Midsommar ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

***this is a review of the DIRECTOR'S CUT of Midsommar, and a detailed breakdown of the new footage after the jump***

On July 3, Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” was released on 2,700 screens across the United States. The twisted modern fairy tale —an epic fable that starts with a bleak murder-suicide, and ends with a somewhat brighter one almost 147 minutes later — was an extraordinary ask for a multiplex audience, and Aster knew full well how fortunate he was that “Hereditary” had bought him another chance to sell his madness to the mainstream. Even with A24’s full support, the young filmmaker was aware that he could only push his luck so far.

On the evening of August 17, less than two months later, Aster took the stage at Film at Lincoln Center’s annual Scary Movies festival to introduce the world premiere of his 171-minute “Midsommar” director’s cut. And, in characteristic fashion, he couldn’t have been more sheepish about it, or sensitive to how the whole thing looked. “I know I seem like a self-righteous prick,” he said to the giddy sold-out crowd, at least one member of whom was decked out in an intricate “Midsommar” t-shirt.

Well, “joked” might not be the right word. People revere the ego required to make great movies, but often roll their eyes at anyone who tries to make them even greater; there’s a fine line between vision and vanity, and the public is quick to feel betrayed whenever a popular artist doesn’t treat them like a communal benefactor.

Besides, “director’s cuts” are traditionally reserved for well-established auteurs, and tend not to see the light of day until their respective theatrical editions have long since taken all their money off the table. “Midsommar,” by contrast, is still playing in some first-run theaters. If most director’s cuts feel like alternate histories, this one might seem more like a mulligan.

But Aster wasn’t asking for a do-over. He supervised every second of the version that made its way to several thousand screens, and remains happy with the results. He should be. If “Midsommar” wasn’t a hit quite on par with “Hereditary,” this much less-accessible movie did solid business in a dismal market for original fare, and it still came off like an uncompromised work of someone who couldn’t check his swing if he tried. Fans didn’t want the film to be different; they just wanted to see more of it.

That’s exactly what Aster’s director’s cut gives them. And it truly is the director’s cut — the one that he trimmed down from his nearly four-hour assembly, and sent to A24 just a few short months before the movie was set to come out. The distributor politely “encouraged” him to keep trimming it down, at which point Aster began ritualistically sacrificing his darlings. The process may have been traumatizing for him, but — as he admitted to the Lincoln Center audience before the screening — the — the 171-minute version was “not releasable.”

Aster appears to have a very clear-eyed view of his own work, especially for someone who couldn’t be closer to it. He introduced the new cut of “Midsommar” as “the more complete version of this film,” conceding that the “theatrical cut may have better pacing, but this is the fuller picture.” And that turned out to be a spot-on summation of what he then unveiled to the crowd.

The director’s cut of “Midsommar” isn’t a radically different movie, but it’s a much richer one; some of the added moments are less vital than others, but all of them help to create a more textured experience, and — perhaps most importantly — give you the time required to fall even deeper under its harsh psychedelic spell. “If a movie is good, I want to stay in it,” Aster said before the screening. And “Midsommar” now grants you that wish. Aster’s new edit might raise some eyebrows, but this is what a director’s cut should be.


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