Review: Midsommar

Midsommar (2019) 2h 27min | Drama, Horror, Mystery | 3 July 2019 (USA) Summary: 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.
Countries: USALanguages: English, Swedish

In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, a young woman joins her boyfriend and three others on a trip to a Swedish commune in Midsommar. Traumatized by the recent murder-suicide of her parents and sister, Dani (Florence Pugh) is invited by her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to join his friends Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) on a trip to the rural Swedish commune Pelle originates from. Along with fellow American visitors Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekwe), Dani and her friends bare witness to the commune’s Midsummer ritual, which turns out to be much darker and sinister than they were originally lead to believe.

Ari Aster follows up the success he had with his debut feature Hereditary, with a folk horror story set in rural Sweden. In the opening moments of Midsommar, Dani receives the traumatizing news that her bipolar sister used carbon monoxide poisoning to kill both herself and Dani’s parents. This adds additional strain to Dani’s relationship with Christian, especially as the latter was already on the verge of breaking up with her. Almost as an act of pity, Christian invites Dani to come along with himself and his friends on a trip to Sweden. Even though the summer solstice results in daylight at all hours, there is nothing these friends can do to hide from the actions of this Pagan commune.

Last year’s Hereditary demonstrated that Ari Aster is a horror filmmaker that likes to disturb viewers to their core. Following the supernatural terror of his previous film, Midsommar is Aster’s not-so-subtle homage to the Pagan-influenced horrors of 1973’s The Wicker Man. While that film, directed by Robin Hardy, didn’t fully reveal its hand until the final moments, it does not take you long to realize that the events of Midsommar are probably not going to end well for these American visitors. Just like Hereditary, Ari Astor includes some shocking gory visuals in the film, including one moment that seems like it was taken out of the Hannibal TV series. These moments are made more affecting by the fact that they often take place in the broad daylight.

While I will not go as far as to say that I did not like Midsommar, I will describe the film as a major sophomore slump for Ari Astor. Part of the problem comes from how blatantly obvious it is that the story of the film is influenced by The Wicker Man. As such, it is pretty predictable where the film was going to end up, even though you have to wait through a 2 h 27 m running time to reach that point. Even though the film is competently made, with a very solid lead performance by Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Fighting with My Family), by the end of the film, I thought that Astor’s homages to The Wicker Man were bordering on near-parody, with there being additional references to films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, which serve little purpose other to confirm that Ari Astor is a horror fan.

In addition, other than Pugh, there are very few sympathetic characters in the film. Probably the closest is Jack Reynor (Sing Street) as Christian, though his character has many unredeemable qualities, such as being on the verge of breaking up with Dani and poaching Josh’s idea of doing an anthropological thesis on the commune. However, I will note that Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) is somewhat successful at being the comic-relief jerk of the film.

Like Hereditary, Midsommar is the subject of much “scariest film ever” hyperbole, especially from people who don’t watch that many horror films. While Midsommar is a fine film with some extreme stomach-churning content, it is not enough for me to fully recommend the film and you should (re)watch The Wicker Man instead.