Midsommar ★★½

Hereditary was a horror film I enjoyed for the most part but as soon as it was over I could see Midsommar coming.

There was just something about Ari Aster's debut that had me believing that if it did really well critically, his follow-up would be him patting himself on the back for what would turn out to be nearly two and a half hours.

In fact, I think felt that way even before the end of Hereditary. Aster's somewhat flowery statements about his intentions for Midsommar in the months leading up to its release had me additionally concerned and, well, the finished product confirmed my fears.

"It's very pretty, Bishop, but what are we looking for?"

It's a fairly innocuous line from Aliens but watching this it kept playing over and over in my mind. Midsommar is stunning. But I feel like if I had a quid for every time I've said that about a new horror film in the last six or seven years then I could fund my own pagan festival, except I might spice it up with a few more ritual suicides and get a big screen set up next to the sacred temple to show Austin Powers (?!) to a bigger audience.

It's beautiful. It's just that so little happens. It's just the same thing I've seen countlessly of late, the difference here being that it's about an hour longer than usual. Aster and cast can make all the statements they want about this being about toxic relationships and gaslighting and prolonged grief and cultural understanding. Intention doesn't immediately equate to depth though.

There's a scene early on where the insufferable Jack Reynor and his equally irritating friends are talking about Pugh, and one of them makes the point that he could find someone "who actually wants to have sex - you could be getting that barmaid pregnant right now!" Immediately I could see where this was heading, and sure enough a temptress starts following Reynor round her commune and the rest is obvious.

What I wasn't expecting is that it would take so long to get there. Why does it? It's not like there's much else going on here to hold up the process. Aster might present like there is but what he's filling Midsommar up with is empty depth. The aforementioned ritual suicide scene is outstanding and there are moments that could be unsettling but the determinedly and unnecessarily slow pace of this means there's just no way of it really building up any atmosphere.

Moments of quality are dotted around the place but they are diluted and traded in for pointless symbolism and Pugh's constant ungodly wailing and crying. I read with interest that the original basic premise of this was that it was going to be a slasher film set in this commune. I can absolutely see a really good and fun slasher film set against this backdrop, and there's so much that could have been done with it.

But maybe this is just the downside to a filmmaker being gifted complete creative freedom. Maybe if Aster had somebody watching over his shoulder he might actually have put out something pretty notable. Complete freedom over a project is something we may applaud but our support of that isn't always rewarded with a satisfactory end product.

Aster thinks he's made his The Wicker Man. He's really only made his Apostle.

Steve G liked these reviews