Short & Sweet: Midsommar is difficult to review. On one hand, It’s too long with too much set up for so little horror, on the other hand, its bizarre and unnerving at the right times. Coupling that with wonderful acting, beautiful cinematography, and the occasional false sense of security, Midsommar is something everyone should see, but not everyone will like.
When I first heard about Hereditary I was immediately intrigued and continued to follow it along it’s premiere and festival run. Once I saw it, I felt Ari Aster was a fantastic storyteller, using dread to maintain tone until the horror truly set in. It seemed reminiscent of Gothic fiction like Edgar Allen Poe. Once Midsommar was announced I couldn’t wait. Not only do I enjoy astrology and “new age” stuff, but the idea of a horror movie set during the summer solstice seemed fun, not to mention it is the complete opposite of Hereditary. The trailer premiered with a surrounding white letterbox and it was clear that Aster was offering something different with Midsommar. On a surface level, it seems that it’s sunny setting and bright colors make it the antithesis of Hereditary, and yet the two play out very similarly in regards to pacing.
Midsommar starts us off with our main characters, Dani and Christian, a couple who have been together for nearly four years. They begin the film in different locations, Dani, played by Florence Pugh, at home worrying about her bipolar sister’s whereabouts, while Christian, played by Jack Reynor, is out with his friends telling her she worries too much. We cut to Christian with his friends who implore him to end the relationship as he has wanted out for nearly a year due to a lack of sex and Dani’s neediness. Dani is made clear to have no other form of support and leans into Christian for everything, desperate for intimacy. Christian decides that they need to break up only for Dani to call, inconsolable at the news that her sister committed suicide and inadvertently took their parents as well. Christian decides now isn’t the time to break up and keeps it to himself as Dani is now in need of even more support.
Time passes and the two go to a party where Dani learns that Christian and his friends planned to go to Sweden for a chance to celebrate the solstice and for Josh (William Jackson Harper), one of their friends, to work on his thesis statement. The group is made up of all anthropology students and they’ve been invited by their classmate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to visit his commune for the celebration. After the party the two argue as Dani voices concern for never being told about this despite Christian having his ticket purchased. Christian proceeds to lie saying his friends invited her and so she decides to join them.
This is the rest of the movie: Christian lies and dismisses Dani; Dani consistently pines for Christian’s approval and attention. They’re awful. Then there’s Josh, who is determined to collect as much information as possible for his thesis, and Mark (Will Poulter), interested in the drugs and fun of the celebration. Together they all do mushrooms and other hallucinogens, but they seem to affect Dani the most as she is overwhelmed with emotions and visions of her dead family while high. This is where the majority of the strangeness comes in and it’s pretty effective. I haven’t seen a movie utilize drugs and visuals in the same way that Midsommar does. It’s surreal, watching the trees and landscape pulse with light. Adding to the bizarreness are the rituals that they pay witness too, some more violent than others.
Time passes and the sun never sets, which does create a disorienting effect on Dani and the other characters, but it also creates a sense of peace through most of the film, because as most horror movies have shown us, monsters like to come out at night. Nevertheless, things grow increasingly uncomfortable as people go missing and the nature of certain ceremonies clash with our character’s perception of morality. After speaking out in protest and violating some customs, tensions begin to mount and by the end everything comes to a head. To say anymore would spoil actual plot points.
In all reality, Midsommar can lose close to an hour of footage and be just fine. Most of the non-hallucinogenic or outright horror scenes are used to establish the nature of the festival and captivate the audience through beautiful imagery of flowers and a glowing sun. While it does lull you into a sense of peace for most of the movie, the climax doesn’t feel jarring enough. By the time the horror has truly hit it’s more of something to be expected rather than a full surprise despite how graphic those scenes are. Along with that, by the end I wanted every American dead; these characters were all awful people and selfish in one way or another. It’s typically not a problem as I feel “likable” characters are a little overrated, but it’s just one issue of many.
As stated above, the pacing is ridiculously slow as we spend more time getting lost in the ceremonies and rituals than we do about trying to sympathize with our characters. This may be because the characters are fleshed out early on or it just may never be the intent to care about these people too much, who knows. The characters just aren’t particularly interesting, what’s interesting is the festival. It’s for that reason that despite my seemingly scathing comments that I actually loved it.
Aster is able to turn Midsommar into an incredibly immersive experience. The hallucinogenic scenes are captivating and to an extent you can feel what Dani and Christian are feeling during their trips. The cinematography is beautiful and drapes everything in a bright halo. By the time people are dancing with flower crowns I, like the characters, have forgotten about the gory scenes that played out not long before. Minute details stated early on end up being important by the film’s ending. Also, the performances are incredibly believable. There is a unique type of chemistry between Christian and Dani. The love that is lost is palpable, and the way both speak and act around each other makes it evident that both feel trapped in this relationship, but neither is willing to end it. Despite this, neither hates each other, but both are full of resentment. Florence Pugh changes her expressions and emotions with such speed; truthfully she deserves awards recognition. Midsommar is a difficult film to nail down in terms of my feelings about it. While I enjoyed it, the more I think about it, the more I can scrutinize, but I was so enveloped by this world and the performances that I didn’t care. I remember seeing an online friend’s review of this being something to the effect of “Midsommar succeeds at being two hours and thirty minutes long” and it’s not an unfair one. This isn’t for everyone, it’s very long, and it isn’t perfect. Still, I think it’s deserving of a chance.