Spoilers are rampant in this one. In fact, it’s nothing but spoilers. So turn back now if you haven’t watched the movie yet. If you have… or if you’re probably not going to watch, or on the fence about watching….. maybe this will change your mind…
Dani is in a failing relationship with a dude who does not love her. She desperately tries to keep him by making excuses for his shitty behavior, blaming herself and apologizing for things that aren’t her fault – anything to get this guy to stay and not “drive him away”. Wildly unhealthy. Obscenely co-dependent. So realistic. This set up of their dynamic early on is so brilliant and cringe-inducing because it completely justifies all the horror that follows. The tragedy that occurs in Dani’s life after we’ve already witnessed the dynamic of her relationship with Christian completely solidifies this.
She goes from losing her entire family, the one person she has in her life (her boyfriend, Christian) doesn’t even want to be with her, and if the two of them were clinging to a sinking ship before- they’re clinging even tighter to it now. So she goes from this sort of desolate nothing, to this idyllic (albeit mildly murderous) community where everything is literally centered on togetherness, and the community – the family- as a whole. What better candidate to join than a girl who has lost everything and is hanging on, moment to moment, by a thread? There’s a scene with Halga native Pelle where he explains to Dani that he became an orphan in a sense very early on in life. Not in a sense, but the actual textbook definition of an orphan, he lost both of his parents. To him, it’s “in a sense” because he was never made to feel like an orphan. Within the community that he belongs to, there is no “you/them/us”, it’s only a collective we. So he continued to be raised in this community, in this family, and at that moment you know… Dani is a goner. What could possibly be more appealing to her? Add to that Pelle’s flirtatious manner when he tells her that her shitty boyfriend does not truly “hold” her, and it’s game over. Crown the May Queen, all hail Dani, newest member of Halga.
Ok, she’s already in the bag. Let’s sprinkle in a real crowning glory though just to really push this shit over the edge. She walks in on her shitty boyfriend ritualistically fucking another girl. While about a dozen naked women stand around, breathing in tandem, witnessing the act and partaking in various ceremonial ways.
Dani runs off. Her cries of anguish, (also, holy shit… Florence Pugh- you’ve got that soul cry down pat. You shook me to my core more than once during this viewing) echo through the barn/communal sleeping space. We’ve seen this before. When she receives the news that she’s lost her entire family- her cries of anguish radiate through her tiny apartment as she curls up and Christian does his best to comfort this girl he’d really rather just break up with but feels he can’t now because she needs emotional support and he doesn’t want to be branded a giant asshole (too late!). This scene echoes the first with Dani’s sobs of pain, but this time she is surrounded by the women of Halga (the ones not partaking in Christian’s mating ritual). The women encircle her, they hold her (shoutout to Pelle!), and then…. they start to match her breathing and her sounds. Now they are rhythmically breathing and crying out in chorus. Dani, take the lead!
Empathy on steroids. And shrooms. So. Many. Shrooms. So this girl has now gone from no family, no support, and a complete and utter lack of empathy in her life to a tribe that holds her and matches her pain while she sits with it. Do they do some weird shit? Sure. But I mean they did say this festival is a once in a lifetime experience, once every 90 years. So maybe she can live out the rest of her days as the May queen, eating and making pube pies and drinking psychedelic tea hidden away in Halga surrounded by a new chosen family to have and to hold her (until she turns seventy something and has to jump off a cliff to pay homage to the Halgan Gods. Ah, the circle of life.). Now I’m not saying the average person would settle in and happily live amongst the Halgans. I’m saying every fucking thing, from the very opening of the film, makes it totally understandable that even though she might be horrified- Dani doesn’t run for the hills.
Halga is the flipside of the story we are presented in the beginning. Dani’s life is void of love, support, empathy, she doesn’t carry herself as though she feels she possesses an ounce of power. Her world pre-Halga is one of alienation and estrangement. In Halga she finds empathy and community and family in the extreme. Everything is about reciprocity. She literally wears a crown, seated at the head of the table, is asked to bless the crops and is ultimately given the power to choose- who lives and who dies. She goes from feeling powerless to ultimately empowered, and held. Aster did a brilliant job of setting up the why, and Pugh is equally as brilliant in delivering this woman who has had her emotions dunked in kerosene and set on fire. There is some seriously smart, social, emotional, original horror being served up, and I am so here for it.