“Midsommar” is a spiritual successor to Ari Aster’s last film, “Hereditary” in almost every way: it’s weird, it’s not scary, and it doesn’t pull punches with graphic content.
The film, directed by Ari Aster, is a psychological thriller/horror film set primarily in a small Swedish commune. It stars Florence Pugh as Dani Ardor, a psychology student estranged from her sister, and Jack Reynor as Christian Huges, her boyfriend and graduate student in anthropology. The relationship is on the rocks when Dani receives the news that her sister committed suicide by way of car fumes and took their parents with her. Some time passes from winter to summer and Christian and his friends Mark and Josh are invited by their mutual friend and classmate Pelle to come home to his village for a 9-day festival though the actual contents and events of the festival are kept secret by Pelle. After some fighting between the couple, Dani, at the behest of Christian’s friends, is invited to come along on the trip. Once they arrive, things begin to quickly unravel and the local customs of the Harga become a little too much to handle for the group of Americans.
The film is major blockbuster release that drones on. It is much like a trainwreck: you pretty much know what’s happening, but you can’t seem to look away. Ari Aster’s vision for this film and “Hereditary” seem to be “Let’s make the weirdest film possible and still call it a film.” The primary reason for this criticism has to be that the film’s different events feel like jagged puzzle pieces smashed together in a hopeless effort to make a concrete product. The American characters go from scene to scene constantly questioning about the strange customs of the Harga instead of putting the clues together themselves. It is truly baffling that three of the main characters are anthropology students and none of them seem to figure out the dark secrets that the Harga hold. It isn’t clear if this was an intentional move to demonstrate the incredibly ethnocentric view of Western anthropology (spoiler alert: it isn’t) or just an oversight (spoiler alert: it was), but either way, it simply doesn’t work.
The characters are mostly bland. Florence Pugh’s character has some development over the film but it’s quite a shoehorn from where she started. In the village, she learns that all the women do the cooking and cleaning and childrearing, i.e. the traditional roles of women in Western society and she, who is being constantly gaslighted by her boyfriend vibes with this. In fact, she later integrates into many of the activities of the Harga with seemingly no cognitive dissonance at all. This development is one of the hallmarks of the film and it’s actually one of the positive aspects in this critic’s opinion along with the film’s attention to foreshadowing details.
Ultimately, there isn’t much to look at in “Midsommar” and it’s surprisingly worth a watch just to say you did. Audience be warned: there are several graphic scenes with full frontal nudity and sexual activity, a little more than most films of the time. “Midommar” receives a D-rating.