Movie Review : Midsommar (2019)
A year ago, no one knew exactly who Ari Aster was. His directorial debut Hereditary had just been released by arthouse production and distribution company A24 and it looked like a cute meditation on loss, grief and mental health issues masquerading as a horror movie. Nothing too threatening. Well, I couldn’t have been any more wrong. Hereditary was awesomely evil, tortuous and filled with HOLY-FUCKING-SHIT moments. That’s why I was so excited about his sophomore effort Midsommar, which came out in theaters last week. And it’s a… pretty good movie.
It’s not Hereditary. But it’s like a little brother with an inferiority complex?
Midsommar tells the story of Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a young women suffering from a lethal cocktail of hereditary mental health problem and shitty boyfriend. The not-so-innocently named Christian (Jack Reynor) is planning a trip to Sweden behind her back. Because he wants to “bang Swedish milk maids” or whatever. His friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invited him and a couple other dudes to a celebration in his pagan farming community. Dani eventually finds out and instead of standing his ground, Christian invites her on the trip. Well, Swedish farmers’ idea of fun and festivals turned out to be really fucking weird.
This movie is the tale of two halves. Midsommar starts right where Hereditary left off, by introducing a character who faces an unspeakable family tragedy with a deficient support system. Ari Aster (who also wrote the thing) makes the stakes crystal clear right away: this story is not really about surviving a cult, it’s about breaking free from a shitty relationship. That is perfectly set up by Aster. Dani is caught between an abusive sister who sends vaguely threatening emails and a boyfriend who begrudgingly listens to her because he’s not courageous enough to assert himself. If that doesn’t make her sympathetic to you, you might be dead inside.
Aster keeps the visuals rather low-key in that first half * and uses sound instead to creating unsettling effects. I thought this was really cool and different. The experimental soundtrack often engulfs the sound of a character screaming or crying with its high-pitched strings, giving the impression that their pain is echoing in the void, unheard. There’s a scene at the beginning where Dani’s in crisis. She’s shaken by violent tears, lying on Christian’s lap and suddenly the strings kick in, the camera goes up and zooms on the snow falling in the night sky. It might not sound like much, but it gives a powerful impression of pain and loneliness with simplicity.
I thought Midsommar loses the highway once it gets to Sweden, though. It becomes somewhat of a paint-by-numbers movie where the shady cult is killing everyone. It introduces a series of unnecessary subplots that don’t go anywhere: Mark (the always excellent Will Poulter) becomes horny for a girl your never really meet and it’s never quite explained what happens to him. Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) start competing for their graduate degree thesis, but it’s resolved in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I understand the need to involve every character, but it dilutes what Dani is living through and she’s the interesting one.
There also are interesting subplots that don’t go anywhere, like Dani’s unexpected romance. That was VERY pertinent to the story arc for that it’s supposed to bring Dani to make a liberating choice. But it’s unfortunately treated like it gets in the way of pagan farmers committing ritual murders. Midsommar was also quite unexpectedly funny. Century-old rituals seem to involve a lot of drug abuse and I don’t know about you, but people tripping balls are the funniest fucking thing for me. There’s this scene were Dani is being celebrated by the community while Christian is freaking out at the dinner table that got the whole theater laughing out loud.
There you have it. Midsommar is a smart, well-crafted piece of cinematic terror. It’s not the perfect fucking inferno that Hereditary was, but it doesn’t shy away from its flaws and works really hard to compensate for its painfully unoriginal second half. It’s an aesthetic trip that tries to scare you in broad daylights and while it doesn’t quite get there, it’s not for lack of trying. If you liked Hereditary, this is very much worth the price of admission. Don’t expect equal thrills, though. Midsommar is good, but the boundaries of genre played against its creator Ari Aster, this time around. Watch it for the sound, the LOLs and the heart-wrenching journey of its protagonist.
* Except for that one scene I’m not going to spoil. Perhaps the most visually striking scene in the movie.