Coming off of Hereditary (2018), which was one of the most intensely frightening, unsettling films I’ve ever seen, Ari Aster’s second feature Midsommar, for me, failed to live up to the terrifying atmosphere and rich drama of Hereditary. I respect it a lot as a film, but nothing about it really struck me, despite the overwhelmingly disturbing violence. The way he, similar to Hereditary, sets up and gives clues about what’s to come is clever, and the movie is really ambitious; its cinematography is probably some of the best I’ve ever seen. What keeps this from being better is how frustrating a lot of the other aspects are. The first act was probably the tightest in terms of how much it sets up, but the second act is way too meandering and there’s a lot of stuff there that feels purposeless, whether that’s meaninglessly weird or kind of just there. So much time just dwells on the cult doing things that don’t end up being significant, and somehow I ended up getting pretty bored before the last act.
With Hereditary, I felt like the shock stuff drove home the story it was telling, but with this, all the shock value content save for maybe a few kills felt excessive. It crossed the line between slow-burn and boring and definitely felt its length. There was a lot of surface level setup and payoff in terms of plot details but I didn’t feel like much of it connected to the themes this was trying to convey. It felt too violent and not violent enough somehow because the downtime between the intense gruesome moments wasn’t all too interesting. And as I said earlier, the shock value felt like it was there solely to be shocking and to evoke a reaction, rather than further the story.
Florence Pugh’s performance is undeniably amazing, but the pacing is too scattered to be effective.Aster was able to tell an incredibly satisfying, entertaining story on the surface in Hereditary, but it was one that you could pick apart endlessly, that had many hidden meanings and themes layered throughout. Here, I feel that that’s a lot less effective, and while it’s similarly thematically dense, on the surface, it’s a lot less interesting.
Midsommar is a recommendation if only for Aster’s ambition and the gorgeous cinematography, but otherwise, it’s something of a mixed bag.