2019, R, Written and Directed by Ari Aster, A24, 140 minutes
After making waves and disturbing audiences with Hereditary last year, writer/director Ari Aster followed it up with what he describes as “Wizard of Oz for perverts”. However, after watching Midsommar, a better description might be “a spiritual remake of The Wicker Man”, and far better than that abysmal Nicholas Cage remake at that! So let’s take a deeper look into Midsommar.
Delving into the Traumatic
Much like he did with Hereditary, Aster demonstrates an interest in characters dealing with trauma and other forms of emotional distress. Our protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh), is reeling from a family tragedy that occurred several months earlier.
Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) feel that she’s leaning on him too much. Christian seems torn between trying to be a good boyfriend, and trying to fit in with his friends, who aren’t the most sensitive to Dani’s needs.
They end up begrudgingly inviting her to their trip to Sweden. Josh is doing his grad school thesis on European midsummer rituals. They arrive to a beautiful commune in the hills, overlooking the forest.
Everyone is dressed in matching outfits, and seem quite friendly; almost too friendly. Right from the beginning, we can’t help but feel tension and fear for our characters, as we know that inevitably something will go wrong.
As previously mentioned, there’s a strong Wicker Man vibe as the commune embraces nature and participate in a slew of pagan rituals that range from fascinating to downright unsettling. There’s a distinct turning point where Dani, Josh, Mark, and Christian realize that this commune is much more of a cult. And from there, the tension increases tenfold, as we anxiously hope these characters can escape.
Well Made, But Not Original
As was the case with Hereditary, Midsommar has beautiful cinematography and set design. These aspects are practically characters themselves as they enhance the suspense. Aster certainly knows how to blend art house with horror, and the odd juxtaposition actually works quite well. It makes the graphic images all the more shocking and compelling, because they’re shot like an indie drama, rather than a fast paced/edited horror film.
Which brings us to the primary “issue” of Midsommar. It’s entertaining, thrilling, and downright disturbing. Without getting too much into spoilers, the film really does play out like the 1973 original Wicker Man. It’s quite clear that this film wanted to pay homage to it, but it doesn’t have enough original plot points to elevate it to the rank of masterpiece.
A large reason for this may be the fact that Ari Aster specifically set out to make a horror film with Midsommar, but that wasn’t the case with Hereditary. The latter was never meant to be “horror”, but rather a tense family drama with a supernatural/demonic element to it.
The same could be said regarding The Exorcist. To this day, director William Friedkin insists that he never intended to make a horror film, nor does he consider The Exorcist as such. Instead he set out to make a drama about the everyday struggle between good and evil in all of us.
So on the one hand, Midsommar feels more like straightforward horror (which will make it far less divisive than Hereditary), but because of this it also falls victim to many horror tropes and clichés. By no means is it a bad film, it’s still expertly crafted from a filmmaking perspective. It just would have been better with a more original storyline.
Honestly though, this may just be a nitpick, because the film is still wildly unsettling, entertaining, and filled with grisly and bizarre imagery. There are several legitimate jaw-dropping moments. It will probably be better received by the horror community than Hereditary, but from a cinematic standpoint, it falls a bit short.
However, the main takeaway should be that we have a new brilliant horror film to enjoy for the summer season, and not since Hostel, has a horror film made traveling to Europe look like such a bad idea!