Midsommar - Director's Cut18¦ Blu-ray, DVD
You’ve got to admire ambition; American director Ari Aster gets to release a director’s cut of only his second feature, and that after his rather dreary debut Hereditary.
Does this foray into the Swedish countryside then, with a talented cast, deserve the director’s – or more importantly audiences - attention?
Having gone through a truly tragic event, Dani (Florence Pugh) is clearly feeling lost. Although he’s had serious doubts over their relationship, boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) feels compelled to invite her away with his friends for the summer, considering everything she has gone through. Rather disappointingly for him, she accepts.
Soon the group of five find themselves in the very deepest rural part of Sweden, at an out the way commune. The people there are just about to embark on their nine day midsummer celebration, with Dani, Christian and friends more than welcome to join in.
To begin with, all the dressing up in traditional outfits, along with all the singing and dancing, makes all concerned feel they’re part of something special. But a few days in, the festivities take a seriously dark turn, making the guests not only feel uncomfortable, but also concerned with what else is to come.
There are many times throughout this cut that you get the sense of Aster growing confidence as a director. To that end, there is some pleasing cinematography on display to be enjoyed.
But sadly outweighing that sensation is the feeling that he may also be getting a little ahead of himself. The story was bloated enough with its theatrical release at the two and a half hour mark, so the extra twenty minutes Aster affords it here, feels positively obese.
It doesn’t help that the story is by no means original. At the very least it feels like a distant incestuous relation of 1973’s classic The Wicker Man, exploring as it does the same theme of a remote cult receiving visitors to a ritualistic festival.
The story also shoes in a somewhat unnecessarily plot about not one but two of the visitors who are academics, keen to write their thesis on proceedings. It’s supposed to add to the morality of what transpires, but it fails miserably.
The overall tone is a little hit and miss too. The most entertaining aspect of the film is Will Poulter’s performance; it’s his genuine deft touch at humour that makes the hours/days/years that it feels this version lasts for, slightly more tolerable. The rest is far more sombre and sincere than it really need be.
It also clearly wants to lean on the edge of horror, and yet its story is undeniably predictable, with the characters journeys programmed in with the certainty of a SatNav, leaving you no problem calculating where they’re all going to end up way before they do.
Part of the problem is that Aster appears to be channelling the European artistry of the likes of Lars von Trier; he attempts to be cinematic, poetic, moody and thought-provoking all at once. Since Trier himself struggles with that combination, Aster just comes across as a small fish in a big pond. A talented fish for sure, but still out of his depth here.
And that’s where the film’s identity comes into question: is it a Hollywood horror posing as an art-house film, or the other way around?
Ultimately, Aster’s self-indulgence, particularly with this longer cut, gets the better of him, and the film suffers as a result.
Midsommar makes a pleasing travelogue, and may well increase tourism to the more remote parts of Sweden – which is unfortunate considering it was shot in Hungary.
It is reminiscent of a home-made Smorgasbord; it certainly looks pretty overall, but when you dip into particularly sections, it can leave you feeling both rather unsatisfied and underwhelmed.