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Midsommar
★★☆☆☆
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema

Disappointing follow-ups by promising upstart directors who recently captured the imagination of audiences and critics alike seem to be an unfortunate trend in 2019. The first of these was Jordan Peel’s ambitious but shamelessly underdeveloped Us. Then came the muddled and pretentious Under The Silver Lake, the third feature by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows). The latest in this line is Midsommer from writer/director Ari Aster, whose first film Hereditary was one of the previous year’s best surprises. Aster’s second picture is also a psychological horror-thriller that plays on a few of Hereditary's themes, but on a far grander scale. 

The story centers on a college-age American couple, Dani and Christian, in a lackluster relationship that probably would have ended long ago, were it not for a family tragedy. The grieving Dani, who lost her family in a double murder-suicide, tags along with Christian and his friends, some of who are fellow anthropology majors, to a remote Swedish village to witness a pagan festival that only happens once every ninety years. The odd, cloistered, Scandinavian villagers welcome the outsiders, and things go from amusingly odd, to mildly unsettling, to downright shocking. 

Setting a horror film in a place where the sun never sets has a curious, hypnotic quality that keeps you interested (at least the first time—a second viewing of this two and a half hour movie reveals almost nothing you wouldn't have noticed the first time). The imagery, costumes, and the way most of the disturbing acts are executed are memorable. Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski shoot in long, wide angles with clean compositions that hint at something sinister just outside the frame. But the film’s logic issues and key central relationships render it little more than an exercise in tension building and shock value. It’s all art-decked up with nothing to say. The film frustrates for the simple (and all too common) reason that the characters are stupid kids. No satisfactory reason why these folks stick around once things become clearly dangerous is given, other than they are all pretty dumb. At least Dani, played with fierce commitment by Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, The Commuter, Outlaw King), has the excuse of post-traumatic stress, but her grief doesn’t explain every bad decision she makes. 

The male characters are all selfish bros, which is a big missed opportunity. Part of what could have been interesting here is that these guys are anthropology students who have real reasons to be more fascinated by what they witness than scared. But Aster, who in Hereditary captured and astutely conveyed the grief of a mother who lost a child, and explored the compelling idea of inherited mental illness, seems to have no clue how to investigate the specific forms of competition, social dysfunction, and narrowness of focus that are unique to academics. The guys here are painted as the same lazy, horny, self-interested, slacker dudes that you'd find in any typical horror movie. I suppose the idea behind the lack of specificity and intelligence in all the American characters is to make them relatable so audiences will wonder what we might do if we were in their shoes, but it actually has the opposite effect. We don’t care about any character in this movie except Dani—and even she tries our patience—so we don’t feel especially terrorized when bad things happen to them. Midsommer clearly wants to be unlike any horror movie you’ve seen before, but populates itself with exactly the same generic people making dumb choices we’ve seen over and over again.

NOTE: A 
171 min, NC-17 director's cut was released in August of the same year. It includes more rituals, more gore, and more shallow, self-centred behaviour from the characters.

Twitter Capsule:
Aster sets his ambitious second psychological horror film in an inventive setting—a cloistered Swedish village holding their annual pagan summer ritual—but populates his movie with the same generic characters you'd find in any disposable slasher movie.

Directed by Ari Aster
Produced by Lars Knudsen and Patrik Andersson

Written by Ari Aster

With: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Henrik Norlén, Gunnel Fred, Isabelle Grill, Agnes Westerlund Rase, Julia Ragnarsson, Mats Blomgren, Lars Väringer, Anna Åström, Hampus Hallberg, Liv Mjönes, Louise Peterhoff, and Katarina Weidhagen

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Editing: Lucian Johnston
Music: The Haxan Cloak

Runtime: 147 min
Release Date: 03 July 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.00 : 1
Color