Coming off last year’s critical claimed horror hit ‘Hereditary’, director and writer Ari Aster is back again to creep audiences - this time, with cults.
‘Midsommar’ sadly never reaches the height of his feature debut - it's filled with bland characters and shock value that never goes anywhere, while it does once again has beautiful cinematography shot by Pawel Pogorzelski.
Dani’s (Florence Pugh, ‘Fighting with my Family’, ‘Lady Macbeth’) parents and sister have passed away, and things with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, ‘Sing Street’, ‘Free Fire’) are getting rocky. To keep the peace, Christian invites Dani on a trip to Sweden organised by his friends. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the friend planning their trip, tells them that they are going to attend the Hårga, a midsummer celebration at an ancestral commune where he comes from. However, once they arrive things aren’t as they seem, and it appears they have become a part of a cult.
The major flaw of ‘Midsommar’ is that I don’t care about anyone. Before things went crazy in ‘Hereditary’, I was still invested because of the characters and their compilated lives, so once things started to get wild, I was carried through because of I was invested enough to try and work out why everything was happening. Here, I didn’t care once to be following the mystery of this cult and was never compelled enough to put things together.
For example, at the beginning of the film, there is a painting of a bear and a young princess above Dani's bed. Knowing there will be clues, I'm like, "Cool, bears will be a thing, nice. Keep note of that, Chris." When they get to the commune there is a bear in a cage and great, my brain is working. What feels like three years pass and yet again there's another bear reference, but by now we're almost at the end and I'm wondering how this is going to tie in. When the film reaches its third act, a bear is involved, so great - they planted it, it paid off... but did it really? Why a bear? What is the deeper meaning? Well, according to my research, it's a bear because it's an important symbol in Norse mythology. I've also read that it ties to fairytales, as Aster describes this film as a twisted one. Cool, great, but so unsatisfying for the audience. It's such a weak tie to the narrative. Look at Jordan Peele: both his films are oozing with these kinds of "Easter eggs", the psychos in ‘Get Out’ and the scissors in ‘Us’ - while on a surface level could be perceived as meaningless, both tie into the film's message and meaning. The bear in 'Midsommar' is just one example of the film's many pointless Easter eggs; I'm not saying that everything has to have a further meaning, but especially in this type of film where these things are part of the subtext, you feel almost cheated when things don't line up.
The acting for the most part is good, with Pugh once again proving her talents, but she's given very little to do here. Will Poulter ('Detroit', ‘The Revenant’) is playing himself and for some reason is the comedic relief. While he is funny, it just felt too tonally different to everything else in the film.
I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t invested either. The only saving grace is the visuals, which are breathtaking and wildly creative at times, but it’s not a trip I want to take again.
This movie is also structurally confusing. We get all this setup of Dani and her family as well as her relationship and we are meant to be following her and emotionally invested in her, but Aster seems not to care about her as a person. Instead, he goes for the most confusing and shocking imagery. This would be fine, but we constantly cut between her being sad or worried and long fly-on-the-wall tangents that never link back to Dani and her story. In ‘Hereditary’, the horror element is directly linked to Annie and her family, so you feel every beat, and while they start to do that in 'Midsommar', it suddenly takes a sharp right turn.
An easy fix is simply to cut out all the backstory: the movie starts with a group of friends from America who arrive at this weird cult in Sweden, the film gets crazy and is led not by its characters but by its visuals. But what we got instead was a bizarre film that wants to be both and fails on both ends. This also doesn't help the ridiculously unnecessary run time, clocking in at almost two and a half hours for no reason. I can’t just overlook the terrible character development since they have bothered to put it in, but instead you get sucked into the gore and horror elements.
Aster sure loves his shock value, and this film does earn its Australian R18+ rating, but it’s at the cost of making the cult interesting and terrifying. While the things that happen are surely gruesome and creepy, they have little impact plot-wise and really don’t change anything other than to freak out the viewers.
Although arthouse horror movies really aren’t my thing for the most part, ‘Midsommar’ falls into a strange middle ground where I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t invested either. I feel no need to "finding the mean" to read theories online, because I simply don’t care. The only saving grace is the visuals, which are breathtaking and wildly creative at times, but it’s not a trip I want to take again.
The only thing I need to find out about is the ‘Austin Powers’ reference - it opens too many questions; if they watch that movie, what else do the kids watch? What other modern technologies do they have? How do they get electricity to watch 'Austin Powers'? Why 'Austin Powers', Ari Aster, why? Do you want me to go insane, even with some of the explanations online, why is 'Austin freaking Powers' in your Swedish cult horror movie?