The theme of July’s Friday Night Fright picks are films that are set more in the day than the night, and you can’t get a more daytime-set horror than Ari Aster’s Midsommar. What follows is my original review, and whilst it isn’t as gushy as some other people’s write-ups, I have since revisited the film and had a better time with it. There were a factors that affected my initial reaction, the man snoring all the way through my viewing certainly didn’t help, but my lacklustre response had a different root. The issue stemmed from me having read the script prior to viewing the film. The script is much shorter than the film. Aster filled the film with lots of visual sequences not written, and knowing in advance what those big WTF moments were, it felt like an eternity waiting for them to arrive. The script was also a lot more graphic about both the love spell and bear than the film explores, and thus there was an element of disappointment that clouded my initial thoughts.
Ari Aster’s feature debut Hereditary took the world by storm and managed to terrify horror fans and casual viewers alike. The film primarily told of a family torn apart by grief, before moving into the occult, and was touted by many critics as being this generation’s The Exorcist. Now just over twelve months later, Aster returns with his second feature, Midsommar, a film which many may herald as this generation’s The Wicker Man (the good one, not the Nic Cage one).
Shifting from the more autumnal tone of Hereditary, Midsommar frames its story within summer time. We join Dani (Florence Pugh) and boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), a couple whom, despite being together for several years, don’t seem that loved-up. In fact we soon discover that Christian has wanted out of the relationship for a long time, but just hasn’t been able to follow through with the action. Egged on by his friend Mark (Will Poulter), and their impending trip to Sweden, he agrees to end things just as Dani’s life is changed forever by a family tragedy. Feeling more guilty and obligated than ever, he decides to stand by Dani and goes so far as to invite her on the boys trip to Sweden. The trip is to visit the home of Christian’s friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), which is about to celebrate its every ninety years Midsommar event. Things start off well but before long, the group, and Dani and Christian’s relationship, start to disintegrate. Can the friends survive the strange people and their rituals, or will they end-up being sacrificed for the greater good?
Visually, Midsommar isn’t your typical horror film. Practically every frame is set during blisteringly bright sunshine. This means that the colour palette is like almost nothing that has been seen before within the genre. Everything is so vibrant, from the lush greens of the grass, to the brilliant blue of the skies, to the multitude of coloured flowers. It’s easily the prettiest film we’ve seen for a while, in any genre. The constant Scandinavian sunshine combines with the twisting environment and hallucinogens to disorientate the viewer, and way before anything unsettling happens, there’s a sense of dread permeating the air.
Sadly a lot of this foreboding tapers out as the film unfolds, mainly due to its rather excessive and bloated running time. Clocking in at just shy of two and a half hours, with not a great deal of plot, prepare for a lot of lingering shots on everything from scenery to faces. Aster is clearly trying for the slow burn meditative psychological horror, but instead events are just overlong and at times rather boring. To go and watch Midsommar requires a certain amount of commitment from the audience. Much like Avengers: Endgame, once you’re in, you’re in, so be prepared to pay attention to everything (especially the tapestries) as all points to what is to come.
The other flaw with Midsommar is with the characters. Whilst all the cast give engaging portrayals of their characters, there is just something amiss about them all. Most, like Poulter’s Mark, are just a typical horror movie cliche, but Dani is no final girl. Rather she’s a very needy, almost to the point of irritation, character who repeatedly goes against her beliefs to fit in with those around her. Pugh also spends most of the time in tears and doesn’t get enough chance to show the range that she is capable of. As the main character we should want her to be okay, but after a while of her doing the same thing over and over, it gets a bit much and my sympathies for her were lost very early on. A final girl she really isn’t.
Technically, the film is sound and Aster utilises all the same flourishes that made Hereditary so compelling, but the uninspired characters, simplistic plot and overlong run time drag the film from greatness to merely average. A modern day re-imagining of The Wicker Man this may be, but it doesn’t quite live-up to the legacy.
The review first appeared on THN. Midsommar can now be watched on Netflix in the UK.