Following in Hereditary’s footsteps, Ari Aster’s sophomore horror feature film revels in occult imagery and extreme third act escalation, whilst loitering in the realms of plot predictability and convention to produce a film that at best is a mediocre greatest hits of more memorable horror moments.
Florence Pugh’s Dani, feeling her boyfriend, Christian (the disarmingly blue-eyed Jay Reynor) pull away from her (some 4000 miles away in fact), and avoiding a looming grief, accepts the polite and insincere invitation to join him and his friends for the Midsommar celebrations. It is when we arrive in fellow student Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) home Swedish commune of the Hårga for the once in 90 years, nine-day festival, that the film loses the nuance and unease of the opening prologue; a unique and isolating atmosphere and an intriguing central relationship are superseded by recognisably rehashed imagery of ritualism and folk art. As with Hereditary, all the risks are taken in the first act.
Not content with playing out exactly as The Wicker Man invocations suggest, through the convenient device of curious and naïve PhD student, the film gives us a walking nudge-nudge-wink-wink tour of a cornucopia of inevitably deadly ritualism (and the rest of the two and a half-hour run time) in the form of an out-of-bounds temple, a love potion pie storyboard, oh and a grizzly bear in a cage. It is when recognising the pastiche and absurdity of itself (as with the latter) that the film is at its most successful, Will Poulter’s trademark nastiness being utilised for maximum comic effects.
As a result, the film often finds itself one step behind the audience. Unable to sustain what should have been a juggernaut of dread and tension, Aster’s dazzling and unrelenting direction does much of the heavy lifting. Gore and spectacle being far more intriguing to him in that over-long middle than Dani’s relationships and grief, a stunning Vertigo-esque dream sequence injects the film with a much needed (but soon abandoned) meditation on Dani’s psyche; inspired by a bad breakup, Aster’s script added to the original slasher concept, to the detriment of both ideas.
The lasting impression is of Florence Pugh’s performance, continuing a recent run of stand-out females in horror (Toni Colette, Lupita N’yongo) her inner strength and self-underestimation building upon Robert Eggers’ female protagonist in the far superior The Witch, the influence of which is clear to see in the climax of Midsommar. Despite writer/director horror successes from David Robert Mitchell, Jennifer Kent, Trey Edward Shults, Robert Eggers and Jordan Peel to name but a few, one wonders what opportunities an otherwise penned Aster film could yield.Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Runtime: 147 min