IronWatcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched in the cinema
When the independent horror drama "Hereditary" entered international cinemas last year, the critics agreed that this film was one of the best that the genre had seen for a long time. Spectator reactions, on the other hand, were much more divided, because those who were attracted by promises such as "The best staged horror film since 'Shining'" or "One of the best horror films of all time" to the extent that they hoped for an abundance of jump scares and superficial horror scenarios were in the wrong hands with Ari Aster. The now 33-year-old New Yorker had succeeded in providing a stage again for the subtle psycho terror of the late sixties and early seventies, instead of satisfying the greed for the quick shock that his colleagues James Wan and Co. regularly celebrate in the cinemas. Both forms of horror movies have their reason for existence, but only one of them usually gets stuck in the minds of the audience for a longer period of time. Just like in the case of "Hereditary", where after the visit to the cinema the audience didn't laugh about how effective the movie made you flinch, but how Ari Aster managed to let you feel the darkest abysses of human suffering on your own body. After "Hereditary" now comes "Midsommar", which also reaches Germany with some premature praise. And so much I can betray: If "Hereditary" wasn't spectacular enough for you, you don't have to buy a ticket for the IKEA-look nightmare. To all others Aster confirms his status as the most interesting horror filmmaker of his generation.
Like "Hereditary", "Midsommar" isn't really a horror movie at all; at least not if you assume what the genre recently defined itself more and more often (Jumpscares and violence), directors like Ari Aster, Jordan Peele or Luca Guadagnino blew up as a counterattack. Their vision of the horror on the big screen mainly contains the exploration of psychic exceptional situations, in the course of which the horror slowly makes its way through the emotions into the viewer's consciousness. In the case of "Hereditary" everything begins with a terrible loss, which continuously lets the family in focus slide into insanity and raises the question of whether psychological problems can be inherited.
Interestingly, "Midsommar" also begins with the death of not unimportant persons-and the doll-like symmetrical set design, accompanied by the very slow, slow-motion camera work make the prologue look like a scene from "Hereditary", in the further course sun-flooded, bright pictures determine the screen, without the sun itself ever being shown. Nevertheless, these gloomy opening scenes lay the foundation for the discomfort in the next two and a half hours. They not only reflect the state of mind of the depressive protagonist Dani, while drawings and pictures in her room already announce the impending disaster in Sweden. Moreover, this contrast seems almost cynical, because the (not only) figuratively piled up problems in the dark are dragged on by the clique, especially the couple Dani and Christian, into the holidays, where especially the young woman suddenly realizes more and more clearly that there is a lot of trouble in the relationship between the two.
Where in "Hereditary" all the horror was based on the dysfunctional-dependent family structure, the terror in "Midsommar" develops out of the echoing toxic relationship between the two partners, for whose lack of inner affection Aster makes no secret of right from the start. Early on we see Christian as an egomaniac who shows no (more) interest in his girlfriend, who at the same time does not have the guts to separate from her and only stays with her because the time for a separation is inconvenient. At the same time Dani feels (rightly) misunderstood by her partner and holds back her own needs. A vicious circle begins, which may fall behind in the course of everyday duties, but at the latest during the holiday in Sweden it crystallizes more and more as emotionally harmful.
Also the relations between the remaining friends are suddenly put to a
hard test in the actually relaxed environment of the Midsommar
celebrations; for instance when two of the men suddenly want to write a
dissertation on the same topic and are not able to solve this conflict peacefully. How the interpersonal conflicts in this seclusion accumulate
and develop into sheer hysteria is also not free of biting humor. The characters in "Midsommar" are the epitome of the ironically above all standing hipsters, who - with the exception of Dani - never seemed to have had real problems in life and are now confronted for the first time
with what happens when the question of the holiday resort is suddenly no longer the biggest problem they have to deal with. And since the cast around Jack Reynor, Will Poulter and Co. embodies this type of role in a pleasantly caustic, but not actively despicable way, one also likes to watch the characters successively fall into madness - simply because they somehow deserve it. And Florence Pugh, an increasingly desperate
Dani, is beyond doubt anyway.
As it's already announced, "Midsommar" is also a horror movie of subtle tones, even though Ari Aster - not only because of the 147 minutes running time required for sitting - succeeds again this time in providing the already unpleasant atmosphere (and so that it can really unfold, the two and a half hours just pay off again!) with targeted horror insertions, which in the end clearly place the movie in the genre. Sometimes he has his heads smashed in close-up. Then again, the allegedly traditional rites take on such crazy traits that you don't know what to find more horrifying: What kind of ideas the followers of the Midsommar cult came up with at some point, or that there are still people (at least in this movie world) who cling to these extremely questionable customs until today. Especially because of the only very leisurely tightened tension screw, "Midsommar" also confronts another topic: tradition, respectively the blind trust in it. Because while the Midsommar festivities start with the fact that just a big community throws itself into the same costume for a few days and dances to music and dances according to very special food rules, Aster lets the tone fall so subtly into madness by means of isolated events, that he also turns his movie into a story about the execution of blind obedience. And in this, just as in the case of toxic human relationships, lies the true horror.
With so much content underlaying, the once again unprecedented atmosphere of unease doesn't fall by the wayside, which Ari Aster knows how to stir up in the glistening sunlight just as much as in the shadows of darkness. For some viewers, however, it might be the thrill that the filmmakers only create when it's really relevant for the story itself. There are hardly any classic jumpscares in "Midsommar". This doesn't mean, however, that the movie won't stay in your mind because of the especially impressively staged scenes. Ari Aster and his DoP once again compose fascinating pictures of horror, from irritatingly perfectly composed food tables from a bird's eye view to
alienated mammals. Aster may announce many of them a little too offensively in advance; for example, because every now and then he moves
drawings or things like embroidered tablecloths so prominently into the
picture that one knows exactly that it must be about foreshadowing. Ultimately, however, this is only a side note, because "Midsommar" is so packed with symbolism and subtext that a single glance is not enough to decipher all of this at once.