January 25, 2020

A Brief Review of Midsommar (2019)

Of the many horror films I watched during 2019, Hereditary (2018) ended up being one of my favorites. I recognize that it won't be for everybody and that it had some flaws, but I really liked it. I went into it knowing next to nothing about it because I had gone out of my way to avoid looking at any reviews. Still, I had high hopes based on all the buzz around it I saw on social media. The film still managed to exceed my expectations and can be found in my horror collection today.

When the director, Ari Aster released Midsommar (2019), I knew I'd have to see it eventually. Although I again made a point to avoid reading reviews, I gradually became aware that this second film was more divisive. Some people seemed to love it; others hated it. There did not appear to be much middle ground. I finally got around to seeing Midsommar last night, and I have to say it was the most disappointing horror film I have seen in several years. At the end, I found myself uncertain that it even ought to be considered a horror film at all.

I tried to go into Midsommar with realistic expectations that would prevent me from comparing it to Hereditary, but I did think I'd probably end up liking it. Boy, was I wrong! It was bad in so many unexpected ways. It was too long, boring, and contained many scenes that did not advance the story in any meaningful way. I normally adore the slow-burn psychological horror sort of film. A slow-moving film does not bother me as long as it is effective in ramping up the dread. This one wasn't. It was long and slow, but it never got anywhere. Moreover, none of the characters were even mildly likable. While this can be forgiven if the film pays off in other ways, this one never did.

The worst thing about Midsommar, however, was the complete lack of suspense. I cannot recall another horror film that so explicitly telegraphed what few punches it had to deliver. Foreshadowing is great when it is done effectively. This was the least effective approach I've ever seen. They might as well have had a narrator appear on screen, look the audience in the eye, and reveal what was going to happen in the next 10 minutes. It was nearly that blatant, and it killed any sense of uncertainty, dread, suspense, fear, and everything else I want from a horror film.

I am fairly forgiving of films being derivative because I recognize how difficult it is to create something new that won't remind audiences of previous films, but it was hard to overlook this here. Midsommar came across as a weak adaptation of The Wicker Man (1973). In fact, it somehow managed to be inferior even to the Nicholas Cage remake of that film. I'd much rather watch the original Wicker Man again than try to sit through this one again.

As much as I wanted to like Midsommar, I found little to like here. Maybe someone who has never heard of The Wicker Man and has only seen a handful of horror movies might enjoy this one, but I have a hard time imagining how any horror fan could do so.

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