Expectations for Midsommar were high given the standards set by Hereditary, Ari Aster’s previous film, and while ingeniously written and incredibly executed, it ultimately fails to live up to them.
Main characters Dani (Florence Pugh), her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and their friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) travel to Pelle’s Swedish commune home (the Hårga) to observe the titular Midsommar festival. The attendees are lured into participating in the village’s sinister rituals, until the climactic final day…
The film plays as a metaphor for dealing with and escaping a toxic relationship. It’s filled with examples of this – one of the few times Dani is able to smile is during a dance with the village women as Christian looks on excluded. The villagers mimic Dani’s cries and movements when she breaks down at one point as though sharing in her pain, with a later scene in the film ultimately and perhaps ironically hinting at Dani’s breakout into independence. Pugh plays the traumatised student flawlessly, from breathless joy as she dances to terror and shock after witnessing the festival’s first event.
Not only is it smartly written, but Midsommar is masterfully shot. Returning Hereditary cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski expertly weaves together the landscapes of the Hårga, with slow and steady shots of the festival and the villagers to constantly keep the audience on guard.
Where Midsommar suffers is the lack of focus on drama arising between its characters, with only Dani and Christian’s relationship properly developed. Although we briefly witness deterioration of the friendship between Christian and Josh, too much time is spent on the festivities to flesh out a potentially interesting subplot. Mark is given no significant time with any other character, which results in him being little more than comic relief during the film’s first act, and an ascended extra after that. Without taking the time to expand on any characters outside of Dani or Christian, the ensuing gorey consequences gradually lose their impact and becomes Saw-esque torture porn – but these reveals are too rare to satisfy any bloodlust in the audience.
Combined with the missing interpersonal conflict and attempted slow-burn pacing, Midsommar is left without a particularly wide audience – where Jordan Peele’s Us neatly blended a narrative about doppelgangers with a subtle societal message, Midsommar’s narrative is swallowed by its metaphor, leaving very little space for the elements that would allow it to appeal to fans of either horror or drama.
It is hard to recommend Midsommar. Although there is much hiding below the surface for those looking to appreciate ingenious cinematography and subtly sensitive writing, that surface may prove too hostile for many to see past. Midsommar is dark and disturbing, but it is likely to leave many longing for something more traditionally terrifying.
Image Credit: Movie DB