‘Midsommar’ is director Ari Aster’s (Hereditary) latest creepy film, but aside from its certain and deeply disturbing narrative, sound and audio are two pivotal aspects of the film’s overall spooky environment.
An in-depth analysis of the film’s sound allows us to shed some light on those aspects where sound played a major role. For starters, the film’s audio and sound editor/re-recording mixer, Gene Park, helped achieve such a level of emotional tension and discomfort through sound.
In fact, as with the director’s previous film, ‘Hereditary’, the movie starts off as no less than unsettling, but that feeling progressively evolves into full-time anxiety. The director’s precise and tasteful use of sound plays a vital role in the creation of such an uncomfortable atmosphere that drives the story into perturbation.
For ‘Midsommar’, Aster, Park and their team crafted and delivered a soundtrack that puts the audience right in the middle of this awkward commune’s uncanny and deadly festival. Unorthodox sonic choices, such as almost getting rid of all ambient nature sounds despite the vast presence of birds and bugs, makes the audience focus on the increasingly questionable and upsetting rituals.
This fact allows us to conclude that both the director and his sound editor wanted the film to be as immersive as possible, using the full range of the 5.1 surround setup. It seems as though they wanted to explore the boundaries in terms of what the audience is used to perceiving during films, and therefore, the sound effects and the film’s sound design are able to rise those specific emotions the movie wants to provoke for certain moments throughout its length.
But there’s more: after careful analysis, it is possible to identify that the sound team boldly used panning during several scenes, especially during the May Queen dance competition scene. You can see and feel that the music is panning discreetly around the theater, which essentially implies that the team spent a significant amount of time on panning, literally assessing frame by frame in order to match the camera moves.
Normally, sound professionals mark points of where the camera should be exactly in the spectrum, and in ‘Midsommar’ you can tell that during specific sequences, they have the music going around in circles following the camera on the talent, but moments after that they start adding in other parts of the score to make the environment as awkward and disorienting as possible.
Another bold element that can be found in the film sound-wise is when one of the main characters is on the phone in the very beginning and the sound apparently goes to mono; however, it is yet to be confirmed. What you can definitely tell is that the sound team wanted to use the full dynamic range in this movie, which is why several dialogue scenes feel like the sound team sucked out all sound elements, achieving a really quiet yet highly noticeable room tone which can be more felt than heard.
Taking the sound down that far is what ultimately allowed the movie to achieve its disturbing nature, and what ultimately gets the audience involved even more. In fact, this same technique can be felt and heard during that scene where they’re sitting around that tree and they start tripping. Essentially, the film apparently follows a simple rule: if it’s quieter out there, the sound team has more room for sounds and a more dynamic range.
Another fact that makes the film’s sound even more impressive is that the commune is right in the middle of nature, so you kind of expecting to hear bugs, birds, but during the vast majority of exterior scenes, there’s really no ambient sound. As mentioned above, such a decision is yet another bold move from the sound team, as by reducing ambient noise during key scenes they manage to make the audience focus on the main characters.
But how else did sound play a major role in the film’s narrative and the environment? A lot of the sounds that can be found in the film were recreated with foley, which is what allows sound professionals to bring in specific sounds for specific actions.
These sounds contribute to the unsettling feeling by isolating the characters in a way —you can tell that in spite of the fact that everybody knows each other, everyone is doing their own thing. Judging by the film's overall sound, you can definitely tell that the director wanted to create the idea that the commune was a group of people who knew what they were doing, making visitors not know that they’re there for something they’re not aware of.
Finally, since the film was shot in Hungary near an airport, it is likely that several ADR rounds were carried out, as it is quite impossible to use the boom when there are several noises such as airplanes nearby. If so, the combination of ADR, Foley and lav mics is what ultimately augments the film’s narrative.
*The images used on this post are taken from Pexels.com