Midsommar was my most anticipated film of the summer. My body was fully prepared to be sent into a breathless escapade. I realize as I type this how demented it is to want to do that to myself, but luckily not as demented as Ari Aster's mind.
This review is shaped around a theory I have about this film from my very first viewing. I have a lot to break down and condense, so bare with me. No, I didn't love this. While there are things I did connect with and appreciate, I can't help but feel something SUS is going on here. And I'm not talking about Vilhem Blomgren.
The direction of the characters is incredible and consistent throughout. The direction of the movie is why I decided this was half full. I’m a huge admirer of Ari Aster’s talent. It is no doubt he has a painfully passionate vision for his films. He aims to create thought provoking museum exhibits, but this time without the little information labels. With the praise he got from Hereditary, and heck, even his AFI thesis film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, Ari Aster knows he’s the shit right now. I’m going to keep bringing up Hereditary because it’s the film that put him on the map, and I think acknowledging his first feature is important to understanding his sophomore effort. After seeing Hereditary for the first time, I hoped he would make a film that would focus on that unnerving cult fuckery. I screeched in excitement when I found out it was happening in Midsommar.
Hereditary is drawn out with meaningful calculation; it’s meant to be a slow burn for an earned pay off. Midsommar is literally just waiting for the burn to... happen. I do believe everything he decided for the final cut of this film is intentional, but there are several moments that lead me to believe he is purposely not making sense. Whether it’s the floaty editing style that fails to map it out better, or maybe I just missed everything; it's as if he wanted to see how much tomfoolery he could get away with. The answers not being there are more in your face than the literal symbols on the walls. He wanted us to think they were part of something he knows we won’t figure out and it’s just not sitting right with me.
Another thing that shouldn't go unnoticed is the uncanny parallels of Dani and Annie Graham when they are in the height of their grief. Either Ari has a serious kink for women wailing in pure agony, or more likely, witnessed a woman very close to him experience a painful loss at one point in his life. His ability to bring this out of his actresses multiple times in a film makes me wonder if this is him expressing some sort of underlying guilt.
Dani, a graduate student studying psychology, is on the fence with her rocky relationship with Christian, an anthropology student. When she is met with a terrible loss that leaves her scarred and vulnerable, Christian reluctantly stays with her and eventually invites her on a trip to Sweden to visit his fellow classmate Pelle’s family for their Midsommar celebration. Accompanying them on the trip is abrasive, goofy Mark and fellow anthropology major Josh, who hopes to make a thesis project out of it. They quickly realize this festival isn’t what they expected and all face unfortunate fates.
Midsommar doesn’t offer much of a story so much as it does a trippy spectacle, especially with a prologue that feels like it’s own short film. Even though certain details of what goes down is truly unwarranted, I had high hopes during the first few scenes due to my automatic wave of uneasiness. I know this is what Aster is good at doing, so I was ready to see where he was going with it. Unfortunately, it’s not really revisited, and seems rather mute to have those parts as long and detailed as they are. This prologue is also ingrained in my mind still because it really tackles Dani’s pain head on. It brought a gut wrenching feeling in my stomach from my own personal trauma that films don’t normally emulate to a realistic standard. I applaud Ari for sticking with this for the sake of Dani’s character development, however, it doesn't excuse the shit show of a plot once we get to Sweden.
Everything important that happens in the movie is IN THE TRAILER. There’s a lot of frightening imagery that sparked my curiosity from the get go, ready to learn all about these interesting things they showed me in the trailer. Cool, take my money. And they did, BUT, Midsommar showed me all those interesting things again, plus a lot more interesting things and then never explains any of them. “So we’re just going to ignore the bear then?” “It’s a bear.” Spoiler alert: that’s all we ever learn about the bear. I understand that it can act as a metaphor, and the bear does come back around in the end (more for symbolism than anything else) but we never get an actual explanation for why there is literally a bear. The film does not answer the questions that I had from the trailer, it just brings up more questions.
There are so many random unexplainable moments that add to the theory that, much like Paimon with the Graham family, Ari is completely messing with us. For example, this festival, loosely based off of a real nordic festival, happens every 90 years. A very specific and interesting detail in my opinion. Do we need to know why? I guess not, but I’d sure as hell like to. Why have the detail if there’s no reason? A specific painting in Dani’s bedroom that ties into her fate is meant to be a form of visual foreshadowing which is a fun little nugget for the audience to spot. But the painting is so unmistakably huge that I can’t help but feel like the filmmakers are mocking us. The tapestry in the opening literally shows the entire plot of the film. He wants us to think it’s all right in front of our faces the whole time, when really, it doesn’t even matter. When you have many curious elements like this, it creates a lack of substance. There are so many more of these instances but I don't want to ruin anything if you haven't seen it yet.
