In Blue Velvet, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) said “I’ll send you a love letter! Straight from my heart, f***er! You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a f***ing gun, f***er! You receive a love letter from me, you’re f***ed forever!” Midsommar is Ari Aster’s cinematic Dear John letter and it’s no less dangerous.
I have to begin with a disclaimer, Ari Aster’s first full-length feature, Hereditary, was my favorite movie last year. Hereditary was a highly-polarizing movie, a sort of puzzle-box of family misery and supernatural evil. It was in many ways a retelling of Rosemary’s Baby refracted through Aster’s unique vision. Hereditary is a true classic of the genre. Midsommar, sadly, doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it comes close.
Director Ari Aster drags his particular brand of dark horror into the bright sunlight of Midsommar.
If Hereditary seemed long, tedious, laborious, silly, and just not your sort of movie, Midsommar will probably send you running to the exits. Midsommar is arguably, even for it’s defenders, too long. It’s very probable that Midsommar would be a better movie with 15-20 minutes cut from its 147 min runtime.
Midsommar is a startlingly unique, audacious, and yes, pretentious vision set in a quite well-worn plot. In many ways, this is the 2nd remake of The Wicker Man. There is even a direct nod to the notoriously bad Nicolas Cage version. But I won’t spoil that particular WTF moment.
Midsommar follows most-closely the character of Dani, played in a breakout performance by Florence Pugh (Fighting With My Family). Dani endures an early family tragedy (a scene that shows how masterful Aster is with his camera and sound design) early in the film, and we as viewers feel as if we are being setup for a ride similar to that in Hereditary. Instead, this tragedy is a bit of a Mcguffin, as the real driving force of this movie is the stagnant relationship between Dani and her boyfriend Christian, played by Jack Reynor (Sing Street). Christian has been urged by his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) to dump the troubled Dani and live a more carefree life.
The three friends decide to join Pelle in his homeland, rural Sweden, where they have a rustic festival of Midsommar. Of course, Dani guilts Christian into bringing her along, or at least that’s how he views it, and thus, the stage is set.
From the time we arrive in the tiny mountain settlement where Midsommar takes place, we are thrust into an ultra bright world of blazing white smiles, gloriously colorful wildflowers, and strangely angular structures. Everything seems quaint and backward and either fascinating or silly to the Americans, but, predictably, all is not what it seems.
The rest of the movie essentially follows the discovery, each day, of a new Midsommar ritual, each a bit more strange and/or violent than the last. Whether you enjoy this trip, as a viewer, is how much you buy, and care about, the intricate and finely-drawn cultish society that Aster presents.
There is a literal hallucinatory quality to much of what happens as the events unfold and intensify. Part of this is due to the fact that the community often takes either mushrooms or drugged tea to “open up” the followers to the various rituals. Aster presents this in an effective visual bending and “breathing” of the surroundings on-screen. During one sequence, our character is wearing a garland of flowers that open and close, nearly imperceptibly.
Aster presents some of this craziness with straight-faced seriousness, some with overt humor, and others with such bonkers awkwardness that the audience will laugh not-knowing if it was supposed to be funny or not. One late especially unusual sex scene is both uncomfortably bizarre and downright hilarious, that you can do little more than scratch your head. These sorts of scenes are the moments that make me love a filmmaker like Ari Aster. He doesn’t swing for the fences, he just walks around the fence to see what’s on the other side.
In the final analysis, if you walk into this looking for a story about a creepy cult that might kill some people, you might walk out, mildly fulfilled, but most-likely bored and annoyed. But, if you walk into this movie with the attitude, “ok, Ari, take me on a ride,” then you might walk out like I did, dazed, a bit confused, and seriously wondering “what did I just get indoctrinated into?”
Midsommar is now playing nationwide.