Well, Ari ‘Hereditary’ Aster does it again. The new guy on the block cements himself as a modern master of horror with his follow-up cult (in both senses of the words) chiller ‘Midsommar’, proving that the success of his first film (Hereditary) was certainly no fluke!
Whilst conceptually different in many respects, Aster’s obsession with weird sex cults continues as a group of witless American’s are lured over to Sweden by a trusted alumni, with promises of fine dining and woman. Once there, things aren’t quite as they seem (no surprise there), and soon their drug unfused idyllic trip turns into a Nordic nightmare!
To be fair, my flippancy above, is perhaps selling the plot a little short; but then I’ve seen enough horror to see past the veneers of even the most elaborate methods of luring young persons to their ultimate demise!
As with his previous film Aster does a great job of elevating the tried and tested genre template to new heights by adding more mature contexts and themes. In this case, our heroin, suffering from mental health issues brought on by her sisters suicide and death of her parents, welcomes the break, whilst her witless boyfriend and his mates are studying for anthropology dissertations; well two are, the last guy just wants to get laid. Whilst I would be cynical in suggesting that this is all a bit elaborate, and a touch pretentious, it does set an overtly dark theme and general feeling of unease right from the get go; there’s no goofy banter to be had in this camp slasher!
With a run-time of 2 hours and 30 minutes (cut from an assembly edit of 4 hours no less!) its clear that Aster is in no rush, and he’s got a story he wants to tell; to say ‘Midsommar’ is a slow burn would be something of an understatement!
In the hands of a lesser artist I would be concerned, but Aster already proved his chops in his previous effort, and from the moment the group set foot in the vibrant but left-field commune I knew my faith was not misplaced.
So much of this film is told through visual story telling; and there is a lot to be missed if you’re not paying attention. I don’t know how much of the folklore is consistent with the commune depicted – I know that much of it is likely to be merged form several historic sources – but somehow its brought together here, and it feels genuine! The customs and rituals depicted somehow feel tangible, no matter how fucked up they get!
Pay attention to murals, pay attention to symbolic numbers, pay attention to the positions of people within the commune; there’s as much going on in the background of scenes as there is in the dialogue and scenes of a more visceral nature. Indeed, there’s a lot of character plot and psychological juxtapositions for those who care to look for it.
In fact, whilst were here, lets talk about them; cause this film has sure as hell got them!
Remember the garrotte in ‘Hereditary’, and how you now can’t look at a cheese wire without wincing. Well if long drops and boulders don’t do it for you already, they will do after this. If those stray hairs in your Greg’s sausage rolls don’t have you thinking, well…
(If my rambling here have you perturbed, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve checked out what ‘Midsommar’ is serving).
Needless to say, Aster has brought back enough scenes here to cement himself onto every YouTubers ‘best of’ horror list for some years to come. The gore is strong (if infrequent) and the effects look great.
On this point, however, comes my only real criticism of the film.
I accept this is a slow-burn, and it wasn’t designed to be a scary horror (or even a traditional ‘horror’ film), but the pacing is a little off. There is a scene around 1/3 of the colossal runtime, which is phenomenal, but it set the bar a little too high for what followed. Now don’t misunderstand me, the film is never boring, and there is so much which is both vibrant and chaotic going on pretty much all the time, but when the genre-tropes creep in (and believe me, they are there no matter how much gloss is put on the top), they seem a little palmed off. Point in question, out of the 5 or 6 main character deaths, all but one is shown off screen, whilst admittedly the aftermath of one is shown, the others are almost written off as extras – an odd decision, as I really was waiting for the film to continue ramping to new heights (that ultimately never came).
Overall, there is an awful lot to recommend about ‘Midsommar’; and from a technical perspective, its something of a masterpiece. As a piece of entertainment, however, I did feel that it could have delivered a little more on its early promises of violence and trauma. There’s still plenty of grim inference, but with a runtime of 2 hours and 30 minutes, I was hoping to leave mentally destroyed, as opposed to the neat closure of story that I was delivered.