Midsommar ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Based on what I've seen, I really dislike watching Ari Aster films because they epitomize everything I find dull, unoriginal and pretentious about the A24 format, and yet he's admittedly very good in terms of content so they don't even give me the satisfaction of being able to dismiss them as bad. It's like a new and improved mutant strain of bacteria that's even harder to shake. It's a pure split reaction between being bored out of my goddamned mind for two hours but still finding the subject matter interesting and thoughtful.

When I say these films are boring, I don't even feel like that's a criticism; it's their whole cinematic approach: they're shot as deliberately sterile, aesthetically neutral depictions of mundane reality, with long, droney spans of inactivity where nothing happens, punctuated by banal mumblecore dialogue, obnoxiously repetitive musical refrains, and obligatory spasms of graphic violence.....all of this perfectly intentional in order to unnerve and unsettle the viewer with the horrors of monotony and everyday life. They're supposed to be boring. If it were less slow and uneventful, then the approach would be considered less effective in its aims. This style might have been innovative and wild when it was first invented (such as Herzog's existential slow-burners), but they've been making these things for almost 20 years now (the American J-horror boom was when this kind of "elevator horror" first started getting popular), and they never seem to change, and, now that they're the standard form of popular horror, you have to wonder if the movies really necessitate this style to tell their stories or if it's just an easy marketing cliche and excuse to not have to do the work of actually creating an original or unique horror plot, premise, fillmmaking style, or any dialogue.

Like most people, I like horror because it can be creative, outre and exciting, but I'm not exactly scared or thrilled by something I've seen a million times before. Aster basically admitted this flaw in interviews by saying that the audiences will know what happens in the film from the beginning. How fun. Hereditary is just your standard demonic curse/Rosemary's Baby horror (complete with the Rosemary's Baby twist) with a drama slapped on top of it. Midsommar is just paganism/Wicker Man horror (complete with the Wicker Man twist) with a drama slapped on top of it. So this is how we're making horror films now? Just remake a classic horror flick so that people will see it and then just put a different story on top of it? Doesn't that beg the question as to why Aster needs to make a horror film in the first place, if he's just going to pilfer other films' ideas and the non-horror element is the more interesting and original part of it it? It's just using horror for your own ends and then not contributing any innovations back to the genre. It feels like an extremely cynical marketing ploy to brand generic pulp as arthouse in order dupe audiences into thinking they're watching something really deep instead of something as generic as the 80's slashers, which at least were more honest about being cliche and schlocky entertainment.

That all said, I think Midsommar is a decent film. Like Hereditary, the thematic considerations and messages are interesting and insightful. The cult-as-surrogate family throughline was good and the ending is a great conceptual moral (burning away your emotional baggage and starting anew). On an emotional level, it does feel like a breakup and the dissolution of a relationship. But this is kind of my point, that even though the substance was all good, it's completely undone by terrible revenge horror plotting—the ending isn't nearly as triumphant and emotionally resonating as it should have been, for two specific reasons. One is the obvious fact that Dani is supposedly leaving a dysfunctional relationship and then joining an even more dysfunctional sadistic cult. The other is that in no way does Christian deserve to get burned alive. As it was presented, I didn't even see what he was supposed to have done wrong—he's constantly being supportive of his girlfriend's mental breakdowns and embarrassing freakouts, he takes her on his academic trip even though he doesn't want to, he's completely put off by the flower girl's overt attempts to sleep with him, and he only does the sex ritual thing after being drugged and given the weirding way by the cult members. Oh, but he considers breaking up with her (but doesn't do it). And he kind of forgets her birthday (he didn't know what day it was due to the extra-long day of the midnight sun, perfectly reasonable). Aren't these just typical normie relationship issues? I agree that cribbing your friend's Ph.D research isn't cool but like, is that really a crime worthy of immolation? Whatever you do, don't you mess with a grad student.

I highly prefer the Nick Cage Wicker Man because at least that graced us with such memorable moments as Cage angrily screaming "BEEEEEEES!!!" whilst being repeatedly stung by bees and also him punching out a lady on a hill while wearing a bear suit. Also the Teletubbies pasture village look didn't quite do it for me, not exactly scary. But in the end, I will bestow a "gentleman's 3 stars" on this film out of respect for how mostly well-done and competent it is, despite my lack of enjoyment.

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