I was one of the few people left unmoved by Ari Aster's debut horror feature Hereditary. I found it more overwrought than truly chilling. Still, I felt Aster showed promise as a visual stylist, so I was keen to check out his sophomore effort, Midsommar.
The plot of Midsommar concerns a small group of twentysomethings – at least two of whom are grad students – who decide to spend the summer, at the invitation of a friend of theirs, at the pagan commune in Sweden where he grew up. Do the words "pagan commune" immediately make you think of The Wicker Man? Well, they should, because Midsommar is essentially The Wicker Man – if directed by Stanley Kubrick from a script by Roman Polanski and Eli Roth.
Although the rolling Swedish hills (the film was actually shot in Hungary) and smiling blondes in traditional white garb create a distinctive, arresting look, Midsommar, at its core, follows standard horror flick plotting: a bunch of dumb kids poke their noses into the wrong people's business, and get picked off one by one. In this sense, the bucolic setting – much of the film takes place outdoors, in bright sunshine – is no different from a haunted house or a serial killer's basement.
The girlish Florence Pugh, with "final girl" stamped on her forehead from the very first scene, makes for an interesting lead. But Aster's film, clocking in at 2 hours and 27 minutes, is overlong to the point of self-indulgence. It's not that it's boring or repetitive, it's that every scene – and possibly even every shot – is just needlessly drawn out. Midsommar could have been at least thirty minutes shorter without losing any of its atmospheric menace.
That said, I didn't dislike the film. I enjoyed it as a statement on the American (and British) fetishization of Scandinavian culture. As you've no doubt seen, we've lately been inundated with articles on how Sweden, Norway, Denmark, etc. consistently rank as the "happiest" countries on earth, and with trendy terms for cozy such as "hygge" and "koselig" being thrown about, the romanticizing of Nordic life has reached a fever pitch. Based on the behavior of its American and British characters, however, what Midsommar suggests is that, because of our narcissism and sexual repression, we can never fully adapt to Scandinavian culture, which depends so much on sacrifice, humility, societal responsibility, and a shared history. (Full disclosure: my father was born and raised in Norway.)
I don't know if Aster even intended all that commentary – he has said that his film is kind of a "breakup movie", based on his own romantic turmoils. Indeed, the film's central drama is about the slow dissolution of Pugh's character's relationship with her insensitive boyfriend (Jack Reynor), and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on there too.
In short, if you have the patience to sit through it, Midsommar delivers some haunting images and may inspire some good old fashioned post-film discussion. And I'm sure it will really stay with some viewers. But I have no interest in seeing it again.