Movies

Midsommar

{Movie Review} Midsommar….Shrug

As Signal Horizon sat down to watch the premiere of Midsommar at the fantastic Screenland Armour, we all brought with us a different set of expectations.  Some writers (Tracy Palmer and Kati Littleton) had read every spoiler they could get their hands on.  Some of us (Me) avoided everything other than the initial trailer.   Our expectations were mixed and if the after-movie discussion was an indication so were our opinions of the film.

Midsommar

Midsommar wasn’t really meant for me. Having allowed that idea to percolate in my brain now for a couple of days I am more convinced of that.  There are lots of reasons why but probably the largest is that I just didn’t feel cool enough to get it.  I was eager to engage with the folk horror tropes the trailer alluded to and while elements of The Wicker Man are present I think the movie is a closer cousin to Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno or perhaps even Benson and Moorehead’s The Endless.  The latter I loved and the former I hated.  That is my biggest problem with Midsommar.  I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it.  It somehow occupies this middle space in my own preferences.  For me, it is a cinematic shrug and in that capacity maybe I was a little disappointed.  

The folk horror elements of the plot are certainly present.  Our main character Dani suffers a family tragedy that essentially locks her boyfriend, Christian, into a relationship his friends have convinced him is going nowhere.  Mostly out of misguided chivalry or perhaps out of cowardice he trudges on when Dani despite his feelings being mixed. When Dani finds out he is going to Sweden with those same friends to study a pagan community to which one of the friends comes from, she is hurt by his callousness.  Christian’s solution to this potential problem is to encourage Dani to come along.  Florence Pugh, plays the sad, eager to please, Dani with such earnest melancholy we can’t help but feel the same way Christian does about her.  She is sad and lonely and while we feel empathy for her situation she is ultimately exhausting.  Anyone that has ever suffered from mental illness or loved those that have will find a lot of truth in the movie’s portrayal of mental illness.

The first thirty minutes feel honest and truthful and are really the highlight of the film.  When the group of friends land in Sweden and get introduced to the Midsommar worshiping pagan cult, things begin to lose steam for me.  The rest of the movie moves with a predictable fashion through different bizarre and often gruesome rituals until the end where things end in the same pretty predictable fashion.  While I am keeping this review as spoiler free Aster does not do the same.  In fact, he offers a tapestry at the beginning of the film that might as well have been a storyboard he used to pitch the movie to A24.  

That is not to say the predictability of the movie ruins any of the elements of the film for me.  The time we spend in Sweden highlights the best visual elements of this movie.  If the first thirty minutes of the movie is an accurate portrayal of mental illness the middle sixty minutes are straight-up comedy (with a notable fifteen-minute foray into horror).  Aster has gone on record with the indication that his next film will not be a horror movie.  My guess, it will be a comedy because the jokes in this movie come with an ease and humor that feels honest.  We know this circle of friends.  We have probably behaved like this group from time to time and while it may be shameful we laugh because it feels like something that might have happened to us.  Will Poulter is particularly excellent with his own fraty version of douche baggery.  The final fifteen minutes are bizarre and I don’t honestly know how to feel about it.  In some ways, I actually think the end is quite uplifting which also complicates my general reading of this film as a horror movie.  In short, I do not think this movie is a horror movie, while at the same time I think the only people who will probably love this movie are horror movie fans.  It’s one more way this movie splits the middle.  

Midsommar

Midsommar advertises itself as folk horror.  It’s one of the reasons why I was so attracted to this movie, to begin with.  One of the elements of folk horror that has always spoken to me is the innate sense of the familiar coupled with elements of an ancient, pagan, unfamiliar.  In short, folk horror often sets up camp in the uncanny valley.  None of that familiarity exists in Midsommar.  It’s all weird all the time.  In that way, the film reminds me more of a cult film than a folk horror vehicle.  Midsommar could very easily exist in the same world that The Endless takes place in.  Moreover, Aster seems to have a disdain for the type of cultural tourism academia breeds and the bulk of the time we spend with William Jackson Harper’s character only highlights these issues.  There is not a single character we are really rooting for and when things take a turn for our group (as they also do for the academically liberal group in The Green Inferno) we don’t really care.  It takes some of the sting of the horror away from the film.  While The Green Inferno fails to build a credible culture and is way more interested in showing gore and grossing us out, Aster is more interested in creating a gorgeous place that makes an aesthetically appealing movie.  Regardless of how the movie may speak to you individually, I think most would agree the movie looks fantastic.  

I think Aster is making a lot of fascinating arguments with this film.  We will be deciphering different ideas for weeks to come. There are a number of folks who the movie spoke to in a really personal way including folks who work here at Signal Horizon.  That is why I say It wasn’t for me.  Midsommar speaks to the intersection of a lot of different concepts and I just don’t think I currently reside at the center of any of them.  It’s worth exploring and I might even call it a must-see (especially if it were 30 minutes shorter).  Midsommar is middling and that may be exactly what it is going for.  

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