‘Midsommar’ is deeply unsettling, but is that enough?

Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar (2019)

Directed by Ari Aster

Some horrifying folks inhabit the world of “Midsommar,” writer/director Ari Aster’s folk horror follow-up to his terrifying 2018 debut “Hereditary.” In the film, Florence Pugh plays Dani, a young woman who experiences a terrible tragedy that prevents her on-the-fence boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) from calling it quits, like he had intended. Instead, Christian reluctantly invites Dani along on a weeks-long guys trip he and his friends (Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper) have planned. They’re going to Sweden in order to take in a midsummer festival in the commune of their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), but when they arrive they’ll see that some experiences are better left unexperienced.

Midsommar (2019)

Set in the land of the midnight sun, “Midsommar” exists without the predictable nighttime frights of a traditional horror movie. Its near-constant daylight is as disorienting to the audience as it is to the characters, and it added to the sinking feeling I felt in my gut for the film’s entire second half. But whereas “Hereditary” took that feeling of dread and cultivated genuine horror out of it, leaving me scared to return home alone that night, “Midsommar” failed to capitalize on the grief I felt. Instead, it becomes less a horror movie than a murder-y “Dinner for Schmucks.” It is certainly disturbing, unsettling, creepy, and gross, but I wouldn’t call it scary. After “Hereditary,” I spent the next few days looking over my shoulder and praying not to hear the lip-smacking sound that became the precursor to all of its most terrifying scenes. After “Midsommar,” I got a restful night’s sleep.

Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019)

Despite the fact that it didn’t leave me shaking in my seat, “Midsommar” is full of talent. Pawel Pogorzelski’s mind-bending cinematography, the editing department’s brilliant work, some haunting music from British musician The Haxan Cloak (naturally), and Aster’s script and direction combine to make “Midsommar” an artistic achievement. And then there’s the cast led by the 23-year-old Pugh, who broke onto the scene with 2016’s “Lady Macbeth” but really impressed me in the AMC mini-series “The Little Drummer Girl” late last year. In “Midsommar,” Pugh is excellent from her first scene to her last. She’s able to cry without it seeming forced, which happens to be a very important quality for this role. I was less enthralled by her costar Reynor, but Poulter, Harper, and Blomgren were pretty great. Aster’s script is full of humor, most of it addressing the characters’ confusion or the absurdity of this Swedish commune’s customs. Poulter gets the lion’s share of the comedic lines, which makes sense if you have seen his past work.

William Jackson Harper in Midsommar (2019)

More times than I can count, “Midsommar” made me sit up and pay attention with a “WTF” look plastered on my face. It was daring the audience to question whether it would really go that far…but it always followed through with whatever crazy, creepy thing it was threatening. But I felt more shocked than frightened, and after it was all over I left with a heart rate still within a healthy range. From the writer/director of 2018’s most horrifying movie, I was hoping for a little more pants-peeing.


2 thoughts on “‘Midsommar’ is deeply unsettling, but is that enough?

  1. I wasn’t neither shocked nor frightened by the movie, but I did admire its craft. Couple that with solid performances (especially Pugh’s), the film is entertaining. In some ways–this may sound crazy–I think it is better than “Hereditary.” I feel there is more thought and intention behind plot developments. The understated horror is there all the time. Although “Hereditary” reaches more emotional heights, “Midsommar” feels tighter, more in control of what kind of horror it wants the viewers to experience. (I like both movies.)

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