Writer/Director Ari Aster Follows Up His Masterpiece “Hereditary”, With His Sophomore Effort “Midsommar”. While Beautifully Directed, It’s Like A Dry & Bland Coachella Festival That Has No Headliner, Only Hipsters Dressed In White Flailing Their Arms Around & Grunting For Two & Half Hours.
Last year, writer/director Ari Aster impressed horror fans with one of the best horror films of the last decade. Lead by an Oscar worthy performance from Toni Collete in the brilliance that is “Hereditary”. Aster delivered a brilliant but eerie meditation on family loss mixed with demonic cult theatrics. He did manage to pull something special out of star Toni Collette, who delivered the best performance of her career.
Aster returns only a year later with “Midsommar”. Aster loves to direct atmosphere and ultraviolence, that is in full display in “Midsommar”. Aster transfers the relative intimacy of “Hereditary” to the open and nothing but green land of Sweden with declaring his love and tipping his hat to 1973’s “The Wicker Man”. While “Midsommar” has a running time that is too long, Aster returns to scenes of gruesomeness as he tries to repeat himself to secure a position as one of the new shock directors.
“Midsommar” is a nightmare taking place mostly in the light of day. In a remote village in the Swedish countryside where the sun rises before 4 a.m. and sets after 10 pm. Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a grad student from Sweden, has invited his American roommates to spend a month with him in his home village, a self-sustaining community where everyone dresses in white and displays cultish loyalty to the rules, and many of the libations seem to contain magical powers, and oh yeah, there’s a bear in a cage nobody talks about.
The roster of American guests includes Christian (Jack Reynor “Kin”), a self-centered charmer; Josh (William Jackson Harper), an ambitious academic, and Mark (Will Poulter “We Are The Miller’s”), a leering womanizer who just wants to get high and get lucky. Also along for the trip: Christian’s girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh “Fighting With My Family”), who accepted Christian’s invitation to join the group much to Christian not really wanting her to go, because he didn’t really mean it, even though Dani has recently experienced an unspeakable family trauma and needs Christian now more than ever. “Midsommar” at heart the of the story is a relationship gone wrong and Christian who could have prevented much collateral damage, if only he had the courage to come clean and end things.
While “Midsommar” is more effective in small doses. Aster is committed to giving us a 140-minute long journey for the feature, refusing to cut anything as the movie displays plenty of atmosphere, it takes an extremely long time to tell a very straightforward story, and many of the film’s most shocking moments go nowhere and or feel borrowed from other films. It’s desperate and screaming for a tighter edit. “Midsommar” has a much larger canvas than “Hereditary,” but Aster doesn’t try to do more or try to make it grandly wicked.
Aside from giving us a very slow build, I’ll admit Aster’s film is gorgeous, weird and ludicrous. But it is suspense-less and tension-less and it will test your patience more than once, before delivering what’s becoming his trademark of grisly and twisted material in the final act.
Aster, his production designer Henrik Svensson and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski have meticulously crafted a world that feels ripped out of the past and looks exactly like paradise but feel like an extension of hell. While the structure of “Midsommar” will be familiar to horror fans where the main cast are categorized as “the bad boyfriend”, “the nerdy guy” and “the loudmouth horny guy”. Aster has taken the basic formula from the horror genre and puts his own stamp on them. While the story drags and wobbles along the way. Aster’s strengths as a director are still strong and it shows. Aster knows how to film grief in it’s most haunting and raw form.
Aster’s long, lingering shots don’t give the audience much to do and the plot isn’t eventful or riveting enough. Instead he sells and oversells and hits you over the head with his symbolism. “Hereditary”, used nightmarish ideas and imagery to expose the anxieties permeating throughout a family with a history of mental illness. “Midsommar” pulls the same trick, but with the emotional turmoil of a poisonous relationship.
While not as unforgettable an effort as “Hereditary”. Writer-director Ari Aster delivers some dazzling and arresting visuals, even though some of the themes he explores and the big set pieces in the last few scenes feel a bit repetitive as he tries to show that not all horrors or evil lurk in the dark. “Midsommar” is like a Coachella festival without a good headliner and just a bunch of people flailing around making grunting noises.
While Aster builds an over long film to a very slow burn and relying heavily on mood. This film doesn’t do it for me the way “Hereditary” did, too little happens in too much time. Aster shouldn’t have been so greedy wanting to keep everything in there and should have cut it down. While it didn’t appeal to me at all and it’s not for everyone. I will say that Aster’s follow-up will be similarly hard to shake as you and your friends will ponder its metaphors and meanings once it’s over. Any film that can do that has pulled off what they set out to do. It may not find an audience in theaters but I think it will have a life once on Blu Ray and digital outlets.
GRADE: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5)