Ari Aster has directed two feature films—this and Hereditary. I found that previous film to be visually arresting with a terrible payoff. Well, I suppose he’s now two for two.
Telling too much of Midsommar’s plot with spoil the journey, but the basic plot line is a group of grad students travel to Sweden to participate in a summer solstice festival and horror ensues. Except, this isn’t your usual horror movie of monsters jumping out of closets. The horror here is mostly a slow-burn and showcased in broad daylight. That’s unique for certain, and Florence Pugh again shows here why she’s one of the more interesting young stars. Her portrayal of a woman dealing with mental illness is the best part of the film.
Unfortunately, she seems to be in a better film. While Midsommar’s cinematography is quite gripping, there simply isn’t much there to support it or Pugh. The other actors are fine, but they mostly play unlikable characters. I suppose that’s a cliché of horror films, but it serves no purpose than to make us indifferent when they meet their eventual demise. Worse, those demises are telegraphed very early in the film. An argument can be made for that creating dramatic tension but in reality, it was mostly me waiting around for unlikable characters to die. I suppose their methods of death could be viewed as surprising, but that lowers this to the level of a simple slasher film.
Midsommar is attempting something more than that. It wants to plant itself into that juncture between folktale, mental health disintegration, slasher, and somewhat political commentary. It wants you to laugh one moment and recoil in horror the next. It’s an admirable attempt, but just as with Hereditary it just went nowhere for me. Maybe the feedback from Hereditary was that it was too subtle, because here Aster beats the audience over the head with foreshadowing and metaphors. The effect is to leave me wondering who this film is for. I couldn’t recommend it to most audiences simply because of the imagery, and big horror buffs have seen this mostly before.
Aster is obviously a visually talented filmmaker. He has true chops for horror, even if he repeats some tricks here too much. I couldn’t help but think of M. Night Shyamalan while watching the film. Both directors are young auteurs who made their splash doing atmospheric horror tales. However, like Shyamalan, Aster feels like a talent in search of better material.