(dir. Ari Aster) (2019)
Midsommar performs poorly on The Babadook Horror Movie Scale. Rather than dark mansions and creepy children, Aster has set his nastiness in sunny meadows (although it still looks cold) peopled by beatifically-smiling blond Swedes. But the story is familiar. Nice, naive, clean, modern-day American kids are blindsided by evil, sophisticated old-worlde types. Maybe there’s witchcraft. (See Henry James, add The Lottery, stir with Rosemary’s Baby). While we’re at it, let’s get the rest of the obvious comparisons out of the way: The Wicker Man, Get Out, The Village and Hereditary (Aster’s previous feature). Our innocents, Christian (Jack Reynor), Mark (Will Poulter), Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Dani (Florence Pugh) don’t appear to know any of these cautionary tales, or they’d be a bit suspicious when they see a bear in a cage in the compound of a Swedish cult. At the time of a big festival.
Apparent layabout Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) has invited his US college buddies, anthropology students Christian, Mark and Josh, to his family’s ancestral commune in rural Sweden to experience a one-in-eighty-years summer festival. Dani, a psychology student (honestly could these people be more useless?) invites herself along, much to the chagrin of the guys, including her boyfriend Christian, who has been trying to ditch her. The kids don’t suspect a thing but we, the audience, do, from the moment the group arrives and is offered native hallucinogenic mushrooms by the grinning, flower-crowned cult members. This can’t be good.
Later (and curiously often), the Swedes sit at long, pale, outdoor tables staring into space silently, while the Americans lounge, complain and play with their cutlery. The silent staring thing doesn’t bother them. Nor does the bear. In a cage. In a Swedish field. They’re also OK with the deliberately-bred imbecile oracle (in ridiculous prostheses). We in the audience, however, know that it’s time for Dani to say, “I’m off to Spain then”. But she stays. She wants to hang onto Christian and there’s a redhead feeding him unmentionables. Dani was kind of clingy before, but after a triple bereavement early in the film (well done scenes and a theme that should have been expanded to add more of the depth which this film desperately needs) no, she’s not leaving, even when heads get smashed. Things get even weirder when Mark unwittingly profanes the ancestors. (Frankly we’re glad to see the back of him with his brash American ways and weird eyebrows).
We the audience stay too, because, although we know from experience the general manner in which this will end, Midsommar is atmospheric and entertaining enough; despite being a pallid and pointless derivative of so many stories that have come before. It looks pretty (most of the time) and there’s a nice final shot.
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