After months of hype, Ari Aster’s Midsommar has finally arrived in cinemas.
His follow-up to Hereditary, the film follows a group of young people as they visit a cult-like group in Sweden for a ’shroom-fuelled celebration of the summer solstice.
And as the trailer makes clear, the events soon take numerous dark and twisted turns, with the full movie being labelled everything from a “visceral, unique, utterly fucked-up experience” to capable of “messing you up for days”.
But not everyone agrees, as HuffPost UK confirmed when two writers saw the film this week.
Here are their contrasting opinions...
‘Every bit as nightmarish as Hereditary’
Daniel Welsh - Entertainment Reporter
To say film director Ari Aster’s feature-length debut Hereditary left an effect on me last year would be an understatement. At the height of my post-Hereditary trauma I had to text my boyfriend to come and stand with me while I hung my washing out, such was my fear of being by myself. So I went into the cinema to see his follow-up Midsommar excited, but also with a heavy sense of dread.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried quite as much as I did. Yes, Midsommar has some seriously gruesome moments, and one scene with particularly graphic violence, but compared with Hereditary, it’s actually a surprisingly enjoyable watch.
Part of this has to do with the fact it actually delivers on the laugh-front, both in the one-liners delivered on screen (largely from Will Poulter’s character), but also some of the more outlandish rituals carried out by the Hårga, and even some of the gory scenes are so over-the-top they elicit as much nervous laughter as they do gasps.
And while its final scene is every bit as nightmarish as Hereditary’s, which came like a punch in the gut, Midsommar’s ending is also much more satisfying. I won’t spoil it completely, but there’s definitely a feeling that people are getting something close to what they deserve as we reach the film’s extreme conclusion, bathed in fire, screams and, as is the case throughout Midsommar, enough flowers to set your hay fever off through the screen.
All of the film’s performances are deserving of praise, including characters you only see for a split second like Dani’s sister and the many creepy extras who are dotted around the commune. But it’s Florence Pugh who totally walks away with this film. While much has been made of the way she portrays Dani’s trauma, she’s just as engaging in her character’s quieter moments, especially when we see her biting her tongue and struggling to hold her co-dependent relationship together.
Before it’s a horror film, Midsommar is a break-up film, and its lead stars are totally believable as two people in a relationship well past its sell-by date, but who can’t seem to bring themselves to call it a day. A highlight for me was a woman in the cinema who audibly groaned the first time Dani began apologising to Christian, even though he was the one in the wrong. Quite often, Dani is saying one thing and clearly thinking another, a hallmark of great acting.
Admittedly, Midsommar is not going to be for everyone. Not only is it unsettling and graphically violent, there’s no getting away from the fact it is a little on the pretentious side, not to mention its 147-minute running time (cut down from three hours, apparently!). If you stick with it, though, you will be rewarded, not just with lush visuals and brilliant acting, but hidden details scattered throughout that you’ll still be piecing together hours after you’re done watching, just as Ari Aster intended.
‘The foreshadowing was so intense, every single twist became predictable’
Rachel McGrath - Entertainment Reporter
As a general rule, I have always stayed away from horror films but in the last two years or so, things have changed. Filmmakers including Midsommar director Ari Aster, Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and John Krasinki (A Quiet Place) are making critics excited to be scared again, turning tropes on their heads and delivering meaningful, terrifying movies.
The resurgence of the genre has recently overtaken my propensity to avoid terror-inducing experiences at all costs, pushing me towards the box office and I’ve been rewarded well. Get Out absolutely shook me to the core, Ma was delightfully terrifying and suspenseful, and horror has seeped into other areas too – The Duffer Brothers’ ability to weave it into sci-fi and the ’80s aesthetic has made Stranger Things must-watch TV.
Ahead of Midsommar, Aster has been praised for “subverting the horror paradigm”, and creating an “outrageous black-comic carnival of agony” – it sounded like a genre-defining moment not to be missed, the early reviews and think pieces compounding the terrified anticipation the trailer had created. Yet leaving the cinema, I felt underwhelmed.
The scares did not come thick and fast, as promised, in fact they were barely there at all. Gore? Yes, present in abundance. Truly weird rituals and disorientating ’shroom trips? Also there. But I didn’t jump once, often because the foreshadowing was so intense, every single twist became predictable.
At one point, a character goes off into the night to investigate the cult they’re staying with, which isn’t really shocking anyway, but was made even less so by the three or four second-long shot that lingered on his New Balance-clad feet as he got into bed. Likewise an earlier disturbing event, which saw the demise of two characters as part of a ceremony that hadn’t just been teased, but almost fully-explained.
The acting is fantastic. I believed the characters and understood their motives, even as things took increasingly bizarre twists. The terror and distress emanating from Dani (Florence Pugh) leapt out of the screen and when some of the festival’s visitors began having second thoughts about the whole thing, I (naturally) felt that too. The male characters were also well-acted, but disappointingly one-dimensional. The actors who play them may protest this, but I found them to be mostly horrible people whose “fuckboi” natures were the beginning and end of their personalities.
The cinematography was bewitching, the Swedish countryside providing a nauseatingly idyllic backdrop, warping and swirling as the trips took hold. The events in the foreground were nauseating too, but the reasoning and mythology driving them felt incomplete – we never truly got to why things were happening or discovered details of the beliefs which were apparently the cornerstone of the community.
Having to do the work, as a viewer, can be fun – jumping onto Reddit on the bus home and piecing things together is exciting and thrilling. Perhaps that’s the problem and where I’m missing out, but the issue with Midsommar is that I don’t feel invested enough to check.