Midsommar – Film Review

American director Ari Aster has followed up quickly to his debut feature Hereditary, a cultural and monetary success, making a profit of almost eight times its budget.  The film performed particularly well in the UK, generating around seven million, after being marketed as the scariest movie since The Exorcist (1973).  Of course, like the seventies classic, Hereditary’s scares were not its greatest attribute, yet the film was cruel, despairing and different to most mainstream horrors.  The film played to big, multiplex audiences and was somehow successful with them, so Aster got bankrolled to try it again.  With Midsommar, the world and Boris Johnson riddled Britain may not connect as tightly.

The film stars Florence Pugh as Dani, who begins the film worrying about her troubled sister whilst worrying about her boyfriend dumping her.  That boyfriend is Christian (Jack Reynor), a grad student struggling to find a thesis subject.  He is planning a trip with his friends to Sweden, to visit fellow student Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) isolate home community during a summer festival that only happens every ninety years, but Christian has not told Dani about the trip.  Due to a traumatic event early on in the film, Christian is forced to bring Dani along and they head to Halsingland, Sweden.  The trip is part academic, with one of Christian’s friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) doing his own Ph.D. on the commune.  It is soon apparent the strange activities of the community, and Dani begins to relive her trauma, whilst the others study the celebration.

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The film opens bleakly, and before the trip to Europe, which is an interesting choice and it says something about what Aster was striving for.  It is common for a genre filmmaker to throw you right into the action, disregard what comes before, and after, to show the thrills of the main event without any baggage.  Aster decides to structure his films slightly different, by having relationship drama first, then a long moody build-up, then the main event, then catastrophic end.  His formula can be criticised because it feels almost like he has a deep set up, just to have an exclamation point resolution: sorrow, intrigue, flowers, MIDSOMMAR!   Aster has described Midsommar as a break – up movie, rather than a cult chiller, and perhaps the director could be running away from his own genre with this statement.  Aster does not have to be so pretentious in his estimations of his own work, sure there’s an impending break – up in there, but that’s not the film.  The film really isn’t anything, it’s a lot of good ideas expertly presented, that paints an intriguing surface.

It would be unfair to say that there is nothing beneath that surface, and in the time the film will be judged on its ideas of death and community, instead of break-ups and trauma.  The relationship between Dani and Christian is clearly flawed, and they are obviously a poor fit together, with the film being unambiguous in this.  Christian is impossibly absent of any actual care for Dani and his abrasiveness has made him a Twitter meme, which is surely not what Aster was aiming for if he wanted the pulling the apart of the two characters to be taken seriously.  That is the strength of the film, and why it is ultimately worthy amongst summer 2019’s abysmal cinema.  Midsommar throws away any attachments to message or plot about two-thirds of the way through, and honestly this was a breath of fresh air.  If you take the film as a total visual experience, which is a culmination of a collection of emotion transgressed through humour, stunning imagery, and shocking sights, you will be satisfied.  There is a sense of the levity to Midsommar and it has funny shots, and lines.  It would be wrong to label this film as a comedy, and it’s there to let the audience know that Aster’s aware it’s a bit bonkers too.  At least I hope he does.  The scariest part of the movie is when Christian effectively steals Josh’s thesis subject, and it’s a shame Aster didn’t explore it more.  And what do the cult believe?  That humans and nature are one presumably, life is a cycle of reliving through the environment around you.  Some subtly finally occurs in the climax, bizarrely and contradictory to what is happening in the frame, where questions are being asked on how far Dani has been enchanted by the cult, and how much control she has of her actions.  One thing that is picked at by Aster is the idea that Dani’s situation, and to a lesser extent Christian’s, is dictated by events out of their control that is epitomised by the peculiar routines and traditions of the community.

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The performances in Midsommar line up with the direction.  Pugh is given the most to do, and apart from some over-zealous screaming she is convincing and brings strong ecstatic energy during a dancing competition scene, which is the highlight of the film.  She manages to be uplifting and curious, amongst the community that is instantly seen to be dangerous, remained worried whilst also being courteous, where the American boys are mocking.  Reynor is playing a one-sided character and only gets to do something different when his back is against the wall towards the end of the film.  Will Poulter is the non-academic snide member of the group, there for the comedy and to push Christian further into egotism.  The rest of the characters are fairly shallow, which ultimately isn’t a total flaw because of Asters show don’t tell eyes.  It’s hard to understand whether he is actually ‘telling’ something or only ‘showing’, however the film has a good balance between giving the actors space to breath and letting them get lost in the impressive cinematography.  And Aster uses the Swedish characters as pawns to hold the shot composition together, as much as they are there to frighten.

Midsommar has already made a million in the UK, showing some steam, but it may still prove to be a flop.  The film will struggle to utilise the word of mouth power that Hereditary got, considering the film has zero attempts to pander to a wide audience.  Aster has this weird higher standard to which critics hold him to, possibly due to his quick success or the way his films are marketed as cultural events, and the remarkability of his movie’s technical achievements are forgotten.  Without him, there would be no salvage in the mainstream from franchise, conglomerate studio shite, and so he deserves a little appreciation.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.  Two and a half hours flew by, and it’s enjoyable whether you have the stomach for it or not.

 

 

 

Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

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However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!