2010s, 3/4, Ari Aster, Horror, Review

Midsommar

Image result for midsommar poster banner

I don’t like really comparing films, but I think it’s unavoidable to do that between Midsommar and Ari Aster’s first film, Hereditary. Not only are they stylistically very similar, but they deal with very similar subjects (cults) and end on very, very similar notes. I think Aster’s first film is the better of the two, though. It’s not because it came first, but it’s because the first film is more focused and clear headed about its narrative.

Dani and Christian are on the verge of breaking up when Dani’s sister kills herself and their parents. Suddenly, the relationship that has been on autopilot for a while is going to keep going for a while longer. Neither is happy with the other, but they stay with it out of inertia’s sake. When Christian gets invited to go to Sweden to accompany his classmate Josh on a research trip to see a unique midsummer festival, Christian halfheartedly invites Dani along, expecting her to decline. But, she doesn’t. She goes out of the inertia and in order to get away from her depressing life, spent all day in bed and pondering the deaths of her family.

This early part of the film is easily the best. The prologue, up to the deaths, is fantastic filmmaking and could almost stand alone as its own short film. The lead up to the trip is also quite good, with delicate balances in performances that tell clearly, in a very realistic way, the uncomfortableness around the relationship not just between the two directly involved but the friend circle as well.

It’s once they get to Sweden that things unravel a bit. You see, Aster has said that he didn’t care about the cult aspects of the film, preferring to think of it as a metaphor for breaking up. I think the metaphor works, but he gets really lost in the weeds of the cult and the particulars of the ceremonies at the nine day festival. For a solid half hour or so, we get almost nothing but details of the cult, both visually and through dialogue. It’s interesting, but not interesting enough to carry the film as a whole.

And the cult is into some weird stuff. The two elders throw themselves off a cliff at the start. There’s obvious drug consumption in the form of drinks and the inhaling of smoke. There’s a deformed and inbred person of supposed clarity that writes their sacred books in a series of runes with very specific rules (that we get told). There’s a ritualized sexual process where Christian gets hoped up on stuff and impregnates one of the Swedish girls (because of his astrological sign), surrounded by a dozen naked women who chant, sing, and push him a bit, physically that is. And people start going missing.

The relationship between text and subtext can be a tricky one. In the pursuit of subtext, an artist could sacrifice some elements of the text in the process. The logic of the rest of the outsiders staying at the festival as people start disappearing in mysterious circumstances gets thin, perhaps a bit too thin at times, but they all need to stay so that Dani can go through her breakup process. In a way, she casts off first the strangers that arrived with them at the festival, then the friends she likes the least, then the ones she likes the most (which isn’t very much) until finally she literally sends Christian to meet his end.

I think the subtext of this film gets lost for a while, but when it comes back, it’s at the movie’s textual height of horror. As a quick side note: I say horror not because the film is actually scary (it’s more disturbing than anything else) but because the characters are meeting horror. We may not share the emotion, but we can understand the emotion running through them.

The plot resolution (fine…SPOILERS for both this and Hereditary since they’re both so new) comes when Dani, having been crowned May Queen (in a process that may or may not have been rigged) decides that Christian is going to be the ninth of nine sacrifices to the heathen gods of the festival. He gets sewn up into a bear carcass, drugged out, placed in a sacred hut with the other eight, and set on fire. As Dani watches the flames go up, she smiles for the first time in at least half an hour of movie time. She’s been through hell, the metaphor of her breakup, finding surprising support at the cult, and she embraces it as the flames take her crappy boyfriend up. It’s pretty close to the ending of Hereditary when Peter finds the satanic cult in his treehouse and implicitly decides to lead them.

Spoilers over.

I actually quite liked the film, though it does feel like a step down from Aster’s first film. The idea of the thirty minute longer director’s cut, though, confuses me. Maybe it’s filled with more relationship stuff that deepens the characters more, but I imagine that it’s actually more cult stuff than anything else. I’ll check it out some day and see for myself, but I just can’t imagine that this movie (which is already overlong) would benefit from another thirty minutes.

Still, I got into it for enough of the film, and I really like what Dani goes through, even if it does get lost a bit for a time.

Rating: 3/4

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s