HomeMovies'Midsommar' Review: The Inverse of 'Hereditary'

‘Midsommar’ Review: The Inverse of ‘Hereditary’

Photo Courtesy A24 Films

When writer-director Ari Aster’s first feature, Hereditary, hit theaters last year, it felt like the beginning of an exciting new voice. Classed with movies like Jordan Peele’s Get Out in the condescendingly-titled new genre “elevated horror,” it would have become an instant classic if not for its final few minutes. Rushed and mystical in a laughable way, the final twist felt like a rookie mistake that Aster wouldn’t make the next time around.

Indeed, his second feature, Midsommar feels like the other side of the same emotional coin. Both films are about a woman–in this case Florence Pugh’s Dani–grieving over deaths in the family. This time, it’s the shocking murder-suicide of Dani’s parents by her depressed sister. Both are filled with violence and dread, but this film’s cinematography is bright to the point of being washed out rather than bathed in sinister shadows. Both films play with the transcendence and danger of deeply-held belief, but they differ in how they structure that exploration. Where Hereditary jammed almost all of its mysticism into the final few minutes, Midsommar peppers it throughout. And while that choice keeps the film from imploding at the last second, it’s still hard to decide whether this film is anymore emotionally satisfying.

It starts in the dead of winter, with Dani anxious to speak to her parents after receiving a very dark e-mail from her sister. Desperate for reassurance, she calls her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), who not only seems dismissive of her emotions, but who we quickly learn has been trying to break up with her for over a year. Dani’s loss delays that break-up even further and by the time Christian invites Dani to come along with him and his grad school friends to visit the commune where one of the friends grew up in rural Sweden, it seems unlikely the relationship will survive whatever horrors the group will eventually face.

As with his first film, Aster takes his time getting to that horror and what makes the film so compelling until then is watching this particular group of personalities unwittingly navigate the Wicker Man situation they’re in. Pugh has so far built her career on showy parts like the titular role in 2016’s Lady Macbeth or earlier this year as Paige in the wrestling biopic, Fighting with My Family, but she’s far more subdued here. Dani is grieving, yes, but she’s also still in shock and she spends much of the movie immobilized by both her past personal trauma and the things she sees at the commune. When Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren)–the only friend of Christian’s who doesn’t hate her and the who brought them to Sweden–expresses his sympathy over her loss, Pugh’s face crumbles and Dani runs out of the room to sob in the bathroom.

It’s textbook hysteria and Christian and his friends respond in the way so many real and fictional men have throughout history: with disdain. Though Will Poulter as the crass and vape-loving Mark is both risible and hatable, it’s Reynor who’s most vile as the platonic ideal of a sociopathic asshole boyfriend. In the scene where Dani confronts Christian for not telling her that he’s leaving for Sweden in just two weeks, the audience sympathizes with Dani not only because of how nice and reasonable she seems, but because of the way Reynor so skillfully plays Christian’s emotional manipulation and gaslighting. He only gets worse as the film goes on, first pursuing one of Pelle’s sisters, then ignoring the commune’s more shocking customs in pursuit of completing his thesis. So, it’s satisfying then, to see the way that selfishness and ambition is rewarded.

It’s difficult to explain exactly why without spoiling the whole film, but perhaps that wouldn’t be such a sin considering Aster does just that in the film’s opening shot. The first thing the audience sees is a painting of the eventual commune and the festival the characters attend. Each panel in the series reveals a major plot point and while some viewers will find that choice takes the suspense out of the film, for others, it gives them something to anticipate. There and repeatedly throughout the film, the paintings the commune’s members create act as both warning and promise and when Aster delivers on those images, the results are as gruesome and insane as expected.

Given that, it’s difficult to understand why Midsommar still doesn’t quite reach a satisfying conclusion. The film hits all the plot points viewers expect and does so in a way that makes sense for what we know of each character and the world they inhabit. Rather, the problem lies in the emotional journey that Dani goes on here. It’s perhaps impossible to explain exactly how without spoiling what happens, but suffice to say that while Hereditary made a clear statement about grief that was ruined by a clunky plot, this film has a coherent plot at the expense of clear emotional stakes or final statement of intent.

The truth is, even if you spoil the whole thing, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Aster wants to say with Midsommar. However, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps what Aster intended isn’t quite as important as what each individual viewer takes from what he creates. Just like his first film, there is so much to ponder and enjoy in his filmmaking that maybe it doesn’t matter that the plot never delivers the emotional or intellectual punch the film needs. Some will be fine with that imperfection, the rest of us will have to hope Aster’s next film will finally deliver on all that promise.

Midsommar opens in theaters on July 3.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.


Comments are closed.

Most Recent

Stay Connected