, but they’re all getting picked off, one by one. They just walk off into the woods.
Aster: I’m not here to subvert the [horror] 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?