Midsommar

Posted: July 20, 2019 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Ari Aster. Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Wilhelm Blomgren and Will Poulter.

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After tragedy strikes her family, college student Dani (Pugh) is traumatised and becomes ever more reliant on her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian has been considering ending their relationship for a year, egged on by his friends Josh (Harper) and Mark (Poulter) who see Dani as too needy. Given her current emotional state Christian doesn’t think he can finish things just yet.

When Dani learns that the three men are due to attend a midsummer festival in Sweden at the invitation of another student— Pelle (Blomgren) who originates from the remote community— she is annoyed and in trying to placate her Christian invites her along, not expecting her to accept the invitation.

She does accept and the four of them, plus Pelle, venture to the remote commune where they are welcomed as honoured guests and partake of hallucinogens. The locals seem a bit odd, but they’re very friendly.

As the festival continues however, things start to shift, and this might not be the relaxing academic experience any of them expected!

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And so after last year’s Hereditary comes Aster’s sophomore effort, on one level a very different film to his first, yet in some respects very similar and whether you like it or not will probably depend on your willingness to go with it, and your patience for arthouse.

The first thing to say is that whilst this is a horror movie, it’s a very different kind of film to Hereditary, a film which did at times disturb and, quite frankly, shit me up. Midsommar isn’t remotely as scary, and oddly given its subject matter, it isn’t remotely as disturbing.

With Hereditary a certain fatalistic inevitability hung over the film. Characters had no escape. The same is true of Midommar to a certain extent, and yet it never quite unsettles as much as it should. In part this is down to the cinematography, everything is so bright and colourful that it’s hard to feel threatened (which I appreciate is kinda the point), but it’s also in part down to the script and the pacing.

If I was asked to identify the biggest flaw with the film, I’d say the length. There’s really nothing gained from the near two and a half hour running time (and rumours suggest there may be a 3 hour director’s cut in the works!) and after I came out it wasn’t long before I exclaimed on Twitter that this was a film that takes 147 minutes to tell the same story The Wicker Man told better in less than 90.

Which isn’t to suggest it drags, I checked my watch a few times but overall despite its slow pace it’s rarely boring. In part this is down to Aster’s inventive direction and Pawel Pogorzelski’s glorious cinematography. This is a film that looks gorgeous, especially during some of the trippier scenes, with flowers breathing and hands and feet being overtaken by nature itself.

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Chidi had a sneaking suspicion this might not be the Good Place

It just feels indulgent, as if Aster’s success with Hereditary has given him carte blanche to make the film he wants to make, and bugger the consequences. He isn’t alone in this, most successful directors suddenly lose the ability to edit once they have complete creative control.

The other problem is that for the most part it doesn’t surprise.

There’s a scene midway through that’s a master class in suspense, but in part this is down to the fact that you can see what’s coming, it just takes an agonizing age to get there. But this is probably the most affecting part of the film. Similarly, whilst for one character the film doesn’t end how you might imagine, on the whole you could probably guess roughly what’s going to happen to everyone else.

It’s also one of those films where you find yourself screaming at the characters. A couple do decide to leave after the shocking event in the middle of the film, but most don’t, and whilst I accept they’re anthropology students, it beggars belief than more of them don’t decide to get out of Dodge, and as their numbers dwindle the lack of threat perception just gets sillier.

The script is genuinely, and intentionally funny in places, which again undercuts the overarching menace, and much like Us from earlier in the year at times I couldn’t help feeling this worked better as a comedy than a horror, but a certain scene involving Will Poulter and a tree is bloody hilarious.

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Aside from the look of the film, its other positive is in the performances. Pugh is astonishing. Creating a character wracked with grief, and clearly suffering PTSD (and there’s a slight suggestion of wider mental health issues). Her screams of anguish are genuinely heart-breaking, and in this Midsommar does mirror Hereditary in that both films revolve around a central woman who’s suffered a traumatic loss and is consumed by anguish. Toni Collette should have been up for awards and was overlooked, I fear Pugh will suffer a similar fate, which is a shame.

As Christian Reynor does a good job of making him a dick, and he increasingly becomes more dickish as the film goes alone, though as much as several characters are inherently unlikeable, none of them deserves their fate, and another slight quibble for me would be the way, at times, it almost feels like Aster believes the community members are nominally the good guys in all of this.

As a fan of The Good Place it’s great to see Harper getting film roles, and as Mark Poulter is great and gets many of the films laughs.

Sadly aside from Pelle most of the cultists are a tad interchangeable.

This is a film full of wonderful performances and its gorgeous to look at, yet it’s also overly pretentious and self-indulgent. As a study in grief it works, as a folk horror perhaps less well.

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