Midsommar (2019) Movie Review - Does Ari Aster Do It Again?

Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 147 min
  • Director: Ari Aster
  • Actors: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Will Poulter
  • Writers: Ari Aster
  • Producers: Patrik Andersson, Lars Knudsen
  • Country: United States, Sweden
  • Language: English, Swedish
  • Parental: Intense Violence, Sexual Scenes, Drug Use, Full Male Nudity, Full Female Nudity, Injury Detail, Language, Depictions Of Suicide.
  • Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 147 min

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.

Ari Aster’s second feature film release follows a group of friends to Sweden as they take part in a ritualistic summer festival. Shades of The Wicker Man abound as the Hereditary director attempts to weave a disturbing, unsettling, story into a beautifully captured world. How does he do? Well, let’s take a look as we review Midsommar.

Folk Horror Fun

Well, not really, there isn’t much fun to be had here. Midsommar presents as a disturbing exploration of human relationships and grief laced with psychedelic colours and very little remorse for the viewer’s senses. From the first ten minutes it becomes pretty obvious that Midsommar is attempting to open a wound that the director can prod and scrape at throughout its not insignificant 147 minute run time.

Dani, Pelle, and Christian from Midsommar

Christian always seems to look detached from the events around him

Stunning cinematography contrasts starkly against the grim events of the story leaving you feeling somewhat exhausted and, dare I say it, confused. Confused, not by the story itself, but by the two hours worth of sensory overload. Ari Aster is a cruel scientist when it comes to horror movie experimentation but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t a talented one. Midsommar may not be for everyone but, like Hereditary, you will walk away from the screen thinking about it and it will occupy a part of your mind for some time after.

Shades of Wicker Man

The influence is very clear here and it is difficult to speak about Midsommar without mentioning Robin Hardy’s classic horror Wicker Man. The similarities are very apparent but to dismiss Midsommar as a Wicker Man for the modern age would be somewhat ignorant of its actual story.

Midsommar, at its heart, is a story of grief and of failing relationships. It is a study of human emotion and dependency that just happens to be set around a cult like group of people. The villagers are not the villains of Midsommar, grief is and the people occupying its world are little more than collateral damage. The stories of the two main characters, Dani and Christian (played by Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor respectively), just happen to run alongside the events of the Midsommar festival.

This differs hugely from The Wicker Man; Wicker Man was a story about a group of Pagan like people and their victims. Of course, the settings are similar and there are plenty of familiar plot elements but the core stories are different enough that these plot elements are where the similarities end.

Dependency

The movie opens with a tragedy striking Dani and her immediate family. We pick things up a few months later. Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, reluctantly invites Dani to come along with him and his friends to Sweden. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a friend of Christian, is originally from a small commune in H√§lsingland and has requested his friends come on a trip with him to his home to celebrate the Midsummer festival.

The festival only occurs once every 90 years and the group are eager to have some fun while Josh (William Jackson Harper) is keen to study Pelle’s people’s festival for his Thesis. Dani was apparently not particularly interested in the idea of travelling to Sweden but her obvious dependency on her boyfriend, Christian, drives her to follow him

The group travel together and, after awhile meet up with other travellers similar to themselves. Other members of the commune, much like Pelle, have left to travel the world and returned with outsiders from different places all with the shared goal of taking part in the midsummer festival. Over the course of the next few days, events occur that disturb Dani and open her eyes to the inadequacies of her emotionally distant partner.

Gorgeous Cinematography

Midsommar is an absolutely beautiful film to look at. Horror movies rarely look this good and you are almost always taken aback by both the scenery and the camera work. Colours pop of the screen in an almost psychedelic manner and everything has something of an oil painting quality to it.

A scene from Midsommar

The festival features different events on each day, some of which are weird, others shocking

The events happening on screen contrast so sharply with the picturesque scenery and camera work. The fact that everything that takes place does so in such a beautiful environment and in broad daylight actually adds to the horror element.

