Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
Genre: Horror / Thriller
While experiencing difficulties in their relationship, a young American couple Dani (Pugh) and Christian (Reynor) travel to a fabled Swedish midsummer festival where what first seems as a tranquil paradise soon turns into a sinister, bizarre and increasingly violent nightmare.
I believe many of those of us that write film reviews (or indeed just watch a lot of films) often apply hindsight and a sense of perspective to all how we rated a film in the past, and with the benefit of that said hindsight and perspective wish to change that rating. Well, my rating of Ari Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary (review) is written down online and so, in respect of fairness, should not be changed. However, I am happy to admit that after seeing his latest film, the particular sense of perspective and hindsight this gives me (along with once again analysing Hereditary) I would lower my mark of Hereditary to a 7/10 as though it has some great moments, it does lose its way a little in its second half and does feel the need to over explain itself a little too much and rely on coincidences a bit too much. This lower mark is also down to the fact that Midsommar is a far more complete film than Hereditary in every way, and showcases Aster’s increasingly maturing and assured talent as an auteur that with his latest offering has developed in his ability to depict his (admittedly slightly dark and disturbing) narrative visions.
Every single shot, scene and moment of dialogue during the film’s nightmarish two and a half hours feels very much purposeful and intentional during the film’s often painful and tumultuous lengthy running time. I must clarify that I use those adjectives solely as compliments to Aster, as there is no denying that Midsommar is often a very difficult watch indeed, but that is part of the point and is what makes Midsommar a very engaging cinematic experience and certainly one of the most unforgettable of the year.
From its very dark prologue which shows both the troubled and tragic life that Dani leads and also the dynamics of her relationship with Christian, it is abundantly clear that we are watching a film with troubled characters. Then as they and a few friends (that tick certain narrative clichés) are invited by their nice-to-the-point-of-slightly-creepy foreign friend to attend some bizarre festival held by some equally bizarre community that live an also equally bizarre lifestyle in a remote part of said foreign country, quicker than anyone can say The Wicker Man we all realise that our protagonist’s trip abroad may not go as they are hoping it to. Aster adds to this by using unnervingly long swooping shots while Bobby Krlic’s equally unnerving score adds to the mood. So far, so very clichéd horror film!
However, what unfolds after this is a viewing experience that is as unique as it is unforgettable. Aster has to unfortunately rely on more genre cliché: after a dramatic and shocking scene for both us and the characters (I will refrain from going into details) any slightly normal person would want to leave. Indeed, Dani does want to leave, but the rest stay for admittedly slightly lazy narrative reasons (they want to complete their respective thesis’s on ‘foreign cults’) and so persuade her to stay. Though this is admittedly a reliance on genre cliché, it can be forgiven as what then unfolds is a unique and nightmarish cinematic experience that will linger long in the memory.
What makes the whole experience of Midsommar so unforgettably disturbing is Aster’s assuredness both behind the camera and with his screenplay, and the film’s tendency to show everything at an intentionally slow pace perfectly captures the mood and feeling of the entire narrative. If this film were 90 minutes long it would simply not work, though the 147 minute running time may put some off, it is the excruciatingly slow pace of every single scene that adds to the feeling of extreme and inescapable nightmare that the characters (and so also we the audience) experience. Everything is depicted with an incredibly unnerving sense of subtlety that every single shot, expression or line of dialogue lingers long in the memory.
This is, however, not a film that is just weird and disturbing for the sake of it, keeping the whole thing together are some very simple and universal themes; it is about a couple dealing with their relationship issues and ultimately having to learn to let go. It is this that keeps things grounded and it is this that determines some of the key narrative developments, and it is indeed even depicted in the film’s final, unforgettable shot, crucially making Midsommar a film with both style and substance.
The performances are also very strong; as the troubled couple Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor give incredibly committed and raw performances that further allow the viewer to share their uniquely nightmarish narrative experiences.
Many may hate Midsommar, as there is no denying it is an intentionally unpleasant viewing experience, but when analysed as a narrative whole it is a film that works on many levels, but I would implore everyone to see it at least once to saviour the experience of a filmmaker bringing his singular vision to the screen with such assured confidence.
There are many adjectives to describe Midsommar, and indeed different viewers may well go for different adjectives, but it is a film that should be seen by all, if only to see a filmmaker produce such an assured, confident and thematically complete film.
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