Ari Aster is the writer director of this mind bending and disturbing chiller that leaves you with just as many questions as answers. A group of friends are taken to an ancient Pagan festival in Sweden. One of the group, Dani, is recovering from a traumatic event, and is relying on her boyfriend Christian to help her through it, although he seems on the verge of breaking up with her. As the group are introduced to the commune preparing for their festival, events become more and more terrifying till the horrific truth is revealed, kind of.
Florence Pugh and pound shop Chris Pratt Jack Reynor play the couple thrown into the nightmare, with great conviction, and Will Poulter is also on hand to offer some comedic relief, briefly. There probably isn’t a reviewer out there that won’t automatically throw The Wicker Man up as a reference point, and honestly, I don’t blame them. And I mean the original film, not the Nick Cage one, although there are still similarities there too. However, it’s not a complete rip off, but without giving too much away, if you have seen The Wicker Man, you will pretty much know how things are going to work out. That is perhaps the biggest failing of the whole production.
You see Midsommar hits a lot of the cues of The Wicker Man, including the music, the strange supporting cast, the use of pagan imagery, although Midsommer does lean more heavily towards runes, and the casting of them. As the second act unfolds, the audience seems to be more aware of the danger than the cast, and that leads to many unsettling scenes. There’s not much in the way of Blumhouse scares, thankfully, so no demons jump scaring you when the music dies down, instead you get a more slow burning feeling of dread and tension, and as you are dragged to the final scenes, Aster cranks the visceral horror up a notch, as if trying to tip the audience into simply turning away. And there are moments when that’s what you want to do. The horror is all very real, and incredibly brutal, this is not a CGI splatter fest, but when the nastiness occurs, it’s like watching a car crash.
Script-wise, I feel there could have been a little more time devoted to what was actually happening. Maybe I was slow on the up take, but the actual motivations of the commune were a little lost on me, and I would have liked a little more back story as to what all their actual goals were. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but I am sure that Aster probably had it all figured out in his head as he was shooting this, but there are scenes here that need a little clarification as to why they were doing this. With my point of reference quite clearly The Wicker Man, I kept wondering about crop failures, but in Sweden that makes no sense, and the ceremony seems to only take place every 90 years, but why? A quick Google search reveals that there is no real counterpart in Sweden to this kind of thing taking place, so thankfully it’s all in Aster’s imagination. It does make me wonder why he picked Sweden then? Perhaps setting it in the UK would invoke even more similarities with The Wicker Man that he might have been trying, at least on some level, to avoid.
Midsommer is an exhausting film to get through. There is an incredible feeling of dread and claustrophobia from the very moment the film opens, and the horror escalates so much, that you get the feeling Aster was writing the thing and wondering just how far he could push the great cinema going public before they have enough. Often things become so bizarre, it drifts slightly into the absurd, and the audience I watched it with could be heard laughing, probably nervously, at the on screen antics.
The film has an 18 rating in the UK, probably the first 18 I have watched this year, its a rating that can damage a films box office quite dramatically, however with a $9 Million budget, I don’t think they will have much bother making a good return. As word of mouth spreads, it should draw a crowd of curious viewers, and perhaps Midsommer will also be regarded as a cult classic in 20 years time.