Ari Aster’s Swedish folk horror Midsommar (2019) combines the existential terror of a trip to IKEA with the crushing tedium of a trip to IKEA
In following up on “Hereditary”, Ari Aster’s sophomore effort “Midsommer” was almost predestined to become the latest yardstick by which that most rarefied strata of cinephiles would embrace to prove their bona fides. A pity, then that he has delivered a glacial two-and-a-half-hour Instagram filter with ill-founded pretentions of psychological profundity.
A group of friends travel to Sweden to attend a festival which only happens every ninety years but as the week-long celebration continues, it becomes clear that they have placed themselves in the hands of a sinister pagan cult.
There’s no denying Aster is a filmmaker of tremendous artistry and skills, but it would appear that pacing and character may not be among them. There’s none of the creeping accretion of dread which accumulated around Toni Collette’s towering performance in “Hereditary” that, while ultimately frittered away in the last ten minutes, at least gave the film a sense of gravity and menace. Instead, we’re offered a toothless folk horror that isn’t scary or perhaps an absurdist comedy – that isn’t funny.
Aster brings plenty of striking imagery to the screen and, like “Hereditary”, provides one standout shocking moment of gruesome horror but it’s in service of a story which manages to be both illogical yet predictable. Having cooked up a veritable smorgasbord of homages to classic horrors of the seventies, mainly “The Wicker Man”, with a garnish of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Aster then seasons it with paper-thin characters and cartoonishly obvious ‘villains’. As good as Florence Pugh is – and she is very, very good here – there just isn’t anything near the material Collette was provided for her to sink her teeth into. Her character’s back story isn’t allowed to unfold gradually over the course of the film, because Aster has already strapped the hose to our faces and forced us to inhale it in the rambling prologue to the film proper.
It’s followed by a picturesque, archly bizarre field trip in which we’re expected to accept the phenomenal naivety of each one of these graduate students, despite the presence of anthropologists and psychologists amongst their number, as they make catastrophically bad decisions and ignore huge red flag incidents time and again, especially once their friends start disappearing. By the time we reach the obnoxiously unsurprising finale, the horrible pacing has robbed the film of any kind of emotional impact and all but anaesthetised any feeling you may have for the remaining characters. As it nears its climax and the film (and Jack Reynor) are ready to bare (bear?) all, any sense of terror has been lost and scenes which are meant to chill just seem childish and laugh-out-loud silly.
If this is elevated horror, I think I’ll take the stairs.