By Josh Muchly

Memorable but not a masterpiece

Upshot: Ari Aster’s follow-up to HEREDITARY(2018) in which a couple — Dani (Florence Pugh), Christian (Jack Reynor) — and a few of their friends are invited to Northern Europe to visit a rural community for their nine-day mid-summer festival. What begins as a needed vacation quickly devolves into a bizarre day-mare.

High-point: the humor. As disturbing as some of the images are, MIDSOMMAR is actually quite funny. It’s an exercise in the absurd. The audience in my theater was both gasping and laughing out loud. There are numerous sight gags (such as pubic hair in the meat pies and a library of holy books written by intentionally-inbred cult leaders). Will Poulter’s character Mark brings a few laugh-out-loud moments also.

Low-point: the horror payoff. MIDSOMMAR suffers from a missed opportunity: there was no confrontation with the monster. My expectation was that the pleasantries of this community would be revealed a sham and their collective depravity would be unleashed. That doesn’t happen, really. These villagers are unevolved, yes. They’re aren’t monstrous though. In fact, they come across as quite stupid. How harshly do we condemn Neanderthals?

Rundown: I once visited St. Petersburg, Russia. It was certainly my first time experiencing daylight around 11:00 pm, and it’s trippy experience, to be sure. It was also the first time I was thousands of miles away from home; that loneliness multiplied by a recent tragedy was an intense experience for me. Dani experiences a more sever version of this in MIDSOMMAR, and I connected with her character quite a bit: her age, her grief, her longing. Florence Pugh really pulls it off. Jack Reynor is a talented actor as well; I expect them both to have successful careers. Christian’s ambivalence towards Dani is infuriating and works as a small flame of contempt, bringing Dani’s emotional center to an inevitable boil.

One of the most important elements in the story is lucidity — or the lack thereof. The action, the plot, the horror; all of them stem from psychedelic influence: someone takes a drug, something unexpected happens. Someone takes a pill, things go wrong. All the while, we’re experiencing what these characters are but without the effects of their mushroom tea — consequently, everything looks more ludicrous than frightening.

Ari Aster is deliberate, there’s no question about it, and MIDSOMMAR seems to be a purposeful contrast to HEREDITARY; in many ways they’re polar opposites: darkness versus daylight; ghosts versus a nature cult; bedroom miniatures versus open fields. I enjoyed the unsettling atmosphere, but Aster got so caught up in photographic pursuits that he sacrificed the plot to realize his vision.

Overall, MIDSOMMAR is memorable but not a masterpiece. Still, films like these, despite the flaws, are the ones I look forward to the most.

Muchly Scale: 4/7

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