Spoilers might ask you to join in and dance.
This film has been in my watch list for a while and a bit. I’ve heard it was long, I’ve heard it was slow and I even heard comparisons to other movies also on my watchlist that I’ve yet to see. I wasn’t keen on starting a long film, but as it happens I just decided to start it up. Fortunately, I was in the mood for a slow burn. The timing was right, and I think this movie clicked with me as well as it could. This is going to be a challenge to review.
Midsommar (2019) was written and directed by Ari Aster. I don’t want to compare movies, but his first feature film was the amazing Hereditary (2018) which really made me start watching horror films again. He sure enough doesn’t disappoint with this film. Personally I can’t really say I’m going to count it as a favorite, and I will explain the reasons why as much as I can, but I can’t really deny it’s really a great film. I’m really conflicted in how much I don’t like the themes it presents but I was really impressed with the presentation.
A group of friends travel to Sweden to attend the summer festivities at a commune invited by one of their friends who grew up there. That’s more or less what you will hear from the description of this film. To be a little more specific, Dani (Florence Pugh) has just experienced a terrible tragedyn where she has lost her parents and sister. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) reluctantly invites her to a trip that his friends have been planning for a while to Sweden. Their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) grew up in a commune there and he has asked them to join the summer festival. Josh (William Jackson Harper) is writing his thesis on it and Mark (Will Poulter) is the asshole friend that says what the audience is thinking. Ready?
The movie is amazingly filmed from the start, and to be honest I was almost dreading the arrival to the Swedish village. Christian has been trying to break up the relationship on account of Dani always having issues with her sister, who had some mental issues. I won’t reveal how her sister and parents die, but it’s not incidental. It’s definitely brutal and tears Dani apart. I know at this point it’s almost impossible to not make comparisons to Hereditary, but although in that film the family trauma is almost conducive to what happens later, in this film it acts more like an anchor to keep Dani from completely losing herself in what should seem to be an idyllic paradise.
Here’s my problem. Although for most people it seems like a peaceful utopia with some pseudo-folkloric ceremonies, I didn’t see it that way at all. Isolation, pseudo-religious like tradition, lack of diversity – I saw this environment as nightmarish in its supposedly pristine, “idyllic” presentation. The fact that it hid horrific stuff, which I won’t reveal but you can guess from the fact this does turn into a horror movie later, was no surprise for anyone but I couldn’t stomach the whole thing from day one.
I think perhaps in there lies my challenge with this film. For some, the setting would feel like a generic heavenly retreat. For me, it already seems stifling and constraining. The visuals are bright with wide shots and amazing production. The performances are more than adequate. Yet, I didn’t feel invested enough in any of the characters to see their story through. There was no sense of film justice, revenge or motive other than the fatalistic “it had to be done” sense of fundamentalist tradition. The antagonists don’t have any distinguishing features or personality, most of them have no names and none of them are particularly memorable.
The plot does induce fright and chills. It does feel like fanaticism run amuck. I did think it was a cinematographic achievement. The takes, the transitions, the way it shows Dani from crying in the bathroom of a party to crying in the bathroom of the plane, was seamless. The storytelling is second to none. If you had use any real culture in the world as the antagonists, this might have turned sour with audiences real quick. It had to be done this way to seem neutral, and yes it makes for a scary movie but getting there felt rather bland. Nothing stands out. They’re all uniformly anonymous. Evil could have used some color, some flavour.
Well recommended for cinematography, film language, good performances and quite a well deserved slow burn but I have a lot of reservations. I found its themes of tradition and culture gone astray rather unappealing. Now, I know it’s supposed to be creepy and weird but there are no guilty pleasures to be found. Despite some well-defined characters, I found myself lacking the empathy to relate to any of them. Perhaps I like more fun in my horror films, but I also expected a deeper connection with grief rather than just alienness. In short, I realize what was happening was horrible but I felt no personal connection to it.
That will do for now.