WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Midsommar, in theaters now.
Ari Aster's Midsommar follows Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) as they visit a small Swedish commune with university friends to celebrate a festival that'll crown the May Queen. They quickly realize their hosts are a cult, and the movie ends with Dani becoming one with the people as Christian meets a grisly fate.
As Aster paints lush fields, odd rituals to bring a bountiful harvest and pagan symbolism into every corner of the film, it becomes perfectly clear Midsommar is this generation's version of The Wicker Man: Robin Hardy's 1973 British horror film.
THE BEAUTIFUL CULT
In Hardy's movie, the cult is a beautiful one, as Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) finds when he investigates the case of a missing girl, Rowan. The nature and overall scenery, their clothes, their eating and drinking practices, not to mention how they copulate out in the open, are quite against Neil's religious beliefs, but he can't help but be fascinated by them.
The same applies for Aster's cult, which lures students in with its rituals. The cult clothes and feeds the students, and makes them feel like they belong. Even when others go missing, Dani and Christian are so engrossed that it's hard to leave. They don't even chase the mysteries and instead absorb what's put in front of them -- a dangerous precedent showing just how deceitful the cult is, paralleling Neil's experiences in Wicker Man.
There are also a lot more parallels between Wicker Man and Midsommar's May Queen Dance, where the cult's women dance around a pole and the last one standing wins the flowered crown. Dani ends up winning it in Aster's movie, and ultimately, this is the driving force for her actions at the end and her assimilation into the commune, as she sees the group as the family she needs.
THE GRIZZLY BEAR
When Neil LaBute remade Wicker Man in 2006, he had Edward, played by Nicolas Cage, head to an island off Washington State to find his missing daughter, Rowan. Just like Neil in the original movie, he was duped and brought there to be sacrificed so the cult could be blessed with a fruitful harvest by its pagan gods.
However, prior to his death, Edward joined the festivities in a bear suit, tracking his daughter down and even punching out one of the "witches" in a truly disconcerting sequence. Christian also dons a bear suit in Aster's movie, although it's against his will, as he's incapacitated after Dani chooses him to be offered up. He's numb and paralyzed, and placed in the suit after its insides have been taken out, all so he could be moved to a sacrificial hut.
The event was foreshadowed early on in the film, as he was fascinated with the bear in the cage. In both cases, the characters in bear suits looked silly, and they were both burned alive.
THE FOOL MUST BURN
All three movies mentioned here end with the "fool" being burned. Wicker Man's Neil didn't realize he was being duped, and was burned. Edward was a fool because he didn't realize Rowan and her mom (his ex-fiancee) had been scamming him since before he got her pregnant, marking him for death.
In Christian's case, he was a fool because after seeing the gore and violence in the cult, especially how the elderly jumped off cliffs to end their life cycles, he stayed on to study and exploit them for his thesis. Not to mention, he ignored Dani emotionally right after her family died, bringing her along so she'd be pacified and stop needing attention. This unsupportive behavior, coupled by him having sex with one of the young maidens as part of a ritual, is the kind of deceit Dani couldn't stand, driving her to offer him up to the gods in her role as the powerful May Queen.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar stars Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper. The film is in theaters now.