Ari Aster, the man responsible for the ball of near unbearable creeping dread that sat in your gut for the entirety of Hereditary is back with a brand new slice of slow-burn horror, but gone are the oppressive dark houses, ant-covered severed heads and creepy middle-aged naked people lurking in doorways.
No, Midsommar is a film that has the balls to drape it’s horrors in broad daylight, surely the least terrifying light there is. But is Ari Aster’s sophomore scare effort a new shining ray of light in the rapidly growing sub-genre of “thoughtful horror” or has it fallen short of the hype? Well, annoyingly it’s sort of both.
Dani is stuck in a toxic relationship with Christian; she frets she’s leaning on him too much and he wants out but won’t do anything about it but when a shocking family tragedy rips a whole in Danii’s life, breaking up now seems impossible. Barely wrestling with grief, Danni tags along on a trip to a remote Swedish commune with Christian and his friends to celebrate a midsommer festive that only comes around every 90 years. As the relationship between the two become more and more strained and everyone ingests more and more hallucinogenics, the festivities the group are being asked to partake in grow evermore strange and disturbing.
As I’ve stated elsewhere a couple of times before, I am a huge lover of the more thoughtful breed of horror assaulting the cinemas these days, films that make you question the world around you and make you rethink what a horror movie can be and how it can should make you feel, but if there’s a downside, it’s that they can be heavily divisive with some audiences confused and sometimes angry about being exposed to scares that are less traditional and more cerebral.
Well unfortunately, for once, I’ve fallen on the “wrong” side of the debate and while Midsommar is extraordinarily well shot and phenomenally well acted, I also found it oddly predictable, a little slack and somewhat lacking the white-knuckle tension of Hereditary’s final half hour.
That’s not to say there isn’t world shaking stuff going on here: Aster’s direction and script is confident and assured, with every shot and scene well put together with a flair for detail lurking in every corner in of each sun bleached frame. See how compared to the white clad Swedes, all the visitors stand out in the frame in an obnoxious, ugly way and how their casual, sweary personas grate on the ears. Florence Pugh’s lead performance is nothing short of revelatory, an incredible portrayal of a young woman who’s very soul is flayed by grief, desperately clinging for comfort in a relationship that can’t give her the shelter and companionship she needs (watch as she continually compacts her emotions down throughout the film compared to when she finally let’s them out later with the commune’s support). Watch this actress, people; she’s about to blow up.
The other actors are great too with Jack Reynor’s well meaning yet ultimately emotionally shallow Christian complimenting Pugh’s meltdown.
The subdued, VERY long run time picks it’s way through the usual tropes of the “American teens on holiday” horror making them fresh and minimizes any audience eyeball rolling as to why they don’t just get the fuck out of there and when things happen it’s shocking in it’s matter-of-factness: a character having their head bashed in with a hammer from behind is as casual as Leatherface’s first kill in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a mid-film sequence involving a sacrificial rite involving a cliff is wonderfully jarring as the tourist’s horrified reactions juxtapose to the crowds doe-eyed acceptance.
And yet even though I really enjoyed the ride Aster and co. takes us on, Midsommar just didn’t crawl into my brain and nestle the way I was hoping it would. Other films of it’s ilk have squatted in my brain pan for days, torturing me with the images I’ve seen and the feelings I’ve felt (I obsessed as to how I’d beat the curse of It Follows for weeks without success) and while Midsommar is good for a spirited debate or two, it regrettably felt like a one watch deal to me.
By all means take the trip Midsommar offers you, but don’t expect me to visit again.