For all of its success in recent years, A24 has struggled in the department of horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve received rave reviews from critics, but audiences have mostly hated all of that they’ve been offering in this genre so far. And with the exception of Hereditary, I’ve agreed with the general public about all of these releases. In my opinion, they’ve all pretty much been a waste and their latest, Midsommar, turns out to be no different.
I held a level of optimism ahead of seeing Midsommar because of the fact that I liked Hereditary. Both films were written and directed by Ari Aster, so I went into it thinking that there was at least a chance that his second film could be as well done as his first. This allowed me to be somewhat optimistic seeing as how he proved that he had the ability to make legitimate art.
This film is about a group of American friends who take a trip to a remote Swedish village for a midsummer festival at a time when the sun never fully sets. What begins as a carefree vacation where the group can relax, learn about a new culture and get away from all of their troubles back home turns into that’s more unnerving and dangerous than any of them could have ever anticipated.
The one thing that scared me before even sitting down to watch Midsommar was its length. At two hours and twenty minutes, I worried about this being too long and stretched out. I’m of the belief that horror films shouldn’t be anywhere near close to this length in time. They can be good occasionally (like Hereditary), but that’s rare.
When Midsommar starts, everything is fine, but you can feel the length before they even get to their destination in Sweden. The setup is essentially them showing us the world that these characters exist in. This isn’t inherently problematic. Unpacking these things should be expected in film. You usually want to do this in order to build a connection between the audience and the characters as well as setting things up in general. The issue here is that most of it isn’t needed. If you cut a lot of it out, you could have ended up with a 90-minute with not much actually changing.
During a lot of this setting up Aster does, there’s a ton of foreshadowing. This was one of the features that he handled brilliantly in Hereditary. There was a ton of it from the start in that movie and it made you want to pay attention to everything that was going on. This made that 2017 release a cinematic experience that’s far more engaging than it could have been when you take its runtime and its lack of horror in the opening act into account.
Once it’s all unveiled in the third act, it all makes sense and allows you to think back on everything that was laid out beforehand and put it together. But with Midsommar, foreshadowing isn’t even required all that much. What you’ll find here is that it doesn’t challenge you. In this case, Aster essentially uses foreshadowing to let us know where the movie and its key characters are going to end up. This makes things too easy to predict as it’s delivered without any subtlety or nuance at all.
Even without the foreshadowing, as soon as you begin asking questions, the answers are almost always right in front of you just by looking at the circumstances that are presented. This kills a lot of the potential intrigue pretty quickly. What makes this even more harmful to your viewing experience is that the movie is so long. So watching a “horror” movie where things are moving slow becomes even more of a chore when you already know what’s going to happen.
Another issue that Midsommar has is that all of the main characters are completely passive and never come close to putting up any sort of fight when things finally begin to get strange. Whenever things are happening around them, they never even stop to think about what’s going on or why any of this is occurring. They always just go along with everything without ever asking questions or taking any actions that could create real conflict.
There are times when anyone with any common sense or any semblance of self-preservation would question what’s going on, but that never happens here. We as viewers see it, but the characters are so compliant and dumb that they never do. Simply having them put up more resistance in some form or fashion generates more interest in your project from those of us who are watching.
Creating conflict and characters who take action occasionally are simple tools in filmmaking that I assume everyone in the industry knows about. It makes no sense to exclude those things. Even if the characters only discuss things amongst themselves and never take action, there’s still something there for us to grab onto. Instead, these guys just move along with not one speck of awareness in sight.
What removes almost any of the suspense and mystery that could have been left is knowing what’s going to happen because you’ve seen virtually everything included here in other movies already. Not just any movies, but movies you can easily point to specifically while watching this one. You want to judge Midsommar on its own, but you can clearly see how movies such as Hostel, Get Out and The Wicker Man have influenced what’s here.
I understand that filmmakers are influenced by other films. That’s perfectly fine, but rarely if ever do you want what inspires you to be as obvious as it is here. The only time that may be acceptable is if it’s used as a way to pay homage to a film or something. It becomes a problem when one whole movie is essentially just two or three movies put together.
That’s basically what Midsommar is as it starts out as Hostel/Get Out and transforms into The Wicker Man. One of the only things that separate this from those is that it’s primarily based in an isolated commune in Sweden. If you’ve seen the movies that I mentioned, the similarities will be hard to miss. If that’s the case for you, there’s a chance that you might lose interest in all proceedings well before they get to any of the juicier aspects of the film.
Since this is his second film, I won’t be too hard on Ari Aster. In the future, he may have better movies on his mind that could show his positive qualities as a filmmaker. If that’s true, I hope he takes the time to improve and make those pictures as good as they can be. He has an eye that could lead him to being a quality filmmaker. Let’s hope he continues to develop into that because we need as many exceptional directors and writers as we can get.
With Midsommar, A24’s struggles with horror movies continue. While it may earn critical acclaim, audiences will be bored quickly and regret watching this if they decide to give it a chance. That’s basically what’s happened with all of their horror movies so far and I anticipate the same thing happening here. The difference would be that there’s a chance that the general audience may have already given up on them when it comes to scary movies.
I respect that A24 is willing to experiment with these things. However, it’s important to realize that at some point, you’re going to have to engage your audience before they stop showing up completely. Sure, these movies like Midsommar and It Comes at Night may receive critical acclaim, but they only turn off the general public from what you’re offering. Eventually, you won’t have them to lean on and that’s not a good thing since they’re going to be the ones keeping you afloat financially.
Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
William Jackson Harper
Film Length: 140 minutes
Release Date: July 3rd, 2019
Distributor: A24 Films
- Score - 2/102/10