The new movie “Midsommar” is imaginary and foreign-feeling. Despite its creepy tone, it is a joy to watch, a movie which reminds us that all film doesn’t have to fit the going movie template.
It is also a movie that might be understood to be pretending to be about larger things. Its director, Ari Aster, has only made one feature film, and it was the passably effective horror movie “Hereditary” just last year.
The two are alike in a number of ways. For example, both movies feature drug taking. Actually there is so much drugging in “Midsommar” that dope may seem to be the movie’s primary thematic concern.
Both of Aster’s films are about the past and about genetics to some degree. And they are both creepy horror movies rather than shocking ones. But they are both horror movies. Writer and director Aster is using film, in each case, to give us pleasurable tingles. And that’s really all either of the movies is trying to do.
They seem to be more literary, more sophisticated than they really are. One reason for this is that they both bring up instance after instance of something — suicide or flowers or ritual, for example. When the film focuses repeatedly on folk art or written language, one is tempted to think the concept is being emphasized for some particular purpose — to lead us to a deeper understanding of the action.
But none of this resonance pays off. And in the end, “Midsommar” doesn’t really mean anything. Its just a scary movie. A good one, making decent nods to Anthony Shaffer’s two “Wickerman” scripts, but just an entertainment.
And a self-indulgent entertainment at that. Aster’s pace is deliberate if not drowsy during the film’s opening reel. Here we learn that American Dani (played by Englishwoman Florence Pugh) has a tenuous relationship with her beau Christian (Jack Reynor). Must be a reason for his name, right? Well, that wasn’t the way Aster thought about it.
Dani’s sister and parents have undertaken a successful suicide pact. This has shaken her. So when anthropology Ph.D. candidate Chris invites her to join him and three friends on a trip to see a rural summer solstice festival in a remote Swedish town, she jumps at the chance for a change.
The party is led by Pelle, a fellow grad student with Chris. Pelle is an orphan, raised with his siblings by adults in his native village.
The Americans and P arrive a day early, as do other visitors and returners, to take psychedelic mushrooms, the first of a long list of recreational or ritual drug takings that stud the narrative and explain part of the conclusion. And that make part of the conclusion exceptionally unlikely.
The next day (the first of the festival’s nine), Dani learns that this celebration is the 90th anniversary, and the 90s are years for special events.
We begin, after an outdoor lunch on long, mirrored tables outside, with the ritual suicide (and finishing off) of two elders past 70 years old. How are these suicides like Dani’s families? One wonders, but there is no obvious similarity.
Other things happen. Christian and another social scientist in Pelle’s squad argue over who should write the festival up. This doesn’t pay off for the movie in any way. So on to other events — departures, the selection of the May Queen, the consumption of more drugs and of some nasty-looking love potions, ritual flirtations, and so on.
All of it looks great. There are some moments when the photography is too much, as when the overhead shot showing the road to the site is projected upside down. But, then, the two-eyed shots late when point of view characters are captives asked to open up and look—those are sort of fun.
And after nearly two and a half hours, we come to the end. Over the closing titles, Aster plays “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”
That’s a great song. And a fine example of what’s wrong with the movie. As the song’s name suggests, sun is important to “Midsommar.” But nothing much has changed because of the movie’s action.