“MIDSOMMAR” is now in theaters from writer/director Ari Aster in his follow up from last year’s “Hereditary”. This one stars Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor and follows a group of students that travel to a mid-summer festival in rural Sweden. The beautiful landscape is a perfect complement to the mushrooms and questionable teas they enjoy. But it doesn’t take long before the activities of this bizarre pagan cult, and their intentions, take a subtle but sinister turn.
This one certainly had my curiosity. I enjoyed Aster’s last film and in this era of reboots, spin-off’s, and live-action remakes, any film that pulls the thinking out of the normal parallels is always of an interest. The result isn’t always enjoyable admittedly, but there are times the stories and their execution can create a thought-provoking success. Either way, the journey is unique, and creating something different does have its strong suits. At times in spite of a film’s overall success. With that said I would have to say this film was a miss for me despite being completely invested for the first half.
So first let’s get into what I liked, and I would have to start with the performance of Florence Pugh. I think everyone did a fine job in their roles, but I also think the character-arcs hindered most of the performances from truly capturing realistic and genuine emotional responses and actions. Pugh however was the standout and she carried the film as best anyone could. She brought emotional intensity to the role to really land some gripping scenes. I was able to connect with the lost feeling she was experiencing and unlike the others I was able to invest in the story through her. Primarily because she felt the most authentic out of the characters that actually mattered to the plot-line.
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Another positive in this one was the direction from Aster. He was able to capture both the beauty of this tranquil setting but with a methodical approach to his angles and camera movements there was a constant foreboding feeling that I loved. I constantly felt something was coming but I didn’t know what. I felt comfortable in the landscapes, but I also felt uneasiness. The people surrounding the main characters felt normal at first glance but with a slight linger to a shot or wide pan of the backdrop that feeling would change and it results in an emotionally immersive narrative.
I think Aster captures strong doses of graphic violence but in a way that truly did capture that ‘horror in broad daylight’ as promised. It was unrelenting and more than likely will be too much for most movie goers. It’s brutal but it also fit the theme of the story. There is also plenty of full-frontal nudity both male and female and it isn’t pretty. So be prepared for that as well when the story takes it sexual themed directions. These elements are where the controversy will fall with this movie and with a progression that felt lacking some connective story tissue, it will be tough to gauge how it ends up being received.
The foundation of the story was something that intrigued me and built a strong interest. But it was one that also failed to connect to me the more it evolved, which leads into my negatives with this film. The first hour was excellent as it built relationship dynamics and laid the framework for our main group. But I felt these relationships were maneuvered for convenience to get the story where it needed to later in the film. Leaving me to take things at face value and having to ignore some of the mildly contrived turns. An example would be this group of friends that early on seem to have the same college era relationships I had.
Strong enough to all take an overseas trip together. But once they get to this creepy festival the relationship dynamics seemed completely different. Sure, they immediately start taking mushrooms, drinking magic teas, and smoking from mother nature’s hand. And yes these characters may not be in their same mindset. But to me it didn’t explain the personality separation of the group that started not long after arrival. Everything seems to be explained off with a special tea, or puff of smoke, or eating a wildflower. I think this isolation of the group could have been delivered in a less convoluted way to enable a stronger impact in the third-act.
This one ended up being compelling in many spots, but with a run-time well into two-hours it does crawl at times. I think the character manipulation for me is what hindered being able to completely invest in their arcs. I see what the film was going for, and the underlying themes it explored as well. I also appreciate the direction it went in many aspects. But with a story such as this that is grounded more in reality, I feel the suspension-of-disbelief needed to be much lower than it turned out to be.