With the release of Hereditary in 2018, writer/director Ari Aster became the new “it” thing in horror movies, with aficionados and critics alike praising his slow-build style. So you could say that expectation levels are high for his follow-up film, Midsommar, which deals with cults, organizations that are already creepy in real life.
Death permeates the film from the start, with Dani (Florence Pugh) dealing with a family tragedy. Her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), along with friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) have made plans to travel to Sweden for Pelle’s family’s annual summer festival. Dani, looking for a way to overcome her grief, decides to come along at the last minute.
Once they arrive, the vibe at the festival is both carefree and rigid. Drugs flow freely, but ceremonies and dinners adhere to a strict protocol, with deference to the elders of the clan. The main quartet is willing to go along to get along, but when a shocking event takes place, they each take a different mindset to the festival and the customs it contains.
Much like Hereditary, it takes a long time for anything of consequence to happen. Unlike the previous film, though, there is nothing all that scary about Midsommar. To be sure, there are multiple scenes that are disturbing, with some stomach-churning gore. But Aster seems more interested in showing supremely odd ceremonies, including a laugh-out-loud sex scene, than in building any kind of tension. The fates of various characters should be important to the story, but they’re underplayed and telegraphed to a degree that is very curious.
On the plus side, the film, thanks to cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and costume designer Andrea Flesch, is beautiful. They both take advantage of the mostly outdoor locations, showcasing flowers and other elements of nature. The juxtaposition of the beauty and the horrors of the film is noteworthy, even if the story doesn’t ultimately live up to the hype.
Each of the main group of actors is an up-and-comer who shows why he or she is so in demand these days. Pugh squeezes the most out of her role, thanks to Dani having the most interesting backstory. Reynor, Harper, and Poulter do well, although each of them is one-note to a degree.
Midsommar is not a horror film in the typical sense, and even the troubling scenes it does contain would not be considered scary by any experienced moviegoer. It’s difficult to imagine it satisfying true horror fans, but if you’re interested in witnessing some ultra-strange cult rituals, it more than fits that bill.