Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlen
R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
A successful director’s second feature often tells the viewer whether they can expect consistency or complacency from future outings. For Midsommar, Ari Aster proves that both consistency and complacency are possible in tandem.
Aster’s debut feature, Hereditary, showcased a young visionary starting out in a genre where innovation is always welcome and uniqueness of vision can triumph over seeming familiarity. Midsommar does almost the opposite using several measures of familiarity to sell an almost innovative story to audiences.
In an impressive acting breakthrough, Florence Pugh stars as Dani, a young college student whose family tragedy sends her into a spiral of depression. On the cusp of breaking up with her, Christian (Jack Reynor) instead hopes to prove his friends (Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, and Will Poulter) wrong in their opinions of her instability by inviting her along on their trip to Sweden.
For the festival of Midsommar, a once-in-a-lifetime ritual will test the relationships of the five friends and lead them into increasingly bizarre and risky situations. Will the individual personalities of each individual contribute to their success or bring about their utter downfall?
Pugh and Reynor deliver strong performances, allowing the twisted and hellish landscape to unfold before them. Most of the film is built on long pauses between violent incidences making it all the more unnerving as the audience waits for the next shoe to drop. Rather than perpetually peppering the audience with visceral horrors, the bloody moments are few and far between yet exceedingly violent.
Harper and Poulter are solid in support, but Blomgren blends into the background almost immediately as a member of the small, tight-knit community who may have had an ulterior motive in encouraging his friends to explore their collegiate theses in this esoteric culture.
While Hereditary paid homage to numerous horror predecessors, it remained faithful to its own originality. Aster’s Midsommar on the other hand lets the original portions of his narrative fall behind the slavish devotion to evoking not just the look, but the spirit of The Wicker Man. Like that film, the slow boil nature of this film gives the audience an opportunity to appreciate the narrative distinctiveness and ignore the similarities in outcome and structure to the 1973 British pagan horror classic.
Like his prior film, the visceral nature of the most horrific moments will leave the squeamish reeling. Even for those who aren’t bothered by violence in horror, there will be moments that wincing is the only appropriate reaction. Midsommar may not have as many shocking or unexpected moments as Hereditary, but those that do exist will challenge the audience’s ability to accept anything thrown at them.
Aster might not have done as well as his prior feature, but Midsommar is still a largely engaging film. The film is anchored by solid lead performances and a clear desire to approach horror from both fresh and fetid perspectives. Whether his second outing is consistent or complacent is largely up to each viewer to decide for themselves, but for most, there should be just enough consistency to forgive just enough of the complacency for those who are split on these decisions to give his third film a chance.
March 13, 2020