Midsommar ★★★★½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Midsommar plays with a few different genres, but it's not as striking as a supernatural or psychological thriller as it is as a piece of visual cinema. There isn't much of a plot to speak of-- that's not why we're watching the film. We're watching it because it is fundamentally captivating. Nor is it conventional horror, by any means-- there are a few outright spooky moments, but the gore is largely very intentional and very structured in a way that it's not in your typical Saw-type slasher.

Instead, Midsommar embraces the churning unease that Ari Aster delivered in Hereditary (2018) through a cast of characters who deliver generally credible performances. Florence Pugh as the disaffected and troubled Dani is perhaps the most solid, unifying factor, and we shrug off her douchebag boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and their dweeby friend (Will Poulter).

William Jackson Harper as Josh delivers an enjoyable performance as an obsessively driven academic observer to the freakish cult and, in my opinion, his, ah, elimination was annoyingly predictable and a bit frustrating. I think Aster could have done better to layer more plot substance into the film by eliminating some of the superfluous scenes in the first half hour of the film, for example. Like, we expect to see some people get chopped up. We expect the newcomers to get picked off or kidnapped or murdered. It would be a bit more wrenching, however, or thrilling, perhaps, if these specific murders were explored in greater detail. How did this one dude get to be strung up in the chicken coop, or whatever? That was a pretty impressive, shocking, and utterly disgusting scene.

Aster borrows heavily-- with ample poetic license- from Nordic weirdness of old in things like this image of a blood eagle, a supposed ritual Viking execution practice from a millennium ago.

While the film suffers from some minor identity crises in frustratingly choosing visuals over substance in almost every case, it is wholly redeemed by the breadth of the imagery. The yellow church thing? That was spooky as hell from the get-go. Triangles and all of these Willy Wonka rooflines? You know that's a bad omen, right out the gate.

What stuck with me most was not the graphic imagery of really disgusting blood and gore, which is not depicted as savage murder but more as ritualistic in some sort of calm, sanitized way, but rather the soaring, vibrant skies, scenes of grass, Nordic women in flowing dresses, or bearded men, raising their glasses in unison, lifting their hands in chants. Midsommar is as much a masterpiece of choreography as it is one of cinematography. Where one includes narrative in consideration of the film, it is perhaps a bit lacking-- but I can forgive that for a work of art that manages to be eerily beautiful while so profoundly, and poetically, disturbing.