Midsommar posits the notion that it may not be the best idea to take an idyllic summer sojourn with someone you’re seriously considering breaking up with.
It’s even less of a good idea if the vacation involves some insistently cheerful villagers dressed in their favorite Handmaid’s Tale attire, some seriously isolated scenery, a towering structure that is off limits, and a ritual that suggests it’s the quality of life that matters, not the quantity (heck, I’m just trying not to spoil things). This latest horror film from writer/director Ari Aster begins slowly but intriguingly, as tormented and needy heroine Florence Pugh (she has reasons for both) and conflicted boyfriend Jack Reynor (he loves her, kind of, yet needs to work on his PhD) head to Sweden at the behest of classmate Vilhelm Blomsgren. The occasion is a rare midsummer celebration (once every ninety years) in what appears to be a commune. The unsettling mood created at the beginning lingers despite the unending Swedish sunshine (though filmed in Hungary), as several hints are dropped (subtle and not-so-subtle) this won’t be a traditional joyous gathering. And shame on these graduate students for not having seen The Wicker Man—but I digress.
Writer/director Ari Aster proves once again adept at keeping the viewer off-balance and developing the characters’ conflicting relationships, including the tensions within the group of Americans (which include other graduate students of varying degrees of commitment), the reactions of a young British couple, and the respective webs that Pugh and Raynor find themselves entangled in. The problem is, once you get the big reveal, there are very few real surprises left, just the inexorable, overlong countdown to disaster. The actors are fine, the mood sustained, but the twists are lacking, and the ones that remain are pretty apparent.