Midsommar ★★½

What to say about Midsommar? Well perhaps best to start with Aster himself. I was no derider of Hereditary, unlike some who felt that the film was needlessly overwritten and obnoxious, I saw it as a relatively simple horror film that knew exactly what it was, and what it was trying to be. All of the empty signifiers and cliche moments were not symptoms of the films failure to commit to the art house demands that had been placed upon it, rather the opposite was true. Hereditary's shallowness was a virtue, It didn't try to make you think, it just tried to scare you. Aster, though, seemingly believed otherwise. 

I thought Hereditary was okay, perhaps at the upper scale of okay, but certainly was not the great redemption of horror cinema that many heralded it as being. Not so much a false God as a mistaken one. Midsommar though, is a different beast. Hereditary had perhaps two consummate moments of horrifying gore, the notoriety of both largely outstripped the overall shockingness of the movie. And Aster has most certainly recognised that fact. He constantly returns to, forces upon the spectator without any remorse, the moment of extreme, visceral violence and disfigurement. I struggle to remember the last film with the widespread rollout that Midsommar had, which was quite this potently and viscerally gory. I've seen some depravity on screen, much of which is pound for pound worse, at least mechanically and psychologically speaking, than what is offered up in Aster's film. Therefore it is not so much the content as the intent that is quite so disgusting. Outside of true exploitation cinema, the Cannibal Holocaust's and Faces of Death's of this world, Midsommar uses these instances of bloody menace in the most dishonourable way. Make no mistake, no amount of long tracking shots and quaint symmetry will make up for that fact that Aster has the same ideological approach to violence as the Hostel movies, the same shock first think later approach to physical and mental disability, as the most scuzzy of 00's horror remakes. All of the art house aesthetics and lumbering narration is simply a framing tool for him to be as horrible as possible, utilise violence and gore in the most efficient and mechanical ways. And like I have said before, I am not adverse to treating horror purely as masochistic titillation, I just prefer it when the vehicle delivering it is honest.

Yet there will, and are, people who will argue the contrary, will make a stand in saying that Midsommar is about something, is about a lot of things actually. So. If that be the case, let's examine what Midsommar is about. It would be unfair to assert that there are no redeeming features, and indeed the idea of extrapolating the individual process of mourning and pain into a structural metonym is interesting to a point. But it is precisely because of how interesting that underlying idea is, that the way in which it is explored in Midsommar becomes so disappointing. It is also shot very well, and in a way that effectively communicates the formal and conceptual ideas Aster is putting forwards. The predominant  issue of Midsommar then, is not how the movie works, but what it is working towards.

The biggest problem here lies in the setting. Folk horror usually relies upon the internalising of the other. The returning of that which modernity has oppressed and rendered impotent, violently rupturing through. What becomes most terrifying is not the distinctiveness of the primeval other, but its eternity. The very naturalisation of the other, a prehistoric lurk that destabilises what we deem to be normal and secure. In setting Midsommar in Sweden, a concrete other to the film's American homeland, Aster throws this out with contempt. What becomes unsettling about the cult, then, is not that it throws into question the constructedness of our structures and society, but that it is just a weird other. The cult fails to manifest as an exaggeration, a metaphor for a horror internal to our ideology, but instead is framed as a horrifying outside. Not the deepening flaws of our own culture, but the ghastly existence of another one. I feel no need to further elaborate on the implications of such a position. And maybe the greatest flaw is neither does Ari Aster.

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