Directed by: Ari Aster
Premise: A couple whose relationship is on the rocks (Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh) travel with a group of friends to an isolated Swedish village. As the villagers celebrate their summer festival, strange events drive the couple apart.
What Works: Midsommar is the sophomore feature from filmmaker Ari Aster who previously wrote and directed 2018’s Hereditary. This picture solidifies Aster’s reputation as a horror filmmaker who is interested in ideas and characters and whose stories require patience from the audience. Midsommar is a bold picture that bucks the conventions of contemporary horror movies. The genre goes through cycles and American horror is presently dominated by supernatural tales of demonic possession set in dark hallways where frights take the shape of jump scares. Midsommar goes in the opposite direction in nearly every respect. The bulk of the story takes place in open fields in almost perpetual sunlight, the pacing is slow, and the terror is both sociological and psychological. The result is a unique and beautifully crafted film that is unsettling in a way that is rarely achieved in contemporary American film. Midsommar is beautifully shot and edited but as long as it is—the running time is nearly two and a half hours—nothing in Midsommar feels out of place. This film is also a terrific example of digital special effects not because the visuals are ostentatious but because they are subtle. The story is set in organic surroundings and the digital tools are used to wrinkle the otherwise realistic images. It’s very unsettling and filmmaker Ari Aster and his crew have created a meticulous slow burn horror tale. Midsommar is the story of a couple breaking up and as weird as the movie gets Midsommar is always anchored by that credible human relationship. Much of the film’s emotional core falls to Florence Pugh who plays a woman gradually coming to accept that her relationship is a sham. Pugh carries the emotional heft of the movie and her contributions result in the film making an impact that goes beyond visceral terror.
What Doesn’t: Midsommar is a slow burn horror movie and even when the stakes have escalated, it remains unhurried. The film’s languid pace mostly works for it. Midsommar builds slowly and once it is clear that the travelers’ vacation is going to end badly the slow pace becomes a trap that the audience struggles against, like being caught in quick sand. This film is not going to appeal to the audience of The Conjuring or Hostel. Midsommar is a different kind of horror picture, one that is more experimental and cerebral than a lot of what has succeeded at the box office lately. However, horror fans steeped in the genre might find Midsommar a little too familiar. This movie owes a lot to 1973’s The Wicker Man and 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre among others. It treads the line between homage and plagiarism and mostly stays on the right side of that distinction but horror genre enthusiasts will find a lot of this familiar.
Bottom Line: Midsommar is not for everyone but for viewers who can appreciate it, Midsommar is an extraordinary film. It owes a lot to other movies but Midsommar is so marvelously crafted that it transcends its inspirations.
Episode: #757 (July 14, 2019)