This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Jake Rosenberg’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“So we’re just going to ignore the bear, then?”
“It’s a bear.”
The cinematography, production design, & mise en scene? Bangin’.
The score & sound design? Boppin’.
The story, performances, characters, & themes? Showstoppin’.
If there’s one word I’d use to describe Midsommar, it would be delirious. Despite its restraint in regards to pacing & conventional scares, this movie really don’t give a fuck. It goes for broke with nary a care to the wind, & I’m honestly so here for it. It excellently toes the line between absurdity & silliness; a lot of this had the potential to make me roll my eyes like elements of Black Swan did, but the risks taken paid off phenomenally. Typical this ain’t.
A term that gets thrown around a lot is, “From the opening shot, you can tell that...” in order to describe how the mood, tone, or overall vibe is established. I kid you not, it has never been more true than in this film. David Ehrlich of Indiewire said that this film will do for Swedish pagan rituals what Psycho did for showers. I’m gonna take it one step further & say that Midsommar will do for the great outdoors what Psycho did for showers.
One of my favorite things here is that it simultaneously feels refreshingly original while also paying homage to all the right sources in a manner that feels respectful & classic in a way that isn’t pandering or cheap. You have nods to The Shining (driving shot early on) & The Wicker Man (obvious), while also analyzing cult dynamics, dependency, filling the void, &...toxic masculinity in a way that feels original, while still doubling as a deeply disturbing horror film.
Impossible not to compare to Hereditary, so here goes. This has somewhat of an inverted structure when compared to its predecessor; Hereditary had fraught family drama & painful emotion regarding mental illness in its first two thirds, building to a climax that evolved into an entirely new film altogether (mean that in a good way) of demonic cults. This by contrast confines the majority of Hereditary, its human drama, into its opening pre-titles, letting the cult shit dominate the entire rest of the film. Not a bad approach by any means, not at all, just different. Though I do think this lacks the emotional connection & personal investment of the characters from Hereditary.
Ari Aster directs the shit out of this movie, continuing his understanding that the scariest things occur in the background of the shot. Even when nothing is happening in the story, you’re never not feeling uneasy, if only for the movement going on at the corners of the frame. The gore is creative & interesting too. There are so many story details that are so delicately messed up that just their mention haunted me. Some examples include deliberately inbreeding to create savants, women seducing men through secretly feeding them their pubes & menstral fluids, a cult cheering on a couple in the middle of fucking by echo chanting their orgasmic grunts, & female solidarity through echo grunting the protagonist’s screams of rage. I was worried the score wouldn’t reach the heights of Colin Stetson, but it actually tops it through its versatility, omnipresence, & gorgeous vocal ballads that cleverly blend the non diegetic & diegetic.
I think what held this back on first watch at least was the length. The structure is a bit weak, with the film having a bit of inertia that felt frustrating. However, like Hereditary, this is an issue of not knowing the plot’s direction, & could be cleared up on rewatch. Though a reason for this movie feeling its length may be that besides the protagonist, the characters are a little bit lacking. Will Poulter was a detestable asshole just written to die horribly. Furthermore, certain plot threads were kind of abandoned, which was disappointing. For example, the competition over theses between Christian & the guy studying the Midsommar to begin with seemed like an interesting way to tie shifting character dynamics into the plot, but was ultimately forgotten in favor of the cult doing what it was gonna do anyway. It toes the line between comedy & horror pretty well, but there were times when it was just a little ridiculous (all the trippy shrooms stuff, the bear suit that just screams for Nic Cage).
Otherwise, this might be the most insane movie I’ve ever seen. It’s smart, horrific, darkly funny, surreal, &...feminist? Well acted, well made, well written, & well done. Can’t wait to see this again! Imagine a mashup of Hereditary, The VVitch, Suspiria (2018), & The Wicker Man (2006). Best of the year so far by a long shot. God I wish I was Ari Aster.