The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - MIDSOMMAR | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - MIDSOMMAR

midsommar review
A group of friends take a trip to an idyllic Swedish commune.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter

midsommar dvd

There's an infamous scene in Ken Russell's 1969 adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel Women in Love in which actors Oliver Reed and Alan Bates engage in a bout of naked wrestling. Upon the film's release, Russell wanted to see how the scene would play for an uptight audience in Middle England, and so he went along to a screening in a conservative London suburb. Entering the auditorium, Russell spotted a pair of old dears and took his place behind them, sure they would be outraged by the scene in question. When Reed and Bates' stripped down, Russell leaned forward to listen in on the old ladies' conversation. As one of the women leaned into the other, Russell prepared for outrage, but was disappointed when the woman in question simply remarked to her friend, "Lovely carpet, isn't it?"

If Midsommar's writer/director Ari Aster should attempt the same experiment as Russell, he may well experience a similar reaction from viewers of his sophomore feature. Aster has filled his movie with moments designed to shock, but despite its conveyor belt of gore and gruesome imagery, all I could think was how absolutely inviting its rural Swedish locale seems. It really is lovely carpet.

midsommar review

It's in remote northern Sweden where the film's protagonists, a group of well educated yet remarkably naive American college students, find themselves in danger of becoming victims of a series of Midsommar murders when they rock up at a commune where the inhabitants live their lives to a code that's a loose mix of Scandinavian Paganism and everything Aster has learned from '70s Folk-Horror movies.

The Americans arrive under a cloud. Christian (Jack Reynor) was set to break up with his girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh), but his plans were scuppered when Dani's bipolar sister killed her parents before taking her own life. Awkward! Much to the chagrin of his friends - the perpetually chilled Josh (William Jackson Harper) and the obnoxious Mark (Will Poulter) - Christian invites Dani, assuming she will turn down said invitation, but two weeks later they're all headed off to the village of their suspiciously soft spoken Swedish buddy Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).

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You could probably write the rest of the plot yourself, as there are few surprises along the way. If you've seen any previous entry in the Folk-Horror genre, or indeed if you've seen Aster's debut Hereditary (or Larry Cohen's God Told Me To, to which both of Aster's movies owe an enormous debt), watching Midsommar is an exercise in ticking boxes. It all plays out in the most obvious manner, and its climax is almost subversively derivative.

midsommar review

For all its Folk-Horror dressing, Midsommar's narrative owes as much to the Italian cannibal cycle of the '70s and early '80s, with a bunch of arrogant intruders from the 'civilised' world getting their asses handed to them in a part of the world modernity has overlooked. The earliest cannibal movies drew heavily on the setup of A Man Called Horse - the gritty western were Richard Harris plays an English aristocrat captured by a Sioux tribe who subject him to various indignities before he realises this is where he truly belongs - as does Midsommar, whose alternate title could well be 'A Wicker Man Called Horse'. The recent horror movie Midsommar has most in common with is Eli Roth's cannibal love letter The Green Inferno, and there's an argument to be made that Aster is no more than a Roth for the craft beer crowd.

The trouble with the vast majority of the cannibal movies is how difficult it is for any viewers of a liberal bent not to root for the cannibals, who after all are simply carrying on their way of life when some fresh western meat turns up uninvited. Midsommar suffers from a similar issue. The moody score and Aster's direction suggests from the off that we should be wary of the Swedish commune, but to do so requires a degree of ignorance, intolerance and innocence. There's a lot of triangular imagery in Midsommar (one of several motifs it shares with a superior commune set horror, 2016's found footage thriller The Triangle), but in its view of the Pagan lifestyle of its Nordic antagonists, it's incredibly square, very Christian, and distinctly American.

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The most interesting aspect of Midsommar is the fractured relationship between Dani and Christian, but despite impressive performances from Pugh and Reynor, the film never really delves into this dynamic with any degree of depth. Christian is a thinly drawn douchebag who becomes more cartoonish in his villainy as the film progresses. As an examination of a young woman trapped in a toxic relationship it has about as much complexity as that episode of Cheers where Coach tries to make his daughter realise what an absolute wanker her new fiancé is.

midsommar review

Midsommar is dogged by inconsistencies in both its characters and its world building. Christian allows things to get out of hand due to a fear of confrontation (perhaps the most defining trait of the Irish, which makes it a shame that Reynor couldn't use his natural accent) - he can't summon up the balls to break up with Dani, and he waits until she's literally outside their apartment to tell his friends that she's accompanying them to Sweden, but he has no problem confronting Josh in a moment of arch-douchebaggery later on. Not only would it have been more consistent with Christian's character had Josh found out what his frenemy was up to behind his back, it would have made for a far more dramatic reveal. The commune itself is similarly ill-defined, as Aster seems to make up its rules when it suits a specific need for a shock or some comic relief. At one point Mark relieves himself on a sacred tree, sending one of the villagers into an angry rant, but if the tree is so sacred, wouldn't the entire village be angry at Mark? Not to mention that these are people who eat each other's pubes, so would they really be bothered by a little urine?

At two hours and 20 minutes, and with its generic narrative beats, Midsommar isn't so much elevated horror as elongated horror. In one of his film's less somnambulistic moments, Aster explicitly homages The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; ironic, given how Tobe Hooper's movie is a tightly wound, terrifying rollercoaster paced thriller with a clearly defined sense of place - everything Midsommar isn't.

Midsommar is on Netflix UK/ROI now.