Written and Directed by Ari Aster
Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, and Will Poulter.
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
Although it’s unsettlingly effective and downright fucking perversely weird, writer/director Ari Aster’s (the mastermind behind last year’s breakout phenomenal debut nightmare fuel Hereditary) greatest accomplishment with his sophomore effort Midsommar is that in all its taboo Swedish folklore glory, it could have the power to tip the scales regarding an abused partner finally leaving and moving on from a toxic relationship for good. Considering Hereditary dealt with mental illnesses and depression in addition to some frightening supernatural and ritualistic terror, it’s not really a surprise that Ari Aster has continued lacing his horror with all of the above, not including manic anxiety.
And not to directly compare the two, but Midsommar is a slight step down, executed a little disjointed, occasionally bizarre for the sake of it, and is unable to fully justify its near 2 1/2 hour running time. However, that still means it’s likely to end up as one of the very best horror movies of the year. There’s just no escaping the sensation that Aster somewhat loses sight of the relationship drama that should be fueling the daylight scares rather than the other way around. At one point during Midsommar, the man behind me lost control of his laughter while exclaiming “these people are fucking weird” during a scene where the comedy was intentional (Midsommar has a sex scene for the ages, for all the best wrong reasons), and I don’t blame him. We got the point long before then, but that didn’t stop the story from drifting too far away from its realistically drawn and brilliantly acted characters.
Case in point, Florence Pugh is outstanding and Oscar-worthy. She’s dealing with horrific loss and grieving, attempting to relieve her mind of some of that pain by journeying away to this Swedish resort filled with ceremonies and traditions (it only occurs every 90 years, and they have a friend from the area inviting her and her boyfriend among others, so it’s logical that their circle of friends would accept the offer to take in some culture), but she only shows her sadness and paranoia during her few and far between moments of isolation. There are also segments of warranted complete hysteria and a stamina-testing dance competition that is both hypnotic and scored by The Haxan Cloak with such intense rhythm that it feels like someone is twisting the knife on something very bad about to happen. The music alone to this movie will pleasantly make your stomach sick.
Specifically, there is a sequence where Dani (Florence Pugh), and all of us, witness something horrific and searingly gory. This event is described as a custom, but is also one of the major contributing factors to her suffering; the act alone of forcing a character to watch this while just about everyone else tells her it’s perfectly normal is sickening and true horror. It’s one of the very few moments where the toxic relationship, the mental health concerns, and the creepy pagan cult (that seems weird but also relatively normal for about one day) antics all cohesively combine to create something unforgettable. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of thematic material to mine from there onward, but it also doesn’t hit as hard as it should, and I say that as a fan of disturbing fables. However, it probably would have if it wasn’t so focused on showing us the entire movie before events happen from close-ups of tapestry love stories or the admittedly beautiful production design of the bunkhouse containing murals along every inch of the walls also foreshadowing major plot points. It’s intriguing to look at, but also makes a slow-burn 2 1/2 hour movie drag longer than necessary.
As a whole, the whole experience definitely works; the ending is the only possible ending for a narrative that essentially tells us everything is doomed from the start. Christian (Jack Reynor) is nowhere near a good boyfriend, often distant from Dani (they only grow farther apart as the festival goes on, which the photography captures with striking imagery). Midsommar also introduces love potions in freakishly gross ways, but the very idea of one makes for a poignant story juxtaposition. There’s also the fact that the closing moments are so out of left field, it’s hard not to leave the theater enamored and somewhat confused with so much to ponder. Essentially, the movie is a grower the more it’s thought about.
It’s also been a long time since cinema has been graced with daylight horror, and Ari Aster successfully takes such a theoretical genre handicap and turns it around on the audience. Colorful flower garments, circular dance formations, all white ceremonial outfits, the blistering sun, specially arranged dinner tables, the aforementioned murals, and more fully realize a vision of a setting that is ripe with idiosyncratic and aberrant behavior. Midsommar is intoxicatingly ominous and difficult to shake. The implication of its finale/closing shot is bittersweet driven by madness.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com