Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter
Have I Seen it Before: In pacing and plotting, yes. Many times. In terms of visual style coupled with this plotting, I can’t imagine anyone’s seen anything like it.
Did I Like It: I’ve come to the conclusion that degrees of “liking” or even any discussion of what humans might normally understand as pleasure are not the right terms to use when it comes to a film by Ari Aster. The film is incredibly well-made, and your emotions will be precisely where Mr. Aster wants them at any given time.
I was not as excitable about Aster’s first film, Hereditary (2018). as many other people were. While it was clear that Aster was bringing considerable skill to bear in the effort, the film was just too pitch-black in its mood. There is no respite. Things get worse and worse, get infinitely bleak, and then manage to find a little bit more to drain out of the available pool of human warmth.
It was almost as if Aster clearly had steeped himself in the very best of the horror genre but wasn’t interested in his audience having any sort of fun during the process. It’s a missing vital ingredient, like sitting down to eat the finest chocolate cake ever conceived of by human beings, and instead only being served a supply of—albeit the best—semi-sweet chocolate.
I completely understand that I would be in the minority on that opinion, but at the same time it does feel like in this—his second film—Aster either received that criticism from elsewhere, or felt the same about his freshman effort going into the sophomore. Midsommar is still filled to the brim with human misery both physical and existential, but it is also genuinely funny and ends with a sense of genuine—if morbid—catharsis of which Hereditary was pointedly disinterested.
Even with these brief flashes of relief, Aster has not let go of his brutal filmmaking instincts. It is an arduous journey, one that should not be undertaken alone, as much of a fan as I am of going to the theater on one’s own. For a little added perspective, this film is the only experience I’ve ever had where I felt the need to take anxiety medication after it was over. Consider yourself warned. Have fun.