Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 82% Certified Fresh
PLOT: A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival, but what begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into a series of increasingly bizarre rituals at the hands of a pagan cult.
There is a lot to like in “Midsommar”, the second film from Ari Aster, director of last year’s masterful “Hereditary”. It clocks in at 2 ½ hours, and the vast majority of that running time is devoted to creating and maintaining an atmosphere of unsettling oddness, where I was constantly asking myself, “Okay, what the hell is going on here?” That’s a tricky task, because if you get it wrong (i.e., Shyamalan’s “The Village”), you wind up boring your audience. And I was never, EVER bored during “Midsommar”. So there’s that.
The plot: a young woman, Dani, suffers a terrible tragedy and turns for comfort to her boyfriend, Christian, who, truth be told, had been looking for an excuse to end things with Dani before the aforementioned tragedy struck. But he stays with her more out of duty than real love, and they wind up going to Sweden with a bunch of friends on the recommendation of a college classmate of theirs who tells them of a marvelous nine-day solstice celebration held in his hometown, a quaint country village in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t seem to have or need electricity.
This place is…strange. In scenes of ordinary behavior that nevertheless manage to somehow give you goosebumps, we observe the villagers performing tasks that would be at home in Amish country: folding clothes, preparing meals, gathering flowers, and the like. Everything is brightly lit due to the perpetual sunlight at that time of year in that part of Sweden, and all that light somehow, instead of draining the scenes of suspense, actually INCREASES it. It’s very hard to describe accurately. (Even the architecture contributes to this sense of unease, with a couple of buildings built with the kind of angles that would have been at home in a Tim Burton film.)
The film takes its time establishing this bright, passive weirdness. One of the college friends asks the purpose of one of the strange buildings and is told it’s a temple…but you’re not allowed there. There are plainly crops in a field…but it’s difficult if not impossible to tell what’s being grown. There’s a large bear in a wooden cage that the villagers seem not to notice or care about. Some of the young village women admire Dani’s strapping boyfriend unashamedly, much to Dani’s annoyance.
Then there’s a bizarre ceremony that starts out with a ritualized dinner, and then two of the older villagers are taken to a high cliff on the edge of the village, and…
Well, that’s when things REALLY start to get weird. And a little bloody. And even more trippy. I think that’s where I have to stop describing events in the movie.
So. Like I said, the film does a GREAT job at creating this superbly unsettling atmosphere and maintaining it. I couldn’t wait to see what was coming up next.
But then movie reached a point where it became obvious how it was going to end…
SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT, I SAY AGAIN, SPOILER ALERT.
When it became clear that this was NOT going to have a Hollywood ending, I didn’t mind at first. I mean, “Hereditary” doesn’t end happily, and I thought it was brilliant. (Well, I didn’t at first, but I do now.) But…ugh. In the last 5 minutes or so before the credits, instead of sucking in my breath at the audacity of this ending, I was instead shaking my head, saying to myself, “What the f***…?” And not in a good way. “Midsommar” ends with a whimper, not with a bang.
Which is SO disappointing. For 135 minutes, I was breathless with anticipation for the next scene. And they lost me in the last five. I HATE it when that happens.
I’m sure there are levels to “Midsommar” that make it more than just a horror movie. No doubt there are all sorts of psychological – psychiatric? – parallels between the rituals of the village and the relationship between Dani and her boyfriend. No doubt. But when a movie loses me that badly at the end, all the poetic symbolism in the world won’t make me change my opinion.
“Midsommar” is a long ride for a short day at the beach. Great road trip, but terrible destination.