Midsommar ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Three weeks ago, I was seated at the first unveiling of Midsommar. Spiked punch was placed at each seat. The cast and Ari Aster were there. And the air was filled with exclusivity about who got an invite. But you see, I was set to get married that week and then we were set to go explore the midnight sun in Norway's landscape right after. And so when Ari Aster's film began with a toxic relationship, prolonged by a murder suicide of the girl's sister and parents, and a cheery exclamation of going to Sweden, I felt stupid for falling prey to the Film Twitter dance of who got an invite to this film. I had so much anxiety about the upcoming wedding that after 20 minutes I said, no, this film can wait. I don't need a failed relationship coupled with nasty things happening in Scandinavia right now, but surely I'll be ready for that whence I return from having completed my own trip and sealing our own vows.

Well here's the truly nauseous thing about Aster's Midsommar: the point in which I left, soon after a slow camera push through a house full of dead bodies and pummeling mood music, wasn't even necessary for the film. At all. Aster is a grief fetishist. He thinks that by having a moment of immense grief in his film it elevates his horror and excuses the excessive run time. But it just adds to the excess. And Midsommar is so extremely excessive. Not only can the girl (Florence Pugh) not just be full of anxiety, she has to have a family that was murdered by her sister. Not only can the remote Swedish village they visit be a pagan community but it has to have countless red herrings of lore that are shown but never explored just to elongate the run time and dress up the proceedings to add evidence of how so fucked up everything is without providing any stakes or rationale within the community for their belief system. In my review of Hereditary, I brought up Rosemary's Baby and how we knew of the Satanist cult next door and how we knew what they wanted and that's what made the film scary. You can, of course, have a horror film that leaves out the why and be terrifying (see The Strangers, Under the Skin, etc.) but to do that you can’t add 50 details of world construct like Aster does which begs why questions because everything is bloated and not streamlined and trimmed down to a singular terror.

Aster fills his films with so much extra that he has no time to explore the why of anything happening. And he uses his excessive structure to keep everyone at a distance at what is happening, more content to zoom in on smashed faces like it's his kink than he is interested in exploring the layers of the world he creates. His terror is very well directed because he has a great sense of creating mood, using production design, cinematography, and music. Aster is a very good director. But he is a downright terrible screenwriter. So let's see here, for the pagan commune we have a bear in a cage, an inbred and deformed oracle who paints pages in a book that they store in an angular wooden chapel and say they hold great meaning but when they self-sacrifice there is no explanation of what their reward is within this religion in which everything was constructed simply so Aster could claim Fucked Up points without earning a damn one of them.

As for the relationship angle? None of that is earned either. At the screening I had left before my wedding, Aster gleefully told the crowd that he wrote this film after a breakup, to which everyone laughed and sighed, oh this is going to be so excruciating!! But Midsommar does not feel like a film in which anyone has experienced love and lost it. That anyone had placed trust and had it manipulated. No, Aster wants more points for his horror coming from a real place. I do not know his relationship history, but I do know what is on screen, if it comes from a breakup, does not come from any lengthy relationship full of twists and turns and love and hate and great chemistry turned toxic. What's on the screen is the ramblings of a friend who says you need to take them out to get shitfaced because they had another relationship end after six months. When Dani (Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) argue about whether they've been together for 3.5 years or 4 years, it feels like a number pulled out of Aster's body bag. This couple does not spend any meaningful time together during the film, nor do they appear to have any connection at all. I know that they're pulling toward the end of a relationship, but any meaningful relationship, no matter how awful it gets at the end, still has remnants of once being a team, of awareness of how much they hurt the other, sadness of how everything has played out. Aster has them say the line "4 years" without doing any of the work to show it. So when the final moments happen and you're supposed to shudder at what's become of their relationship, like everything else in this empty construction, there's nothing to be felt other than Aster's glee in making his 145-minute grief porn (with a subplot of dueling theses tossed in for, again, surface-level character exposition).

There are fantastic moments in Midsommar that would make for a great short film all on their own: the drugged sex scene with an orgasmic siren's song (and helpful push to finish), the maypole dance in which a common language is learned, and many of the dinners and walkabouts of the grounds (though the use of the bear is extremely cheap, the line "so are we just going to not talk about the bear?" at the end of the commune introduction was very well delivered, though it again revealed itself to be another addition that's just makeup on a corpse). And I will give credit to Aster, again, for his ability to weave all of the cinematic elements together—because the set design, the sound design, the costume design, all are impeccable—but his storytelling is abysmal. And perhaps worse than countless red herrings, Aster believes that by presenting his thesis beforehand, this was written from loss of a loved one (Hereditary), this was written after a breakup (Midsommar), he has no lifting to do to earn that, just fucked up points to receive back.

Nothing more fittingly describes this film than the blobs of paint in the book that's supposed to reveal lore, sitting within the empty place of worship.

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