Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
Runtime: 2 hr 27 mins
What It Is: After a devastating event hits her during a cold and lonely winter in the midst of a one-sided relationship, Dani (Pugh) is invited to join her boyfriend (Reynor) and his peers on a trip to a Swedish village hosting a strangely spiritual summer festival that happens once every ninety years. Very quickly, the group (joined with a few others) find that the people of the village may have other intentions for them as the long, nightless days grow more difficult to stand.
What We Think: I’m surprised that not more people called the film out for its very heavy reference to 1973’s The Wicker Man, not only having an incredible resemblance to the film in story and in the function of the cultish villagers but harkens a return of the “folk horror” era that Wicker Man reigned in. After recently re-watching the older film, I noted more and more of the similarities between it and the subject at hand. Not to say that this is in any way a rip-off, but considering it’s standing prevalence today in the pool of accessible arthouse horror, The Wicker Man deserves to be kept in mind as a source of credit in the formation of Aster’s new release, largely inspiring it (of course, I highly recommend The Wicker Man, it’s a very good Christopher Lee movie). Otherwise, while the two films share many of the same features, they are ultimately about very different things. Which I in the least do appreciate.
Hold my drink: I’ll be covering the more technical areas first. That being said, what else could you have expected from Ari-f*cking-Aster? Definitely one of the most respected modern filmmakers today, accomplished by his remarkable feature debut, Aster can faithfully deliver very layered and at times overwhelmingly achieved and symbolic cinematography. We relish in the idea that everything he makes happen within the frame somehow connects with what’s happening under the surface. If you’re watching an Aster joint—it can be said you’re watching two different movies, or, a movie with two heads: the film on the surface, and then the far more nefarious film hiding underneath within paintings, nooks and crannies of the set pieces, within in shadows, and the edges of the screen. The score is amazing, the lighting moody, the set design impressive and intricate… though predictably so. The acting was good and convincing enough. Pugh’s performance as an intelligent young woman going through extreme loss and depression is soulful—your heart goes out to her as the graphic portrayal of her grief is the core of the movie. That all was handled quite well in a way I haven’t really seen before.
Now the plot—that was my issue. It was basically the same experience I had watching Us. The first act could have led to something very impressive, possibly very impactful. It was imaginative and certainly interesting, but by a certain point early on in the film I and the person I saw this film with knew exactly what was going to happen. Since seeing this in theaters, I’ve been having the same conversation: is it foreshadowing really that useful when it’s basically giving the entire plot away instead of hinting at a deeper meaning, intention, or information outside of what the film is showing you directly? Because there are a countless number of times that this did that. “Foreshadowing.” It annoyed me. The film repeatedly spoiled itself, put plainly. The seemingly and distractingly cryptic art and symbols in the background and scenes visually layered on top of each other give away the plot over and over again. It gets to the point where the viewer can finish the race before the movie can. It’s one thing to foreshadow in little bits and pieces, especially when the viewer doesn’t even know it’s foreshadowing: in Hereditary, it made sense with the frightening paintings and photos in the background and the figures in the dollhouses, because they all gave us extra information that gives us context while still making sense and having a place in their environment due to Annie’s physical and mental state as an artist in chaos. Where Hereditary succeeds in this, Midsommar seems to try to compensate for it and misses the point to why it was affective by its predecessor’s doing… the film felt like it was trying too hard to be as sneaky as Hereditary to the point where it felt ironic—the strange photographs and paintings in someone’s apartment appear random and stick out like a sore thumb rather than hide in the background. This film acted against itself in that way: it got ahead of itself, revealing its cards before it played them. When the climax finally came, I was left unsurprised, unimpressed. There was nothing learned, nothing was revealed, nothing was really all that new. What happened was what you were told was going to happen the entire time—and that did not do the film any justice at all. It left me feeling empty, and not in a memorable fashion.
Our Grade: C, Aster’s lovechild of Hereditary and The Wicker Man, this was too weak a horror that came off as more ostentatious rather than the subtlety it seemed to be going for. False leads and other certain elements of plot threads are left open-ended if not just left behind. The attempt at artsiness in the creepy drawings stuck in the background and the collaged, superimposed scenes that hint at the ending insinuate any plot that’s left. There’s nothing left to be frightened of or daunted by, unless you’re more easily affected by the film’s graphic nature, then good for you. Though well made and well-acted, the ending is what leaves the final impression on the viewer: what killed that for me was simply the obnoxious and repetitive delivery that removed any shock value or heavy response that it so dearly wanted to receive. I almost feel like I’ve seen much of what it did before in better, smarter films. It tried too hard to be a louder, more provocative iteration of its kind but ultimately did little to improve upon the sub-genre other than potentially reviving the movement. Pretty and polished, this served to be more disappointing than mysterious.