Ari Aster’s second horror feature had quite a spotlight on it. After the success of Hereditary last year, it couldn’t have been otherwise for Midsommar.
Hereditary was almost universally acclaimed by critics, while splitting horror fans into two categories: those who consider it the best horror film of the 2000s (at least) and the ones who can’t stand it. Although I have my gripes with it, especially in regard to the last 10-15 minutes, I also really love Hereditary, a contained horror-drama with elements of mental illness and family tragedy.
Midsommar, on the other hand, is a much larger story about Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a young American couple that, together with Christian’s friends, go on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village recommended by Pelle, a Swedish friend of Christian who grew up in that community. Once they get there, they quickly realise that their idyllic and drug-fuelled summer holiday might turn into a visceral nightmare.
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My review is also available on IMDb – Midsommar (2019)
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Just like Aster’s debut film, Midsommar intertwines the main storyline with elements of family drama, as the prologue to the movie shows us the relationship between Dani and Christian is about to fall apart, but an unexpected tragedy keeps them together. This gives depth to our main characters, played wonderfully by Pugh (who really steals the show) and Reynor. Christian’s friends are also fleshed out in a way that turns clichés around, as their characters might appear like the blueprints of the average horror dudes, but they’re soon revealed to be multi-layered and interesting. The other main protagonist in the movie is the remote Swedish community: many people live there, but they behave as though they were just one giant mind and body, a single entity that interacts with the group of Americans.
This results into Midsommer being a masterful exercise of coordination: the claustrophobic and contained feeling of Hereditary is, here, replaced by wide angles and an open look that makes the community feel alive and real. Filled with long takes, Midsommer showcases an impressive level of coordination in its cinematography, where every extra isn’t just a background figure, but actively takes part in the scene.
The colour grading is, also, relentlessly in contrast with the one in Hereditary: Midsommar is bright, colourful and purposely strives to show horror in broad daylight. Despite the calm pace and long runtime (or, perhaps, because of that), this film is filled with horrific, disturbing moments, which wind up being extremely shocking and impactful due to perfect timing and meticulous execution.
Meticulous is the key adjective in Midsommar, as every scary sequence works perfectly and manages to be genuinely terrifying due to the way it’s presented. Hereditary had the dinner scene and the infamous “Charlie’s head” moment, here there are quite a few trippy sequences that come off as downright horrifying and nauseating: every trippy scene in the movie is spotless and memorable, with an attention to detail (which includes the way pupils are widened!) that provides an extra layer of frightening realism. Unlike most modern horror movies that get a wide release, Midsommar doesn’t shy away from extreme gore (that benefits from fantastic practical effects), off-putting sexual acts and full-front nudity.
Midsommar benefits from these memorable, terrifying sequences that perfectly implement a story that’s unnerving and unsettling from the get-go. This is a film that understands how to leave a deep impression on the audience, all the while remaining visually striking and compelling throughout.
The deeper meaning of the film, which is something you should expect to find in an Ari Aster’s picture at this point, is much more subtle and yet easier to understand than it was in Hereditary. In other words, Hereditary required the viewer to do their own research to get the meaning, whereas the message Midsommar is trying to deliver can be found by simply paying attention or revisiting the film multiple times.
I was thoroughly impressed by Ari Aster’s sophomore film, but I do have some complaints with it. Story wise, the biggest issue with Midsommar is that, given a certain familiarity with the sub-genre of “folk horror”, the plot is rather predictable and makes the ending quite anticlimactic: however, the ending of this film is much better executed than the clumsy grand finale of Hereditary. In other words, if you’ve seen movies a la The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man (the original), you already know where MIdsommar is going and how it will end.
On a technical level, the main issue with this picture is the music, which often sounds rather derivative. Aside from a song executed with the flute (which was amazing and perfectly implemented in the picture), the score in Midsommar doesn’t add much: in fact, I’d say the best sequences are those with no music at all. Due to the ambition behind this project, some of the coordinated sequences featuring a multitude of characters show in the corner of the image one or two extras acting kind of goofy. There’s also a long take where the camera moves too quickly, causing the beginning of the shot to be out-of-focus in a way that I don’t think was intentional. In regard to the script, the only noticeable issue is the fact that when characters question something, they are quickly dismissed in a way that feels cliched.
You should also keep in mind that, compared to Aster’s previous movie, Midsommar is dramatically slower-paced: if you thought Hereditary was slow, Midsommar will drive you crazy! Personally, I thought the pacing of Midsommar was perfect for the story and I didn’t find a single dull or boring moment in it.
Midsommar is still a fantastic addition to the “folk horror” sub-genre: in fact, I consider it to be one of the very best in the sub-genre. It’s an impressive horror film that manages to be frightening, poignant, memorable, visually striking, wonderfully acted and purposeful. This is a film that, unlike Hereditary, is best experienced in a theatre, as the silver screen enhances its visual and coordination qualities. Bear in mind that Midsommar is going to be very divisive, so if you didn’t like Hereditary, you’ll probably like this film even less: personally, I’d still pick Hereditary over Midsommar but not by much. Ari Aster is quickly becoming one of my favourite up-and-coming directors and I genuinely can’t wait for his next project: I think he’ll be able to pull off a perfect 10/10 horror film in a couple of years.
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