‘Get on with it’ would be a more appropriate title for Ari Aster’s glacially slow horror film, a follow up to Hereditary that repeats many of the same tropes but with a remarkable drop-off in terms of effect. Midsommar went from much anticipated to immediately forgotten after a big hype and subsequent minimal performance; it’s a strange misfire which gains points for imagination and atmosphere, but is crippled by a lack of plot and character development.
A commendably brief set up establishes the troubled family history of Dani (Florence Pugh); her sister killed herself, taking her parents with her. While Dani waits for a response to frenzied phone-calls, her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is meeting his bros and planning a holiday in Sweden. When Dani comes along, clearly in a state of mourning, it’s obvious that if the copious drugs consumed won’t dislodge something from her psyche, then something will have to give in the fragile relationship she has with Christian.
After a brief interlude with hallucinogens, the group find themselves in a bizarre and remote commune where the apparent niceness and friendly overtures of the locals hide a dark secret. Some kind of pagan worship is going on, and as with The Wicker Man, if you have to ask who is getting sacrificed, then the answer is probably ‘you’. Despite the considerable running time, there’s considerably more culture clash involved in the Wicker Man trope, which gets into details about how and why these outdated customs are adhered to. Aster, swimming in the other direction, depicts the rituals in great length without much in the way of explanation; the result is as dull to watch as a royal wedding in some arcane culture.
Crucially, Aster’s characters lack agency even before they’re given drugs which render them immobile; escape attempts are offscreen and unclear, while the striking setting becomes boring when it becomes apparent that the entire story is guessable from the trailer. The cast don’t have enough material to establish the group beyond rote slasher movie archetypes, and even the sense of dread so powerful in Hereditary eventually fades here as events spiral slowly towards a non-existent punchline.
If Aster goes on to less obviously undercooked projects, Midsommer may gain in resonance, but on it’s own, it’s a weak story killed by over-confidence. The visuals are striking, and the whole package is tempting, but ultimately Midsommer feels like Hostel played at half-speed, minus the gore, humour or excitement.