Last summer marked the debut of filmmaker Ari Aster with his critical hit “Hereditary.” Following the film’s debut, movie fanatics and insiders were almost instantly predicting that Aster would be the next big thing in the horror genre. But while critics and fans may be pinning Aster as the new horror god, the director recently said that he is not interested in staying in the scare-genre lane, and is actually interested in working with different genres in the future. The director initially meant for “Hereditary” to be filmed as a family drama, but the film was re-crafted as a horror movie so Aster could get his most recent release, “Midsommar,” into production. But if “Hereditary” was a family nightmare, “Midsommar” is a relationship fever dream.
After experiencing a traumatic family tragedy, college student Danielle Ardor (Florence Pugh) tags along with her flaky boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends on a month-long trip to small-town Sweden for their annual Midsommar traditions. But before heading downtown, Christian’s friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) convinces the group to begin the vacation by visiting the commune his family resides in for a week of their own festivities. Dani thinks she’s in for a trip of getting high and eating homemade food until she is introduced to the family’s strange cultural customs. Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper co-star as Christian’s college friends, and Isabelle Grill plays Pelle’s younger sister, who finds herself attracted to Christian.
“Midsommar” has unsurprisingly been getting compared to “The Wicker Man” (1973), a comparison that’s been made ever since the basic plot summary was released. And yes, it is similar in story and theme, especially given that there aren’t many films out there on pagan cults. Still, what irrationally bugs me isn’t the “Wicker Man” comparisons; it’s that the final scene to the new movie is going to remind indie fans of a more recent film, “The Witch” (2015). I thought “The Witch” was fine, mind you, but also a little over-hyped by art house enthusiasts.
“Midsommar,” on the other hand, lived up to the praise it’s been receiving, which is why those brief familiarities that horror fans will recognize bug me. This film is good enough to stand on its own and doesn’t really warrant the comparisons. Part of the reason it’s so good is that Pugh continues her impressive streak of stellar performances in it, following her roles in “Lady MacBeth” (2016) and “The Little Drummer Girl” (2018).
Aster, on the other hand, is now two-for-two with quality cinematic efforts. As a visual movie-maker, he has a unique style and technique that makes his work stand out in comparison to his peers. His insistence on long tracking and panning shots against Pawel Pogorzelski’s bright, exterior cinematography and Bobby Krlic’s haunting score is stunning enough to make this mid-budget, limited-release feature feel like a studio film.
If there is one thing to nitpick, it’s that Aster’s screenwriting in both of the recent releases leaves a bit to be desired, from the plot twists and reveals in the second act of “Hereditary,” which are similar to “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and “Don’t Look Now” (1973), to the current film’s “Wicker Man” and “Witch” influences. Still, Aster’s aesthetic and characters are memorable and intriguing enough to make up for the weak spots. It will be interesting to see where these elements go in his next pictures, whether they’re sci-fi or dramas or musicals.