My reactions to Midsommar have the same shape and spikes as a Richter scale.
Hearing about it in pre-production, I wasn’t really interested. Seeing the trailer piqued my interest, but I had misgivings – I felt a definite deja vouz. I’d seen this somewhere before, and I knew instantly where. The fact that the film made the coveted cover of this quarter’s Fangoria sold me on the notion of seeing the film - despite it having an abnormally long running time for a horror movie, a shade under two and a half hours.
My reaction to the film echoed what I felt and thought while watching Jordan Peele’s Us earlier in the year. Us began superbly well, and creeped the hell out of me, with its theme of home invasion – and home invasion in this case by what appear to be doppelgangers of the family whose home they’re invading. It hit me dead centre on my nerve endings because home invasion films are so damn feasible and add to that the invaders being evil duplicates of the victims – but then, Peele went the route of trying to explain everything and the film unravelled fast. So, literally a great two thirds, lousy and confusing last. Overall, I was frustrated by seeing such a great movie with amazing potential blown for no real reason other than what I felt were bad creative choices.
Back to Midsommar, it starts off really REALLY strong, with a gripping, plausible hook and a wholly convincing performance from Florence Pugh (who was just amazing in Fighting With My Family) as a manic-depressive student coming to terms with a family tragedy.
She joins her boyfriend and his friends on a trip to Sweden to a commune-type settlement in the mountains where they basically smoke dope, commune with nature, and observe a nine-day festival to celebrate mid-summer. Okay, great – totally with it so far, and absolutely loving the cinematography and relishing the un-nerving feeling that all isn’t what it seems. The surface is calm, but there’s a menacing undertow that things are going to get very bad, very quickly. (Okay – not VERY quickly, the film has a two and a half hour running time, but at this point it’s an enjoyable slow burn of a film, despite its similarity in plot to an earlier movie.)
The film intensifies as a ritual is undertaken that involves sacrifice. This scene is so harrowing and realistic it’s genuinely jarring and disturbing. I’ve been watching horror films for the better part of 46 years and seldom have I seen anything quite like this for realistic, messy out and out gore. I imagine the last time was while watching the scourging scenes in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, a horror/non horror movie if ever there was one.
So, at this point, the kids are in too deep. These aren’t a happy bunch of harmless hippies they’re among, they’re fanatics who’ve been observing these traditions for generations. And now they’ve seen what they’ve seen, there’s no going back.
The horror is mounting – and continues to build its pressure inexorably as along with sacrifice, the rituals involve a fertility rite. And this is where the film begins to fray in to a silly spectacle of predictability, thus losing the wonderful suspense, shock and surprise element that has been used so skilfully to this point – and you realise that what you’re watching is a blatant clone of The Wicker Man.
There’s an old adage that tells us if you’re going to steal, then steal from the best. But that genuinely doesn’t apply in this case. The Wicker Man (and I’m talking about the classic with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee released in 1973, not the remake with Nicolas Cage which I’ve never bothered seeing) was a product of its time. A time before personal electronics, laptops and smartphones took over our lives. Both films have unwitting outsiders enter a closed-off and isolated community that celebrate a time of year with sacrifice and fertility rituals that involve the naïve outsiders who don’t realise they’ve been selected to be a part of the proceedings. See where I’m going?
Now the problem that rears its head is this – in Midsommar, members of the commune aren’t around after age 72, they’re put to death and their names given to the unborn. So, there’s no trace of these people being murdered or buried on official records? In THIS day and age?
The rituals involve a bear. Um… this closed-off community have someone supply them with bears? Do they buy them? They’re somehow smuggled into Sweden? What do they pay the bear trappers with? They appear to be penniless and self-sufficient, growing their own food and building their own log houses. Poor bear.
They have no electricity, yet the students use laptops and smartphone cameras. I can only assume they were fully charged before the trip. BUT – having established that the kids have this tech, there’s no mobile signal that they can use to call or message for help. Okay, they’re out in the mountains – but that glaring plot hole could easily have been covered with one quick line of dialogue indicating there’s no signal.
And really – nobody’s going to miss these kids? No friends in college/tutors/family?
Essentially, like Us, an absorbing first two thirds, concluded by an absurdly plagiaristic and disappointing close, and it’s the final third that remain in the memory more than the stunning preceding hour and a half.
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