There are a few shots that I did question the direction of, however. Images being flipped upside down and spinning camera angles left me feeling almost queasy. I understand the reasoning for it but I just felt as though it didn’t work. Pulsating parts of the costumes and sets, seemingly added via CG, looked pretty poor, as well. And were almost video game like in their presentation. Yes, I get that we are supposed to relate to how Dani is feeling but I can do that without the gaudy effects.

Some Disturbing Scenes

I can’t really go too much into the story of Midsommar here as I have an earnest desire to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible. What I can say, however, is that Midsommar is becoming particularly notorious for certain disturbing scenes. In fact, when we were standing there waiting to get shown to the screen, the usher at the cinema said “Now that is a bad film.. And I don’t mean bad as in not good, I mean bad as in horrible. People are coming out telling me how disgusting it is”.

Is Midsommar graphic, at times? Definitely! Would I say it is somewhat indulgent in its portrayal of injury? Yes. I wouldn’t, however, say it is as bad as a lot of people would lead you to believe. To be honest, I would actually say it is somewhat cartoon like and aimed purely at shocking the viewer. I didn’t witness anyone walking out of the cinema and there was no audible gasps. There were walkouts in American Sniper and even Disney’s Christmas Carol when we watched them. But everyone stayed firmly planted for Midsommar so I think people are overrating the disturbing nature a little.

I would say, however, if you are put off by depictions of injuries, you may want to avoid Midsommar. There are a couple of scenes that will probably upset people who aren’t veterans of horror.

Acting is a Mixed Bag

Florence Pugh is, for the most part, very good as Dani. I am seeing a lot of hyperbole surrounding her performance. And while I think she did well I felt as though she overacted at times. I would put this down to Ari Aster more than anything. As he loves to drag these weepy, over the top, performances out of his female leads.

For me, the rest of the cast was a mix of average and plain bad. Vilhelm Blomgren, as Pelle, came across as pure creepy. I have no clue why anyone would want to spend a week with this person in a secluded part of his home country. Maybe the character was supposed to come across like this? Is it a good thing that I am not sure? 

Christian, Josh, and Mark from Midsommar

Friction begins to develop between the group

Jack Reynor was a huge let down. He seemed disconnected from the events of the movie and some of his reactions were so unbelievable as to really take me out of the moment. Some of the extras looked as though they were lacking direction, as well. Just standing around looking lost and confused as events unfolded around them. This isn’t a huge problem but it is something I noticed a few times.

Bold, Brave, but a Little Bit Confused

This is the best way I can describe Midsommar. It is a bold movie that is very daring in many ways. Taking such a slow burn approach to what is essentially a film about a dying relationship. And masking it in a Wicker Man-esque folk horror is risky. For the most part, it actually works quite well. When I look back on it, however, I can’t help but think of all of the elements separately and how they ultimately didn’t gel together too well.

Pacing is a little off and the film can seem confused at times. Almost unsure of where it wants to go and what it wants to be. It feels as though some scenes are missing and as though even the actors are a little unsure of what is going on. I will point out that Midsommar is absolutely full of metaphors and foreshadowing. Much of which can really make you think when the movie ends. It’s a great movie to chat about with another horror fan though I won’t go into it here as we are spoiler free.

With the positives and negatives in mind, let’s not forget that this is only Ari Aster’s second feature film. A few slip ups here and there are to be expected. With more time and experience. I would expect much tighter movies with better pacing and a clearer vision of what they want to be.

Should You Watch Midsommar?

Absolutely, you should definitely watch Midsommar! And I say that as someone who probably enjoyed the movie less than most. Midsommar is a gorgeous horror movie that suffers a little from its own ambition. It is a slow burn story of grief and relationships that sometimes stumbles due to pacing issues. Acting ranges from great to poor. And the story can be dragged down a little bit by some of the unrealistic reactions to events.

Midsommar is not a scary horror movie. It will leave you feeling uneasy and stay with you when you leave the screen. But I very much doubt it will scare you. It is, however, a more than suitable follow up to Hereditary. Regardless of the score I give the movie here, you absolutely have to see it and make up your own mind. At the very least, it will make you think and isn’t that the best thing about the horror genre?

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