MIDSOMMAR (2019, Ari Aster)
A clumsy cross-breeding of grief-trauma relationship drama with ghoulish cult-horror, Aster’s sophomore feature is even less moored and more haphazard than HEREDITARY. Had he cared enough about his characters to ground their adventure in relatable conflicts, then the audience might have cared about their fates — instead, every human here is little more than an idea on wax paper. This goes both for the gang of grad student morons venturing into this WICKER MAN-meets-THE SACRAMENT hellhole, and the brainwashed community who inhabits it. Why do the cult members all know exactly what to do, when to do it, and how? If this Midsommar event happens once every 90 years, where does all the experience come from? And if the elderly do what they do at age 72, then why wait 90 years?
As for the Americans, too much of our heroine Dani’s arc is tied up in her toxic relationship with Christian, one of the saddest excuses for a cotton ball I’ve ever seen on screen. No credit to Jack Reynor (who apparently left all his considerable acting skill in the memory of SING STREET), who manages to have both the presence and consistency of a cup of ranch dressing at Buffalo Wild Wings, while also being subjected to a narrative that does him no favors. The only way you can argue that his and his buddies’ flailing failures in Sweden make any artistic sense is to contextualize the entire plot as a feverish day dream in which Dani endures the punishment of a coven of witches in order to metaphorically purge an emotionally abusive boyfriend from the wreckage of her bereaved, quickly orphaned soul. And if that’s the case, then we spend way too much time with weirdos in white muumuus.
Aster’s vision isn’t altogether distasteful — occasionally there’s a bravura shot, like the one that pans past the protagonists to detour towards a pictogram banner telling the story of a woman who cooks a meal made of pubic hair and period blood for her lover, to then emerge from the other side to see the protagonists walk away from it further. This is heavy-handed, but it works both as foreshadowing and creative storytelling. Unfortunately Aster can’t ever lighten his touch, and each scene is smugly constructed with desperate, attention-seeking camera work. Perhaps the best analog is in the scene where the commune members grab giant wooden hammers to finish off the already maimed elders. If this movie is the broken, blood-oozing corpse on the ground, Aster is the hammer coming down to make sure that the smashed skulls and protruding eyeballs turn into a flattened halloween mask of loose skin to be dragged across the dirt.