Midsommar is the latest release from Ari Aster, the master artist/technician behind 2018’s haunted house horror, Hereditary, which ranked as my favorite movie of last year. I tried not to size this one up to Aster’s debut film and let it be its own thing without imposed expectations. It was difficult for me to do that, because quite frankly, this one did not pack the same punch that Hereditary did. I really felt the length of Midsommar’s 2.5 hour run-time, and although it preserved some degree of intrigue throughout, it certainly could have been sliced a little thinner.
Aster has a certain aptitude for camerawork. He has some tracking shots and dollies that are framed and engineered so well, and he likes to pan the camera in a style reminiscent of the great Wes Anderson. He uses the camera to set scenes and establish the mood in such an inventive way, and he is a genius at manipulating the mechanics of shots to evoke certain feelings in an audience. In fact, I think the dupery he indulges in on an optical level are what distinguishes him as one of the great filmmakers of this era.
The score here composed by Bobby Krlic that accompanies Aster’s mesmerizing visual machinations is a wonder to behold as well and should not be understated. It elevates a lot of the material beyond what it perhaps should be and draws out those feelings of immersion and beguilement with what is happening on screen like water from a well. I should also give a nod to the actors in this as well. Florence Pugh is a revelation, and she is asked to stretch her acting talents in a way that Toni Collette did in Hereditary last year. I also want to shout out Will Poulter as well, as he provides some comic relief and countervails some of the gory, gut-wrenching horror in the film. Although I thought the casting choices were excellent, there are some characters that are used for the boon and benefit of a specific scene or narrative arc. Contrasted with Hereditary, the characters in Midsommar did not feel as rich or dynamic as the ones in that film.
My problem with this one is that the concept itself left room for a lot of plot holes and contrivances, and, in fact, there are unanswered questions that will require viewers to suspend their disbelief. One thing is that Midsommar never establishes any supernatural being that has a hand in what any of the cult members are doing. Normally, I am fine with a more grounded horror film that could simulate real-life circumstances, but there were so many far-fetched logical fallacies in this movie that it almost needed a malevolent force behind everything to make sense. Midsommar relies on a lot of mind-altering drugs to serve as the justification for what happens, and the effect of psychoactive substances cannot make a person compliant to another’s pet commands or compel them to act in particular ways without any hesitation or remorse. I found there to be a disconcerting lack of explanation for a lot of what took place on screen, and I expected Aster to rein in the ambitions of this project a little more. His reach seemed to extend beyond his grasp in some of the more fundamental areas of the film.
Aster kicks around some interesting ideas here though, and I think that if you can dismiss its perplexing properties and apparent flaws, the film can make for a very disturbing watch. It conjures up visceral feelings of uneasiness and trepidation that other filmmakers can only dream of doing. In the last 30 minutes, the film predictably enters into total mayhem, and it feels sort of like an expedited ending. Midsommar cooks up the tension, then releases in these eruptive emissions, and the ending to me felt almost out of rhythm with the rest of the film. I had a couple other issues with the ending as well that would qualify as spoilers, so I won’t ruin the experience for you. But, I do think although the ending was a little more conspicuous in how off-beat it was, there were other pacing problems in the film as I mentioned before. Overall, the film could have been shorter.
I know it seems like I am hounding on this film. Note that this is a film that I enjoyed a lot, and these are caveats to a gorgeous-looking, idea-infused film that is unsettling and serves as a different spin on conventional horror. Aster will continue to be a director that I will eagerly await whatever his next project is, and I don’t want to deter you from seeing a film that is rich in allegory, contains grotesque images that will sear in your brain and is an original property in a genre that is a conveyer belt for remakes and sequels.
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© 2019 Logan Daniel Williamson