Midsommar was not the movie that I wanted, needed, or even hoped it would be. As the year 2019 wraps up and everyone is making their best and worst lists, I wanted to revisit a couple films that really let me down this year. Most of the time, when I watch a horror film, I start with little to no expectations since the genre can be wildly unpredictable. I prefer to admire a film for what it did best and gripe about its actual flaws instead of being hurt that it didn’t meet my expectations. A film should be assessed on its own merits. Not advertising promises, who stars in it, or who is directing. While I hold these beliefs, I am not immune to being disappointed because I hyped up a project based on previous experiences with the creative team behind a given effort.
For instance, I thoroughly enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s films and I have yet to be disappointed by anything with which he was involved. Previous experience with his films informs me before I walk into a dark theater that I am bound to have a good time. This notion has not let me down yet (hopefully it never will). So when I find a standout, I have similar hope. During 2018, I finally gave into the hype surrounding Hereditary and sat down to watch it. And boy, I was in for a treat. Hereditary (if you have not experienced it) is relentless and does not let you go until the last minute. I was shocked, horrified, and disgusting simultaneously while watching it. So, when Midsommar was announced, I was quite curious to see what director Ari Aster had in store. Proceed with caution: Spoilers ahead.
I didn’t watch Midsommar in the theater, but instead waited until I was able to stream it in my living room. The film sees a group of Americans going to a small European country in to witness and take part in a ritual that takes place roughly every 90 years. Similar to Hereditary, the main characters are either completely unlikeable or dealing with current trauma. So, as they embarked I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I waited, and I waited. People died, drugs were used, people were having sex, people fought, people ate people, and then the film was over.
I was expecting a thriller like Hereditary. Instead, I was left with so many questions, most of them to effect of: Was this supposed to be a horror movie? I ended up browsing the web for a while after the film stopped, scrolling through Reddit, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and re-read the plot on Wikipedia all to try and see what I was missing. Was I not paying close enough attention to the beginning sequence? Where was the climax, maybe at the first disappearance? Was it at the flower dance? More importantly, where was the horror? Why wasn’t I as freaked out as some of the other critics were?
After reading some interviews with Aster and poking around a bit, I gathered that the film was supposed to be deeply upsetting, coming to a crescendo at the suicide event. At this point in Midsommar, the viewer is supposed to be so disturbed that the rest of the goings on pile up to conjure a dread that feels like a waking nightmare for the rest of the feature. However, when the head priestess settles the American’s cries by quickly that this was the wish of the participants, that they killed themselves willingly, I remember being ok with this. I wasn’t disturbed by it, but saw it as a triumphant acceptance of mortality and spitting in the face of death.
Hence, I think because I was not disturbed by this first scene, the rest of the movie didn’t have the intended effect on me. This ended up being just another, Americans overseas in a creepy cult in Europe and getting in way over their head type film. For me, it didn’t really have anything original or interesting to say. The run-time is filled mostly with filler and unlikable characters that will made me groan for most of the movie. Further, the ending leaves so much more to be desired and leaves too many unanswered questions.
The first thing I thought after Midsommar ended was, well I have seen this concept done better. I would recommend checking out 2010’s The Shrine (which, for my money executes on a similar concept and does so much better) and saving yourself the anguish.