Hereditary shows us interesting things that are worth thinking about because it’s tied to what’s underneath the surface. Midsommar doesn’t have anything under the surface, it’s just a View-Master of colorful shocking pictures. It’s a knowingly predictable plot full of details we aren’t allowed to explore. If you weren’t going to bother, then why create a fictional lore (loosely based off of a mix of preexisting lore) to have a group of aspiring anthropologists go all the way across the world to learn none of it? And why take the audience along with them? Why is there so much detail that simply doesn’t matter?
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The direction of the characters is strong throughout, but the acting is what truly shines. Dani is sprawled out for the world to see from the opening scene. It’s so realistic that I got really anxious and felt for her deeply. Florence Pugh is absolutely stunning. I knew exactly who she was in the first 5 minutes of the film. Dani is layered and imperfect which Florence is able to bring out through her body language. Dani struggles with depending on Christian for support, which is something a lot of people can relate too, while trying not to drive him away. Holy shit. I'm not sure I've ever seen a couple dynamic this honest in a film or tv show. Jack Reynor was able to show us how absent Christian was in his relationship just by his voice over the phone the first time before we ever see his face. Through both performances, they demonstrate a really conflicted couple caught in a complicated relationship that isn't right for them anymore.
The awkward tension between the guys and Dani was enough to get me sweating. Watching her read all of them pulled my heartstrings and set off a wave of memories of myself in the same type of social situations.
The interaction between the guys is also really great. They are all flawed and troubled in their own personal agendas, which feels believable and real. They don’t give that much of a shit about what Dani is going through, except Pelle. We find out later why, of course. Vilhem Blomgren brings the perfect mix of cryptic but gentle awareness to Pelle, another thing I wish we got to know more. I'm looking at you, Ari. Josh, played by William Jackson Harper, is who made me so badly want to know everything about this community. He is so persistent with his questioning that his character feels like a metaphor of the audience. Will Poulter plays Mark, the asshole, in such a way he resembled a lot of boys I grew up with.
The real gems of the film, in my opinion, are the Swedish and Hungarian actors who make up the Hårga community. I was certainly terrified the whole way through with their easy going choreography, putting me on edge. It makes me appreciate the film a little more knowing a Swedish film company approached Aster to collaborate on making this. Not to mention it was shot in Hungary, many of the days I imagine in unbearable summer heat.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
A beautiful thing about this film is that is doesn’t rely on the overused ominous score to build tension. The subtle score goes a very long way while allowing the diegetic sounds of the camp’s surroundings to shine. The chanting, singing, and folk music is so enticing.
There were some tragic ADR moments though. Like when Mark is tripping in the grass and a couple times we see the Swedes chanting. I assume they figured we wouldn’t notice because of the wide shots.
The enchanting setting, costumes, and the use of daylight is the perfect style to get potential viewers curious. It’s a different looking horror than what we are used to. Production designer Henrik Svensson brings a camp to life that is so breath-taking you’ll want to spend time in it despite what we witness while there. The architecture of each building stands out with it’s own personality which I really appreciated. The paintings, tapestries, and symbols all over the walls are bone chilling.
The film itself is a psychedelic trip, with flowers and foliage warping and distorting in real time. I applaud the effects team and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski for creating those visuals hand in hand. It’s realistic, bombastic, subtle, and vivid all at the same time. It creates a perfect balance of visual interest between the characters and the trippy world around them that heightens our awareness and keeps our eyes dancing around the screen.
Some of you might be thinking “Tiffany, you just didn’t get it.” I do get it, that’s the thing. I get what Dani’s fate is supposed to be. I understand it’s about an emotional nightmare of a “bad breakup.” It’s so painstakingly obvious. I don’t mean to sound harsh, I just really feel duped sitting there nearly two and a half hours waiting for shit to hit the fan. This could have easily been 90 minutes with enough time to spare.
Just because it didn’t meet my expectations, doesn’t mean I’m done with it. I plan on reading the script, and I’d love to get my hands on the 100 page bible that details all the lore of the Hårga. I’m so interested in everything Midsommar showed me. But much like this review, the film itself is only half full