Mike’s Review: Midsommar (2019)

ATMOSfx! Woo!

🌸🌸🌸 out of 🌸🌸🌸🌸🌸

Directed by Ari Aster

This is the true story, of nine strangers picked to participate in weirdo cult happenings, work together, and have their lives destroyed. Find out what happens, when people stop being polite and start getting real…its a world of real cults! 

Midsommar is just that film.  It’s as dumb as you want it to be, or it’s a hyper-complex rumination on health care, the human condition, and end-of-life decisions. Just maybe, it’s a groovy piece of the highest form of self-indulgence where the editor was afraid to tell the director that the film might have been well-served by leaving 40+ minutes on the cutting room floor.  Midsommar is all of these things and more…

By now you’ve seen the trailer and the film’s technicolor gist has drilled its way into the depths of your consciousness. But for those of you who are uninitiated to this debaucherous cult dissertation, Midsommar, directed by the virtuosic Ari Aster of Hereditary fame, follows four clumsy American anthropology students and the tragically broken girlfriend of one the students, Dani (superbly played by Florence Pugh). Dani and her gaggle of budding folklore enthusiasts set out for rural Sweden to participate in a two-week-long summer solstice soiree. 

Upon arrival at the Ikea-like cult compound, the group, and their host, Peele (Vilhelm Blomgren) are welcomed with open arms — too open.  They’re fed well — too well. And they’re hosts are gracious — too gracious.  Aster presents the audience with the ultimate horror conundrum: at what point do the protagonists say to themselves that the hyper-realized chromatic get-down is flatly too good to be true.  To Aster’s credit, he plays the motives of both the Swedish hippies and the young anthropologists with a flat and compressed believability.  There are few highs and few lows, but most importantly, any incongruence is easily explained away as a freaky cultural misunderstanding. 

As the students slowly glissade into the psychedelic funk of the ceremonies, each of their emotional wants and needs are subtly exposed.  Each has their own psychological perforations and each begins to understand, subconsciously or otherwise, that their impetuous hankerings might just be filled by what the cultists are fashionable serving them.  Midsommar opts to roll out this self-discovery in an overly-long soliloquy where you’re not given a coy glimpse into the inner workings of the cult, but you’re beaten up with every last boring detail.  

In the end, Midsommar’s haughty and slowly-paced beauty is also its undoing.  From the moment that the unwieldy Americans arrive in Sweden it’s abundantly clear that a) this is a cult, b) even though some of the peculiar cult elements are reasonably explained — they’re still peculiar, and c) all cults end up doing is sacrificing people, so we’re really just forced to ingest a two hour and twenty minute preamble to a sacrifice.  Ari Aster’s your new best pal who likes to tell hour-long jokes, but you already know the punchline. 

Make no mistake, Midsommar is beautiful to gaze at, the set designs put Ikea to shame, (most) of the acting is right on point, and there’s a poignant and powerful, but mischievous, transformation of Dani. Sadly, all this self-important beauty takes an excessive amount of time to unfold, coupled with the fact that the audience sees the cult sacrifice train pulling in to the station well in advance of its kooky arrival.  Midsommar’s got a lot to like, but as my pal, Susan, adroitly noted it’s really just “…a bad dress made of nice fabric.”

Midsommar is rated R (surprisingly not NC17) and showing in theaters everywhere. 

Review by Mike Campbell

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