Midsommar is the second film from writer-director Ari Aster, the highly anticipated follow-up to last year’s freakiest horror movie, Hereditary. The film is about a group of people who travel to a rural town in Sweden for a commune’s midsummer festivities, only to find out that what they are actually attending is a more bizarre ritual.
This movie’s story is really interesting, which is why it’s so disappointing that the film as a whole is so lackluster. The idea of cults is unique and interesting to most audiences as it is a largely foreign concept. As such, Aster automatically has his audience hooked. Something had to go wrong for the movie to be boring, and that is sadly the case.
The reason why Hereditary worked so well is that the film was rooted in the character development and resultant emotion. It was just as effective as a drama as it was as a horror movie. Although Midsommar attempts to recreate that balance, it is largely unsuccessful in so doing because the ideas explored in this film are far less interesting than the theme of grief that drove Hereditary.
One of the most frustrating things about Midsommar is that the film feels overwhelmingly bleak at times. Themes addressed in the movie include break-ups and suicide, and while those have plenty of room to be explored in depth, Aster addresses them in an unsatisfying way. It feels almost as if Aster is trying to say that the world just has it out for the protagonist, and that doesn’t help the character feel any more sympathetic.
In fact, none of the characters in the film are particularly likable. You certainly feel bad for the characters in many instances, but you never really like them because they all seem like pretty terrible people. At times, they even devolve into stupid people making stupid decisions. The arcs of the characters aren’t satisfying or enjoyable, and as a result, it is hard to get into the story.
That said, the actors do a solid job in their roles despite the fact that the characters aren’t very likable. Florence Pugh is as great as ever in her lead role, apparently having a knack for playing characters who are unhappy in their relationship. Her crying scenes are some of the most impressive in quite a while.
The supporting cast is also rather strong, especially Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, and Poulter. Reynor is just mysterious and ambiguous, doing a solid job of creating the dichotomy between charming and manipulative, complementing Pugh well. Harper (whom most people know as Chidi on The Good Place) is undeniably the best part of the movie, giving a nuanced and fun performance. Poulter plays the comedic relief character in a way that sufficiently diffuses the tension.
However, perhaps the single biggest issue with this film is that it feels overly-indulgent. The movie clocks in at over two hours and twenty minutes long, and there is absolutely no reason for that. Hereditary was a slow burn, but it worked. For much of this film, it feels like there is a whole bunch of nothing happening. There are two or three really good sequences, but there is also a ton of fluff that is unsatisfying.
Also disappointing is the fact that the movie is nowhere near as haunting as Aster’s previous work. There are some scenes and images in Hereditary that will remain burned in your mind forever, whereas Midsommar is almost instantly forgettable. There is only one shot that is horrifying, and one scene that is truly shocking. Otherwise, everything about the film feels telegraphed to the point that Aster wasn’t even able to sustain tension.
The movie isn’t entirely successful on a technical level either. Although Aster should be praised for having the courage to shoot a horror film in the light, and most of the visuals look really solid, the editing is really all-over-the-place stylistically. It seems like Aster threw a bunch of different styles at the audience and tried to see what sticks instead of cutting deliberately.
Perhaps Aster just let the ego get to his head, but Midsommar is an extremely disappointing movie. There are a lot of good things about it, like the acting and the visuals, but it should have been a much better film as a whole.
Midsommar opens in theaters on July 3.