It was almost exactly a year ago that I, along with millions of other film lovers, came out of the cinema absolutely shooketh by Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Not only a top class horror film, but also a top class directorial feature debut. As soon as the dust settled post Hereditary, everyone turned their attentions to what Aster would do next, and as it turns out, his plan was to carry on in a similar vein. Could this new king of horror hit another one out of the park so soon?
Ultimately, I think the answer to that question is very much going to depend on who you ask. Midsommar tells that story of Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a college student suffering the effects of severe trauma after an unthinkable family tragedy. In an attempt to change her surroundings and hopefully some of her mindset, Dani tags along on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his classmates who are travelling to study the summer solstice festivities of a mysterious community. As the audience expects and the trailer suggests, the ways of this community are not as quaint and friendly as the visitors expect, and Dani, Christian and co. soon find that there is much more at stake than just finding an interesting angle for their anthropology projects.
I went in to Midsommar expecting to be blown away just as I was with Hereditary, but unfortunately I found the film to be overlong and disappointingly predictable. One thing I could never do during Aster’s first feature was guess where the plot was going, but in this outing, once the wheels of the story are put into place there is really only one way that the narrative can go. At two and half hours long, the film was bound to feel protracted, but in being so predictable in its larger arc, Midsommar perhaps feels even longer than its physical running time.
Anyone familiar with films like The Wicker Man will understand the kind of vibe being reached for here, but for a film from the mind of a filmmaker whose last creation I found so disturbing, there are only a few moments in Midsommar that really serve to make you feel anywhere near as uncomfortable. One sequence in particular provides some of the shocking, hands over eyes type gore that I anticipated, exactly the same kind of ‘oh shit’ moment that anyone who has seen Hereditary will be familiar with.
On the whole though, the fact, for me anyway, is that Midsommar just isn’t as interesting or arresting as Aster’s previous work. Even setting aside comparisons with Hereditary, there is just something about the film that I didn’t connect with on a story level. I’ll be the first to admit that I am less willing to indulge in the kinds of narratives that are vague. What some critics might call ‘pleasantly ambiguous’, I tend to call underdeveloped. I don’t like feeling like I have been left out of the loop in a movie because a filmmaker feels like they don’t need to explain themselves. In many ways, Midsommar evokes that reaction in me. It’s one thing to witness a series of creepy, gory, unsettling folk traditions being played out with fatal repercussions, but it’s another to not really have them fully explored in the ways in which you would like.
At the end of the day, Midsommar feels like a long line of unsettling, beautifully shot tableaux that whilst being intriguing and at times visceral, don’t necessarily come together to make the most coherent or satisfying film.
As Dani, Florence Pugh puts in a really great performance as a woman going through exceptional pain, trying to stay above the surface when everything in her life is telling her to drown. Her role as audience surrogate within the narrative is one that involves a lot of reacting to the events around her, and sometimes this can get a little bit tedious but Pugh handles it well and succeeds in injecting a lot of personality at the same time.
Jack Reynor as boyfriend Christian is infuriatingly emotionally detached. His performance must be spot on because as an audience member you immediately take a dislike to his unsupportive and selfish nature. Strangely, Midsommar is just as much a break up movie as it is a folk horror movie, and both Reynor and Pugh do a good job of creating an equally tense atmosphere between them as the wider film creates in its creepy cult community.
Overall, Midsommar is destined to be one of those films that is really, really going to divide opinion, perhaps in the same way that mother! did. It could just as easily be a masterpiece or a disappointment, it all depends on your personal point of view. Some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate it. I suppose what that really means is that the film isn’t objectively bad, which it absolutely isn’t. It just happens not to be my cup of tea, and that’s okay.