Written and Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Runtime: 140 min
Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village.
What begins as a carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that render the pastoral paradise increasingly unnerving and viscerally disturbing.
This was easily one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Hereditary was my favorite film of 2018, so obviously, Ari Aster's second feature grabbed my full attention from the very first announcement. Fortunately, even though Midsommar is only being released now in my country, I was able to stay away from spoilers, as well as from any sort of images or clips. As you might expect, this is not a typical horror movie, even though it's being marketed as belonging to the genre. Sure, it has some horror stuff that indisputably connects it to the genre, but it definitely doesn't play out to scare audiences or make you have nightmares at night.
Hereditary was quite divisive among audiences due to the lack of traditional jump scares and generic entertainment, besides it being too excessive regarding spiritualism for the general public. Midsommar is undoubtedly going to be even more divisive. First of all, it drags. There's no denying it. The first weird cult scene only occurs about one hour in, which in a 140-minute runtime is a bit too far ahead. Granted, it's one of the most shocking and horrific sequences in the daylight I've ever seen, but its build-up (extremely well-done) takes a big part of the second act, slowing down the pacing too much.
Additionally, it's a film that entirely relies its entertainment value on the feeling of shock instead of fear. If you didn't enjoy Aster's first feature because it didn't have enough scary sequences, Midsommar isn't going to convert you to being a fan of his work. Similarly to Ad Astra (just released last week), it's a story that requires the audience to care about more than only superficial aspects. If you go in expecting to leave your brain outside just so you can be uncloudedly entertained, then you might want to think again. I can't stress this enough: you need to pay attention to what you're watching!
Hints to what the story holds for us are everywhere, especially in the walls. Through paintings, runes, and hand-drawings, Ari Aster spreads basically all the information you need to better understand where the movie is going. It's a film about two key themes: how to deal with grief, and how to handle a complicated relationship. These are the issues that people should be able to acknowledge and understand how they're being developed. I love how Aster addresses the latter topic (he wrote this screenplay after he ended a relationship of his own), but I'm disappointed by the way he put the former into the "background".
The first 15-20 minutes deal with what happens to Dani's life, and it's never approached again, even though there's a vague idea of what could have actually happened, by the end of the movie. Regarding the other point, it isn't exactly a "toxic" relationship that we've seen in previous films, but one where each person is waiting for an excuse to leave the other. Hence, some actions feel forced in the hope that they can trigger something. It's a strangely realistic yet uncomfortable take on something a lot of people go through. Technically, this is one of 2019's most fascinating productions.
From the colorful cinematography to the impeccable editing, from the stunningly impressive production design (again, the WALLS!) to the immersive score … Ari Aster is no joke. The way he handles dialogues is a treat to someone like me, who cares so much about engagement through characters speaking. There are so many long takes with Florence Pugh giving her all, just raw and powerful emotions. It's her career-best performance, no doubt about it. Her character's storyline is partially what brings the "horror" to the narrative. Just like Toni Colette on Hereditary, Pugh is probably going to be ignored during the awards season, as well as the movie's technical achievements since the horror genre still didn't convince enough people to give a shot.
Regarding the other characters, they're my main issue. They simply felt like plot devices. Will Poulter (Mark) is funny as the comic-relief guy, but his character, like every other one besides Dani, doesn't do much to make me care about or feel invested in their own subplots (if there are any). They barely have any backstory, and their purpose is basically to help move the plot forward by giving Aster opportunities to show some pagan rituals of some kind. There are incredibly shocking, bloody, and jaw-dropping scenes, some might make you feel uncomfortable, others might make you laugh. But they're all meant to shock you in some shape or form.
Whether you love it or hate it, Midsommar is memorable. If you didn't enjoy Hereditary due to the lack of jump scares, the former isn't for you then. Midsommar requires full attention, patience, and an open-minded mentality. It's not a generic horror flick, so don't go in expecting to be constantly entertained by silly scares. Expectations are everything, so moderate them in the best way possible. It has one of the most abstract ways of addressing a difficult relationship and how to deal with grief, but if you LOOK AT THE WALLS, you'll be able to (maybe) follow the story a bit better.
Technically, Ari Aster delivers a masterful work, with exceptional production design and gorgeous cinematography, plus seamless editing. Florence Pugh carries the story on her shoulders with an astonishingly compelling performance, but her supporting cast didn't do much with their under-developed characters. The film drags a lot, and it can become tedious at some point, but in the end, it's one of those movies that sticks with you. A second viewing may be necessary, and it will probably be a better experience. Can't wait to find out. Go see it!