Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren & Will Poulter
Written & Directed by: Ari Aster
THE THREE P’s:
Deep in one of those harsh American winters you read of, a young college student named Dani, played by Florence Pugh, is left devastated and traumatised after a brutal tragedy claims her entire family. By the time the next summer rolls along, the only person she has left to depend on in life is her not-so-dependable boyfriend of almost 4 years, Christian (played by Jack Reynor, with red hair). At a party one night, Dani accidentally finds out that Christian is planning on taking a trip to Sweden with his college buddies (played by William Jackson Harper from The Good Place, Swedish actor Vilhelm Blomgren, and in perhaps his most pointless gig to date, Will Poulter). One of Christian’s buddies, Pelle, is from Sweden, so he suggests they attend a midsummer celebration at his ancestral commune, the Hårga, in Hälsingland. The problem is, Christian was probably not going to tell Dani about the trip. Caught on the spot, he invites her along, knowing that she most likely isn’t even capable of managing such a trip in her state of grief. However, feeling that it might be good for her after the previous winter’s events, she agrees to go. Now, Christian’s friends aren’t exactly thrilled about this, as they don’t really sympathise with Dani. They’re of the belief that ‘girlfriends are such a buzzkill, dude’. Still, we’re soon welcomed into the magical, bright world of Sweden in July, which apparently is very unrealistic as it almost always rains heavily during this period. Yes, the grass is green and the sky is clear and the day is bright, and it in fact lasts almost 24 hours each day due to the summer solstice.
Things are going great, everybody’s tripping in appropriately regulated ways, white-privilege egotism abounds, until things… of course… turn grisly. Pardon the pun.
- Hey girl, nice dye job! Oh, sorry, I was talking to him.
I’ll start with the praise, because it’s sparing. First off, the casting and acting jobs are great. They’re the best part of this film, actually. Florence Pugh is terrific; she brings a real depth to an otherwise uninteresting role. The side-characters, mostly crazy nuts in the commune, are perfectly generic enough that they fit in perfectly to the scenario. The directing is very symmetrical, the omni-daylight is captivating, the cinematography is understandably gorgeous and compliments the Swedish outdoors, and the music (particularly during the climax) is beautiful and haunting.
“They can’t see us if we don’t move. Their vision’s based on movement.”
Where to start? Firstly, it takes a very, very long time to get going. The first ceremony, which I won’t get into for fear of spoilers, is possibly 40 or 50 minutes into the film. By then, you’ve had enough time to realise what is going to happen, so that when it does, it isn’t all that shocking or surprising.
Dani was completely shocked when gravity worked.
Which leads to the next part. The gore. I’m not a fan of gore, not because I can’t stand it, but because I feel it’s put into movies so casually these days. I guess the shock of Deliverance in the seventies and the ensuing upgrade of violence has desensitised us decades on. But just because you can be visually gruesome doesn’t mean you should be. I think for most people there’s also a little bit of a creepy underlying enjoyment in seeing something so violent happen to a human being. And look, if it somehow lowers the statistics of serial killers in the world, I’m happy to keep going with it. You never see a man pound in the head of a dog in such gory fashion, do you? I’m just sayin’. (I’m not lumping myself into this category either, by the way. I’m sick of seeing exposed jaws and bulging eyeballs lying amongst pulp that was once a mound of flesh. We’ve done it, can we move on now? Gore is not horror, so when they’re lumped into the same category, it’s… it’s one of the film genre’s most annoying inconveniences.)
Florence Pugh is crying all the way to the bank.
Whilst Florence Pugh is great, William Jackson Harper unfortunately plays almost literally the same character as he does in The Good Place. Whether the role was written with him in mind, or if it’s just the actor’s personality coming through, I don’t know. It’s this in a nutshell, angry laugh and Trump hand movements included: “I’m 100% correct and if you were to debate me on that, I’d point out that you’re wrong by analysing everything to the tenth degree and stating that you’re literally doing what I’m saying!”.
This literally goes the way of the cliched black guy in movies. There’s even two of them for good measure.
Another thing I was annoyed about was the lack of anything actually happening, which is awkward. The trailer for this tells you everything that happens. What you expect to happen, does happen, and then the movie ends, and that is that. All throughout the movie, I was deeply curious as to what Dani’s family had to do with the end result, and why the character of Pelle looked like the male version of Dani. I was convinced of a twist coming about ancestry and inbreeding… and none of it came about. I sat there at the end making up a better ending in my head, feeling disappointed at the lack of storytelling I’d just been shown.
