Midsommar is the anticipated second feature from director/writer Ari Aster. With his incredible feature debut, the haunting and creepy Hereditary, Aster had caught a lot of people’s attention with his slow-burn pace, methodical camera movements and cuts, and his disturbing depictions on family and grief. Midsommar continues with Aster’s fascination with grief and themes of relationships, this time between a dating couple and not a family, pagan cults, and religion, but for me, Midsommar was unable to present a story with deeper and meaningful themes. Instead, Midsommar is a fairly simple film packaged in a way that makes it seem grander and deeper then it actually is.
Dani, played Florence Pugh, is invited by her boyfriend to a trip to Sweden with his friends after she goes through a horrible tragedy. Once in Sweden, they take a lot of drugs, and strange stuff starts to happen at the community they are staying at. Midsommar has some pretty messed up stuff. Midsommar does not shy away from its graphic nature which will most definitely turn people off from this movie. Very much like Hereditary, Midsommar will be a very polarizing and divisive film. I’d say even more so then Hereditary. Ari Aster is a master behind the camera. The cinematography done by Pawel Pogorzelski is beautiful. How the characters are placed in shots with other important symbols and characters are framed with so much precision. Every shot is well thought out and placed intentionally. I’m a huge fan of directors who intentionally shot the mundane scenes. When a director adds focus to one of their not so interesting scenes and adds life to it is some of my favourite type filmmaking and Ari Aster inhabits so many of those scenes. The score and sound design are chilling and instantly is able to pull you right into the setting. On a technical level, Midsommar is brilliant.
Where I start to take issue with Midsommar is in its characters and plot. I’ll start with the characters. Florence Pugh is amazing. No question about the great work she does in this role. In fact, all the actors do very well. I think the problem here is the writing and direction choices made for these characters. Florence Pugh’s character Dani is a relationship with Jack Reynor’s Christian, and their relationship is just waiting for an excuse to break up. It’s not like they are horrible or abusive to each other, it’s just very clear neither one really cares for the other or has feelings for them anymore. I feel that that relationship is presented in a very realistic way, but I feel like the movie is trying to tell us there’s something deeper here when in reality it doesn’t go much deeper then what I had explained. I think that theme is good but doesn’t really go anywhere with it. This movie is surprisingly really funny. Will Poulter has some really great comedic moments, and at the end of the movie, there is a scene in which a character gets very high and starts tripping which is very funny. I think that maybe a problem however. When I started laughing, I stopped being scared. The scene in which I’m talking about was messed up and in that way didn’t lose its effectiveness, but the way Jack Reynor plays the scene came off as comical and not scary. The comedy doesn’t elevate the film like for say Jordan Peele is able to integrate comedy throughout his films but instead hinders the effectiveness of the horror aspects of the movie.
I’m hearing critics are a lot more engaged with the 2nd half of the movie than the first half, but for me, it was the opposite. I found myself way more engaged by the first half then the second. I can actually pinpoint the moment I started losing interest and it was in a scene that I realized what this movie was truly about. This movie is about a group of college students going to a small community that turns into a cult and some messed up stuff starts to happen. That’s it, that is all the movie is about. As much as it tries to tell you this movie has a deeper message to it, I don’t think it really does. The first 20 minutes set up a horrible tragedy that would have been great to explore throughout the movie but doesn’t have any kind of impact on the story really whatsoever. We don’t really get to know the reason why they are there or more specifically the reason they got invited. It explains their purpose for being there but never answers why. I think I figured out the problem here. Midsommar presents so many grand ideas and horrifying themes that don’t really ever go anywhere. The reason why this movie never goes any deeper than just simply presenting an idea instead of exploring it was that the movie never asked itself why. All the amazing craft is there, the great cast, and horrific imagery is all there, but the movie forgot to ask itself why should we present this concept of grief or relationships and why would it have an effect on this story. Instead, those themes feel unexplored, leaving Midsommar as simply a messed up cult film.
Midsommar is crafted beautifully, with amazing scenery, horrifying imagery, and excellent camera work. While all the actors do a great job, their direction feels a little silly at times and can ruin the horror aspect of the movie. This is a long movie, clocking in at 2hrs and 27 mins and you really feel that run time. Midsommar had the potential to explore its themes that were well setup but unfortunately just don’t go anywhere. Hereditary was a surprisingly beautiful film about family told in an F’ed up way. Midsommar seems like they tried reaching for that same conclusion but never is able to reach past its surface-level story. Midsommar is a hard movie for me to grade. I know most people will hate this movie, but for me, the craft and skill behind this movie is undeniably excellent and within that first half, I was genuinely invested and felt very unsettled by it. And even in the second half when I lost a little bit of interest I was still shocked by the insanity on screen.