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Film Review: Midsommar

11 July 19 words: Gemma Finch

Ari Aster's follow-up to 2018's Hereditary has caused a bit of a stir since its release. Here's what we thought of it...

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren

Running time: 147 mins

Midsommar is director Ari Aster’s next film after last years highly praised Hereditary, which featured as one of LeftLion’s best films of 2018. Dani’s (Florence Pugh) relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is already fractured when she decides to join him and his friends on a month and a half long trip to rural Sweden. Studying for his anthropology PhD and in need of a research idea for his thesis, Christian and his friends Mark (Will Poulter, who shows us his comic talent) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are invited by their Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) who grew up in the the commune they will be spending their time at, called the Hårga community. Pelle tells them they will not want to miss the festival about to take place there, and he is particularly glad that Dani, who is grieving, is now joining them.
On arrival, the group are greeted by blue skies, green rolling hills, a penchant for drugs, and people dressed in modest white linen. Recorder music played by women fills the air of what is, on the surface, paradise. With the 1973 thematically similar horror film classic The Wicker Man in mind, I was hopeful the film would craft a similar sense of dread.
The film becomes an entanglement of bizarre imagery and unexplained and unchallenged events
Horror fans know that films of the genre do not always have to take place in the dark, and Midsommar is as sun-drenched as it gets. With nothing glimpsed, every bizarre detail and custom of the commune is starkly visible, and there are no obscuring shadows present to cause you to question or shy away from the horrors presented to you. Certain objects in some scenes pulsate and warp, a stylistic flourish for a film that is as exposed as a raw nerve - but this rawness does not cause inflammation. However stark the imagery, imagery alone does not guarantee a good horror film. The stakes in Midsommar remain consistent, and with a nearly two and a half hour run time, the film meanders along without an aim. A sense of dread and tension do not join you for the trip. 
Aster has done a good job creating a commune with an unsettling nature and disturbing tendencies, but it is soon apparent that beyond showing off this creepy commune creation, there is no aim to what we are seeing. The human drama which is so well-crafted in the beginning of the film disintegrates into irrelevancy, and any poignancy that could have resulted in honing it is lost. A perverse pleasure the film gives us is the relationship between the emotionally terrorised but brave Dani, and her passive aggressive, emotionally uninvested boyfriend Christian, but this part of the story does not satisfactorily entwine itself with the events in Sweden.
The film becomes an entanglement of bizarre imagery and unexplained and unchallenged events. Some events are even unwittingly amusing rather than terrifying, and provide a commentary on the naivety of American tourists. There is a sole moment of gory horror that is effective however, much like in Hereditary, which also haunted the audience with a particularly poignant scene of gore. Nevertheless, towards the end of Midsommar, characters who were once critical of their surroundings stop reacting reasonably to the alarming events unfolding around them, and we lose our link to finding any answers to what we were seeing. Midsommar is a daydream, featuring strong performances and an eye for what is superficially scary, but ultimately lacks a narrative drive. 

Did you know? Ari Aster's visual references for his Scandinavian folk horror are Black Narcissus (1947), Hard to Be a God (2013), Macbeth (1971), and Tess (1979)

Midsommar is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 18 July

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