Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren
Director: Ari Aster
Ari Aster is one twisted man. Between Midsommar and Hereditary, I can’t tell if Aster is slowly becoming the Alfred Hitchcock of our time or if he needs to be locked away in an asylum. The imagery and emotions portrayed in these two movies either come from the mind of someone truly gifted or truly sick because there’s no in-between on it. Following the smash success that was Hereditary, Midsommar picks up right where Aster’s previous movie left off with its emotional tone and technical elements. While not quite as refined as Hereditary, Midsommar benefits from a talented director in Aster, beautiful cinematography from Pawel Pogorzelski, and another polarizing performance by Pugh, making it one of the strongest horror movies of 2019.
The film follows a group of college friends who take a vacation to Sweden to help work on their doctoral theses. When they show up to a small village’s midsummer festival, they realize that the customs and traditions they are used to are nowhere to be found here and the horrors of this reality slowly start to set in. If you liked Hereditary as much as I did, you will find a lot of the same successful elements in play here. The main one being the cinematography of Pawel Pogorzelski, which is once again absolutely stunning to watch and sets the tone of each scene without ever saying a word. The way the camera creeps along whatever it’s trying to focus on, whether this is through a slow zoom, pan, or tracking shot, it adds a level of anxiety watching the movie that very few horror movies do. Outside of the cinematography, Pugh is stunning in the lead role and replicates a similar performance that Toni Collette gave in Hereditary. I don’t know what Aster is telling his actresses to get that level of grief out of them, but whatever he’s saying is working because I legitimately believe that these actresses are in a great deal of real-life pain. Pugh plays Dani Ardor, a college student whose family has recently passed away and whose relationship with her boyfriend Christian Hughes (Reynor) is in a troubling place. All of these negative emotions come into play throughout the movie and make the final outcome of the film that much more shocking. Midsommar provides more evidence that Pugh is on the verge of being on the biggest stars in the movie industry and I expect nothing but great things from her over the next few years. Regarding the movie’s horror, it isn’t necessarily scary in a traditional sense, but there are multiple scenes that will make you very uncomfortable. There’s no monster or killer coming after these people, the real horror is what seemingly normal people can do to one another and you start to realize that the events in this film probably happen everywhere around the world. That might be the scariest thing about a movie like Midsommar, it’s horror is grounded in reality and doesn’t rely on supernatural elements. When this concept is combined with the visual horror and disturbing imagery that Aster included in the movie it makes me believe he went through some type of trauma in life to think this way. The one area where this movie could improve was its pacing. Most mainstream horror movies usually end up in the 90-105 minute range. Being that Aster is more of an auteur, I would probably expect a movie around the 120 minute mark like Hereditary at 127 minutes. With Midsommar, we get a final runtime of 147 minutes, and at times you can feel it dragging on. While there are more than enough moments of tension and anxiety to cover up this problem, casual fans may find themselves bored and wishing for more. I understand and appreciate Aster’s more experimental angle that he directs with, but I can understand if audiences don’t have the same love for Midsommar that critics do.
Overall, Midsommar is a slight step backwards for Aster after Hereditary, but he’s still a young director who’s shown incredible potential with his two full-length movies. When you can get the type of reactions that Aster gets out of Pugh, you know he knows exactly what he’s doing and everything in this movie is there for a reason. After two strong showings from one of the most promising horror directors in the industry, I hope he continues what he’s done so far in any future projects.
Overall Score: 7/10