“This can’t be happening, it’s DAYLIGHT!”
There is also soooo much that isn’t explained. I get that it’s ‘a thing’ but it’s also not ‘my thing’. The deformed member of the commune, the rituals, and why… is left for you to debate as you leave the cinema. Now, this isn’t something I totally hate in films. I love a bit of mystery to the end of a story; to let the viewer decide for themselves what happens after the camera stops rolling. Having things left up in the air can make or break a movie, and… here, it failed it. And for all of those people out there who cannot take criticism of their beloved film, and want to tell me that ‘I just don’t get it’… This isn’t true. I do get it. I just don’t personally think it’s as astoundingly brilliant as you think it is.
And at the end of the day, the fact remains: Unfortunately, this is a deeply self-serving and tired film. It’s overly long, and there are far too many extended ritual dances. These, of course, are mistaken for brash and dynamic movie-making when in fact they are literally a waste of time. And despite the fact I mentioned earlier how good Florence Pugh’s acting is, it leads me to the film’s worst part:
ARI ASTAR: “Wider, Toni, wider! As if your screams will be mistaken by some to be the early onset of the seraken winds which would often roll through the schwarzwald with a vengeance!”
FOR THOSE OF YOU WONDERING, IT’S JUST AS OVERDRAMATIC AS HEREDITARY!
“This is grief. Look how well we’re portraying understanding your grief!”
The scene towards the end, with Dani on the floor screaming whilst all the women around her do the same in a tribal example of helping her through her grief, is all well and good… But when you want to make a film about grief, you’ve got to start small. It’s movie-making 101. Instead we have Dani wailing and heaving and being ‘raw’ at the very beginning of the movie, so there is nowhere to go but down. It simply doesn’t leave enough dynamics for the end of the film to make its impact. It’s like when you compress loud sounds in musical pieces. If Dani’s emotional reaction had been more subdued at the beginning, then stylistically the end of the movie might have had a bit more of an impact. Unfortunately, at least to me, it pointed out a style the director seems to be going for: big emotional reactions means better acting. And here is exactly why the Academy did not vote for Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s previous work, Hereditary (which was good, until the end). A lot of people are still complaining because Collette wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Apparently she was ‘brilliant’ with her depiction of grief and pure horror. In fact, from where I was sitting, she was almost outlandishly bad. Possibly the worst acting in her career, most likely due to Aster’s direction. It’s like he told her to pretend she was pushing a bowling ball out of her mouth. If you want to see more of this ‘overdramatic’ storytelling, look no further than the first season of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. Or save yourself the hours; instead go and watch Collette at her best right here:
I hope she made Ari proud.
With Hereditary, the director was like: “Right, so you’re grief-stricken over what happened. Let’s have you gape and scream and wretch and turn purple in the face and have that big giant vein in your forehead and maybe even do the Viola Davis snot-acting if you can”. Then with the scenes where she’s filled with absolute horror, the director was like: “Right, so you’re scared about what’s happening. Let’s have you gape and scream and wretch and turn purple in the face and have that big giant vein in your forehead and maybe even do the Viola Davis snot-acting if you can”.
“Don’t snot for me, Argentina.”
The same obviously happened behind the scenes of Midsommar, and it was literally the first thing that came to my mind after about ten minutes of watching it. I thought: “Oh, okay. So that’s the director’s thing.”
Ari Aster certainly likes to have his tea and drink it.
The whole thing stylistically just doesn’t do it for me, either. I think the chicken coop discovery near the end is something that they were hoping would deeply scar people, but again there was no explanation for this, just like ninety-five percent of the rest of the film.
I know the type of directors who froth over making movies like these, because I’ve met them in real life. Perhaps it’s not the case with this, as I don’t know Ari Aster, but usually they are incapable of listening to constructive criticisms about their scripts and ideas. Right out of the gate these are perfect works and anybody who suggests otherwise either “just doesn’t get it” or is dead to them. That’s exactly what this movie portrays: a gross egotism that I really, really don’t like.
I’m sorry to say I only give this one pop out of five kernels.
Save your money and sit in your back garden this summer. You’ll have the exact same experience as if watching the first 40 minutes of this film. And for free! Nature is amazing, isn’t it?