Film review: ‘MIDSOMMAR’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’
Ari Aster made an immediate and profound impression with his disturbing feature-length directorial debut Hereditary. A creepy supernatural thriller, Hereditary introduced a film-maker with an aesthetic style that was strikingly distinct but in its meticulous framing and vivid pristine images, also informed by legends such as Stanley Kubrick. His follow-up Midsommar exudes similar menace and boasts much of Hereditary’s visual flair but some script and pacing issues render it slightly less effective than its predecessor.
In Hereditary, Aster built an unsettling and spooky story around themes of pagan and religious ritual and the fracturing effect tragedies have on families. Midsommar explores similar themes as Uni student Dani (Florence Pugh) still reeling from the deaths of family members, agrees to accompany boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and three other male friends, Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to an obscure Midsommar festival in Sweden. Set in vast open fields, bathed in the near 24-hour Nordic sunshine and peopled by seemingly friendly frock-wearing Swedish flower-people, the remote village hosting the festival seems idyllic. An increasingly bizarre series of rituals, however – including one that’s incredibly gory – tells the cinema audience at least that the students are in a more sinister predicament than they first thought. Their situation transforms into a nightmare as people mysteriously disappear and the true purpose of their invitation to the festival becomes apparent.
With Hereditary cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, Aster infuses his film with remarkable style creating startling sun-drenched images while relentlessly building a sense of dread. He makes wonderful use of the physical space of the village, its strange architecture and the stunning surrounds. Still, when boiled down to its essence, this film is largely a repeat of what we saw in Hereditary; the setting is different but the basic mechanics and motivations are quite similar. It also recalls a 1970’s horror classic (that I won’t name for spoiler reasons) and has some of the ‘young Americans out of their element’ theme of The Blair Witch Project. Drawing on great films isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it means this movie lacks at least some of that startling originally was so important to Hereditary.
There are also some gnawing issues with this film’s internal logic. The fact that the group are handed magic mushrooms on arrival should have told the eager Americans that something wasn’t quite right. Also, it’s safe to say most audience member would have been on the next plane home after one of the festival’s more gruesome events, that’s even taking into account Christian and Josh’s interest in writing a thesis about this unusual culture.
Flawed as it is, Midsommar still chills and stands as testament to a remarkable filmmaking talent in Ari Aster.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Director(s): Ari Aster.
Release date: 8th Aug 2019.
Running time: 147 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show