After Hereditary stood out to me as my favorite movie of last year, I was excited to see what director Ari Aster would do with his second feature film. I saw that follow up, Midsommer, on Friday and have spent a lot of this weekend thinking about it and thinking about how to review it. The conclusion I’ve come to is I think this film, and specifically Aster’s direction, might be brilliant, but I also think that I don’t like it very much.
Midsommer follows a young couple, Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), whose relationship is on the brink collapse. After a tragedy keeps them together, they go on a trip with friends to a festival in rural Sweden. They soon realize they are in the midst of a cult performing increasingly strange rituals.
If we can learn anything about Aster from his first two films it is that he has an incredible understanding of how to direct a movie. The way he sets up shots, the way he moves the camera, the way he navigates through a story, is all so unique compared to what we see in a lot of movies. I also love how he references other films, not just through a line of dialogue or a poster hanging in a room, but by using actual shots reminiscent of classic movies. Much of Midsommer, in both some shots and the plot, is clearly influenced by 1973’s The Wicker Man while there are a couple more shots that are taken right out of The Shining. It’s fascinating to watch.
Another thing that’s clear from Aster’s work is his ability to direct actors. Toni Collette had one of the best performances of last year in Hereditary and Florence Pugh turns in the best performance I’ve seen so far this year in this one. She’s asked to go through pretty much every range of emotions possible and does a great job with each one. The other performances are really good too, but Pugh is definitely the standout here.
As I said before, clearly the technical aspects of this film are spot on, but I really didn’t enjoy watching it. Like Hereditary, this is definitely a slow burn and takes its time from beginning to end. It is around 2 hours and 20 minutes long and you definitely feel it. Where Hereditary kept me interested in the family drama dynamic and incredible building of suspense, Midsommer doesn’t really have any of that. While the story and mystery surrounding the cult is relatively intriguing, I was never completely hooked by it to keep me going for the whole 140 minutes. There’s not a whole lot of suspense built outside of the mystery elements. There are some scenes that are brutal and horrifying, but nothing stood out as downright scary. Some scenes are definitely weird and bizarre and there is a scene or two where I was downright questioning what I was even watching. I imagine most audiences will be able to clearly define if they are on board and roll with it or be a little taken out of the movie by it. I fell in the latter camp.
There are also clearly themes and messages Aster is trying to portray here. He clearly is fascinated by both grief and relationships and the roles they can play with each other. However, for the most part, most of these themes went right over my head with this one. I’m not really sure what the movie is trying to say, which may or may not be more on me than it is the movie.
If you are interested in truly great filmmaking, you will get a lot out of Midsommer. Other than that, I would struggle to recommend it to most people. If you like Hereditary, you MIGHT like this one. If you didn’t enjoy Hereditary, I can’t imagine you getting on board with this. It’s an incredibly hard film for me to rate. On one hand, it is brilliantly directed and filmed, plus it has really stuck with me since I watched it, which is usually a sign of a great film. On the other hand, I really didn’t enjoy watching it, and while I probably should see it again, I have no interest in actually doing so.
Depending on how this film sits with me and if I ever go back to it, this score might go up. But for now, I’m charging Midsommer with a Misdemeanor.
Ratings from low to high: Felony, Misdemeanor, 10-4, Positive ROP, Golden Donut