Andrew’s review published on Letterboxd:
For all the nervous tics that are elicited from the excellent sound design and the alluring production design by the half-way point of the 147-minute “Midsommar” (and you feel each minute of the run-time), something had begun to nag about at me - the film’s own disinterest in the characters it was representing. Even when Midsommar makes good on isolated moments of impressive world-building, the film is punctured by a haziness that befalls the characters that inhabit this world. The haziness of their motivations is at first a question mark that you think the film will answer in time. Why are Christian and Dani together? Why has Pelle invited his friends here for this trip? What do the ambiguous sequences of the commune mean? What is it all for? In Midsommar, though, Aster repeats the elements that made Hereditary so frustrating to me - the film is all projection but fails to provide any depth to that projection. And that would not be an issue if the film didn’t seem to think it was projecting depth. Christian and Dani seemed destroyed by the lack of mutual empathy in their relationship, but Aster seems similarly confounded by his own inability to harness any empathy for the characters within the film.
Despite the effectively suffocating atmosphere sustained by the technical aspects there is little in the narrative to provide anything resembling emotional catharsis. So, Midsommar leaves us to read importance into what little meaning we can grasp. So, of course the unsubtly named Christian will be the antagonist figure for this pagan cult. As the film comes to its close, of course the thing that most affects our already emotionally fraught protagonist is her attachment to a loved one (get it: her last name is “ardor”). By the time the final shot of the film arrives, an increasingly malevolent smile as a short-hand for some sort of vengeance-as-catharsis idea that cannot hold, Midsommar seems to have abandoned any hopes of interrogating its characters’ motivations. Instead it seems content to merely present a series of increasingly inexplicable disasters with disastrously ridiculous responses with ambiguity betraying its own ambivalence.
In very bad horror films the inexplicable behaviours of its characters make the films’ terribleness bearable through their inadvertent hilarity. But Midsommar is not really bad. So the waste of potentially can never be humorous and instead just frustrates. Aster doesn’t seem to care about these people so their looseness as characters betrays his own disinterest in theme beyond toys to play with. The film, seems to pay little attention to the ethical, racial, or cultural implications of the characters’ actions but instead watches them run amok as a sort of game. It wants to moralise in its emotionally vacant characters but not on its cultish and gaslighting ones. Plot instigates character motivations rather than the other way around. And it frustrates because it could be so good. So provocative. The filmmaking is sometimes incredibly proficient, and there are sequences in the film that seem to be part of a good even great film. But, Aster seems more interested in tableaus and set-pieces than people and their issues and the story he wants to tell needs him to care about the people here. For the horror in Midsommar to work in the way the film intends, then the wake of tragedy must feel earned and potent. But, how can an audience feel anything close to tragedy when the creator observes the characters within his story with thinly veiled contempt? There’s no empathy here for anyone.