Review For You: Midsommar
Ari Aster, writer and director of this summer’s weirdo hit Midsommar needs a hug. This is what my fellow Pint writer Chris Frodel said to me while driving to the train station on our way to New York Comic Con last week. He had seen Aster’s first two films, this and 2018’s Herditary, and I had seen neither, despite really wanting to catch Midsommar in theaters and never getting the time. On a rare sick day from work this week, having incubated a good old fashioned case of con crud at New York Comic Con I decided to rent it on my handy dandy Amazon Prime service. Thus began my two and a half hour long journey into all things Sweden, bears, pubic hair pies, murder/suicides and much much more.
Dani, our protagonist, if there is one in this film is in a four year relationship with Christian, a real weak ass douchebag of a character. Christian wants to break up with Dani, but can’t find it in him to let her go, despite seeming disinterested to the point that his friends are well aware of his true feelings and encourage him to end it. Dani has a tragedy occur in her life that is bah-rutal which makes it harder for him to do the right thing and leave her. This occurs just as Christian is about to go on a Swedish vacation with his aforementioned three graduate student friends. Being spineless, he does the thing that no one should do and kind of, sort of invites her along, because he doesn’t know how to deal with her in a real, adult manner. His friends are skeptical of this decision, and are plainly tired of Christian’s waffling with Dani’s feelings. Pelle is the native of the commune they are going to visit, Josh is planning on basing his thesis around the ways of life there and Mark is every nightmare asshole American tourist, complaining about the constant daylight, vaping and pissing on ancestral trees.
As soon as they settle in and get comfortable by tripping balls on ‘shrooms, the once every 90 year ritual that Pelle promised as a party starts, and let’s just say that the idea of a party may have a different meaning in Swedish. The group stays despite seeing some gnarly shit and that is the first of several weird and frankly bad choices. To say any more of what happens over the course of the next two hours is too spoilery, but once you get into the film, you certainly have a feel for where things may be going. What I can say is this is a film that demands full attention, as many plot points are foreshadowed heavily and as the use of psychotropic drugs is central to the story, camera trickery and subtle effects are used throughout to excellent effect. The round the clock daylight and beautiful flower adorned fields offer a fairly unique setting for what some people may consider a horror film. I do not, but some people do.
So here is the thing. I really wanted to see this film. Sir Jon really liked it, and whenever the man who dislikes everything, including puppies and donuts and all good things in life likes something, I am really intrigued. After watching it on that sick day, I was impressed by aspects of it, but I felt underwhelmed. I could not put my finger on it. Did I expect more scares? More gore? This film was promised by folks that I know to have seen it to have some real shocking moments, and yes there were, but it just seemed, I don’t know..underdone? The next day I found myself thinking about it, a lot. I see many movies, and many that give me that same disappointed feeling that I basically stow away into the recesses of my mind along with 1984 New York Yankees statistics and images from those dirty magazines I found in the woods behind my apartment when I was 11. Stuff I have to actively want to think about. But no, Midsommar kept creeping up on me. I got home from work that day and saw that my 48 hour rental had not expired, so I watched bits of it again, fast forwarding and rewinding to catch imagery and dialogue that was lost upon the first viewing. I then decided I needed to grab the Blu Ray for another full watch. Within the course of a full day I went from a sort of ambivalent feeling towards this movie to actively looking forward to watching it again.
What was it about this film that snuck up on me? The themes? Strangers in a strange land, the focus on mental health and the aftereffects of tragedy are all prevalent and presented well. The parallel of being an American and often feeling like we are the center of the world and quickly realizing that there is so much culture and custom that we are not only unaware of, but not ready for, even though we consider ourselves advanced and many of these go back hundreds of years or more. Was it the writing or direction? Aster is deft with his camera work, and again, his use of near constant subtle FX to either simulate a mushroom trip and or relay the magic of the setting is really impressive. The cast was also solid, as Florence Pugh plays Dani as a woman going thru a difficult time and realizing that she is in a lopsided relationship on top of her other troubles. The smart thing that Aster does with her character is to not make her a total victim. She knows that Christian is losing interest, but she doesn’t break it off herself, in fact she makes the terrible decision to take his half hearted invite on the trip, causing more difficulty in their relationship, and for her psyche. Jack Reynor plays Christian to a tee, as a guy we have all known at some point. You almost feel bad for his situation, as he genuinely cares enough about Dani to not want to hurt her, while simultaneously hurting her more by stringing her along. He shows his true colors more in his dealings with Josh, in an argument over working on their thesis together, and in a scene where he throws Josh under the bus to the tribal elders. I also appreciated that the film continually manages to convey a slow building feeling of dread, which occasionally erupts in a burst of violence, or a flashback to Dani’s recent tragedy, but never really settles for the easy jump scare.
Alright, so I think from this you can ascertain that I suggest you at the very least check this film out, it is unlike most of what you are going to find in theaters or streaming right now. This just came out on VOD and physical platforms so it is easy to get ahold of, and if you want to check out the Director’s Cut, go to the Apple store which is currently the only place to get that version which is approximately 30 minutes longer. I know I’ll be checking that out soon myself.