Hereditary was a pretty weird film for me, not so much for the story but for my reaction to it. I thought Hereditary was a powerful, engaging film with a tour-de-force performance from Toni Collette, which could have been one of the most powerful horror films of recent years until the last 5 minutes which just didn’t work for me. That said, I was still really excited for Midsommar as Ari Aster is still an excellent director and, since I consider the original The Wicker Man as one of my favourite films, this was right up my alley. The film itself, I found to be a much more satisfying experience than Hereditary, even if it is a bit too long.
The film concerns Dani who, after suffering a devastating family event, is suffering from PTSD and is strained in her relationship with her boyfriend Christian. Whilst Christian wants to leave Dani, he feels that it wouldn’t be right to do so whilst Dani is experiencing so much trauma. This coincides with Christian and his friends being invited to attend a midsummer celebration in rural Sweden, this particular one being an event that is only held once every 90 years. After they arrive at the festival though, the events become far more disturbing than any of them could have predicted. Now the first thing to say about the film is that it’s not 100% a horror film. Sure, there are some incredibly horrific moments and the film definitely deserves its 18 certificate, but most of the film is played more for bizarre comedy than horror and the structure of the film is that of a break-up movie. Now if the script wasn’t solid then the dissonance between the horror elements and the comedy elements may not have worked, but it does here because it puts us in the mindset of the characters, with a mixture of fascination and being weirded out by everything that they are seeing. The film also does a good job at showing themes of lingering guilt of family trauma (through both Dani and the festival) and the psychological damage that it can do to people. I also loved that the film goes into detail in showing the rituals of the festival and the importance that the rituals have for the citizens. By dedicating so much time to the rituals we can see why the residents believe what they believe and it helps to make the way they act make more sense, enabling us to have some understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing. The only real issue I have with the film is the length. At some points, due to the 2 and a half hour long run time, the film does drag a little bit, it’s not a major issue but it does damage the pacing of the film, preventing it from being a classic on the lines of The Wicker Man.
The performances meanwhile are stunning across the board. Florence Pugh continues to show why she is one of the best rising talents working today. She shows the grief that the character feels brilliantly and the reactions that she has to the festival, from horror to becoming part of the festival and having fun with it all feel believable. She’s also able to show the lingering effects of her PTSD and the fear she has of being abandoned brilliantly. Jack Reynor as Christian is also great, being a more slimy character, gaslighting the others around him, being a pretty horrible person whilst also showing why people would be friends with him, it’s a difficult balance but Reynor pulls it off, making Christian a believable scumbag. Will Poulter is a lot of fun as Christian’s friend Mark, his more cynical and flippant attitude to the festival being a good contrast to the others, adding some good comic relief to the film and doing a great job at playing the fool throughout. William Jackson Harper is also solid, showing the more academic side to the character due to him studying midsummer festivals, making it more believable that he stays there, along with showing how, in some instances, academia can be disrespectful to the traditions being studied (both intentional and unintentional, making him more disrespectful to the traditions in some ways than Mark (who is more flippant about his views). Great work is also done by Vilhelm Blomgren, Hampus Hallberg and Isabelle Grill, but to say more would spoil the film.
On a technical level, the film is a triumph. The cinematography from Pawel Pogorzelski is incredible, making great use of long takes and the sunlight to create a unique atmosphere for the film. The use of whites and greens in the colours is excellent, allowing for the more horrific moments to stand out all the more, giving them an extra degree of power. The music I also found gave the film a unique power. There are elements of Paul Giovanni’s score for The Wicker Man in there, along with elements of traditional Swedish folk music, which adds to the creepiness of the film and is an extra detail to make the festival feel more believable.
Overall, I found Midsommar to be a much more powerful and rewarding experience than Hereditary. Sure there are issues with the pacing, but they don’t fully detract from the powerful themes, the striking visuals and the incredible performances, particularly from Florence Pugh whose performance I just scratched the surface of, since to say more would spoil the film. This is a pretty horrific film, but one I found rewarding.
My Rating: 4.5/5