Ari Aster came out swinging with his debut feature film, Hereditary (2018) and there is a lot of anticipation for he sophomore release, Midsommar (2019). While Midsommar is different from Hereditary in many ways, both films showcase the cinematic and, to be honest, twisted mind of Aster, and further cements his stake in the future of horror. There is no question that this film won’t work for everyone. For example, if you need frequent jump squares to qualify a film as horror, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re open to the idea of what constitutes a horror film and you like to be driven slightly insane, then you may feel like I do. Midsommar is great.
If you’re expecting Hereditary 2 you’ll be disappointed, but Midsommar delivers its own style of horror
After experiencing a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to join her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), along with friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter), who are traveling to Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) home village in Sweden for their mid-summer festival. The tourists are initially amazed at the beautiful vistas and odd customs of Pelle’s “family”, but start to question the intentions of the villagers as those customs take a dark turn.
Pugh also starred in Fighting with My Family (2019), and is quickly becoming an actress to watch. There are moments in Midsommar that feel a bit big, as her crying reaches levels of hysteria that are hard to believe plausible. However, given the circumstances that have brought on her crying, it is hard to argue they aren’t genuine. She is undeniably relatable as an actress, and brings a lot of emotional depth to her characters, even if the character doesn’t get much of her background fleshed out. Here, Dani is dealing with a tragic loss and a one-sided relationship. The relationships in this film are definitely part of a thematic element that Aster explores, and this movie certainly lends itself to a variety of interpretations, so the idea of codependency may not register for everyone, though it seems very deliberate to me. Pugh and Reynor have the right kind of chemistry for what the film requires.
Reynor has been an actor I get excited to see on a cast list after his excellent performance in Sing Street (2016). Unfortunately, his selection of films and roles that are right for him have been up and down (i.e., Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) and On the Basis of Sex (2018)), and he hasn’t always been as solid as he was in Sing Street. As Christian, Reynor is back in a solid role, and delivers the likable yet jerky boyfriend. Poulter is great as a comedic relief that manages to get a lot of laughs from the critics at my screening, which isn’t always something I hear. Harper plays a similar character to his “The Good Place” counterpart, and it works quite well for this film. The rivalry that plays out between Josh and Christian over their academic goals pits the two against each other perfectly.
The obvious comparison that will be made is to The Wicker Man (1973). It is a clear inspiration to Midsommar both in setting, tone, and structure. As stated, Aster clearly has a lot to say, and he does so in interesting ways. An early sequence of the group driving from the airport to the village is both interesting and deliberate in its visual message, as the camera rotates and the sky is now on the bottom of the screen and the car driving down the road on the top; the world is flipping upside-down. Nothing will be what we expect, and the four tourists are entering into something they are not prepared for. He frames a number of shots with reflections putting two characters talking with one another visually at a distance. Multiple viewings will be required to see all of Aster’s intention, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a joy. In both of his features, Aster manages to give his audience a visual that will likely be hard to ever forget, even though they may desperately want to.
Midsommar simply works for my taste in horror. Between the performances and compelling story, I was hooked for the film’s entire 2-hour-and-20-minute runtime. I still think Hereditary was a better film overall, but Midsommar is a tremendous follow-up in only a year’s time. The movie earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.