Midsommar follows a disenchanted couple and their group of friends as they travel to a secluded Swedish commune to participate in a mysterious festival. As events transpire, the group begins to feel suspicious about the intentions of the commune and the nefarious nature of the festival.
Ari Aster, like Jordan Peele, is quickly establishing his name as a staple of modern horror. While both directors have a keen eye for symbolism, Peele takes a more inclusive and personable approach, where Aster prefers atmospheric and nuanced storytelling.
With Aster's first major outing in Hereditary, the metaphors were heavy and the story thick with intrigue. The grueling ordeal of the family on screen directly effects the emotional state of the audience. It makes the film a virtual masterpiece, but one that is hard to stomach twice.
Midsommar is similar, but has one key difference...a 2 1/2 hour runtime. I knew going into the film I was going to be firmly aware of this runtime. Needless to say, it is unusual for a horror film and it seemed excessive for the setting and plot. Unfortunately, this hesitation rings true throughout the film. The steady camera work and elongated shots that pan through and about awkward ceremonies eventually lead to a loss of impact and the atmospheric dread Aster has made a name for.
Aster's approach to horror leads its audience through a macabre gauntlet of uncomfortableness that peaks with brief moments of terror and violence that better ingrain the darkest moments of his films. This holds true in Midsommar, but the commune's folk teeter too much between disturbing and goofy in their drawn-out scenes. It leaves the intense moments diluted between sleep-inducing ceremony and kills their impact several scenes later. Aster ends up recycling shots of the violence throughout the film just to remind you that something of pertinence happened.
That isn't to say there isn't some level of dread, but nothing that hasn't been practiced several times in cult films of the past. There were a few too many moments that reminded me of the flaws in films like The Wicker Man remake. That's a disservice to Midsommar to compare to that so-bad-it's-good-then-loops-around-to-bad-again movie, but the pace and length of the film is something worth noting.
As with Hereditary, Midsommar requires some mental prep and a cool down period after viewing. Aster has a knack for powerfully unsettling subject matter and execution. And that is clearly evident in Midsommar. But his slow pacing doesn't help justify the runtime, it works against it.
The characters and acting continue to be a superior product, but even some of their writing felt heavy-handed and cookie-cutter. I would have never guessed following the uniqueness of Hereditary that Aster would allow a character as cliche as the traditional "bro" of Will Poulter's character. This and several other decisions probably led to more laughs in my screening than Aster intended. Or, perhaps the greater picture is being missed, and Aster was making a subtle satire. If so, bravo. But too much of the film contradicts that claim after the first act.