“Midsommar” Distributed by A24 Pictures, 147 Minutes, Rated R, Released July 03, 2019:
The late Wes Craven, the innovative American filmmaker who reinvented the horror movie genre in the 1980s and 90s with the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” series, was once asked his opinion of the epochal 1973 movie “The Exorcist.” Craven replied, “The most frightening part (of the picture), to me, was the knowledge that the filmmakers were willing to inflict psychological damage on the audience to produce a successful movie.”
It’s interesting to speculate what Craven would’ve made of “Midsommar,” the co-production of the United States and Sweden released on July 03 by independent entertainment company A24 Pictures, and now playing in 2707 theaters across the United States and Canada.
Movie theaters should probably offer prizes for patrons who make it to the end of “Midsommar” without walking out, complaining to management, or becoming nauseous during screenings. This is not an easy picture to watch--no matter a viewer’s film preferences or moral sensibilities, “Midsommar” has something to outrage, sicken, infuriate, or horrify virtually everyone.
In “Midsommar,” Dani and Christian are a young couple on the brink of a breakup--Christian is just waiting for a convenient time to deliver the news to Dani that he’s leaving. But when Dani loses virtually her entire family in a shocking act of murder/suicide committed by her psychologically troubled sister, Christian chooses to postpone the breakup until Dani begins to recover from the trauma.
A few weeks later, Dani inadvertently learns that Christian and a few friends, graduate students studying for their doctorates in anthropology, are planning to travel to one’s remote ancestral commune in northern Sweden. The friends intend to attend a nine-day midsummer festival--a fertility ritual which occurs only in a 90-year cycle, literally a once-in-a-lifetime sociological event. In an attempt to bond with her increasingly remote mate, Dani leverages Christian into inviting her to come along on the trip.
Arriving at the idyllic foreign settlement, the group of Americans are at first welcomed cordially and accepted into the company of the locals. But as the days pass and the foreigners become assimilated into the commune’s customs, it becomes increasingly apparent that they’ve delivered themselves into the hands of a pagan cult, and are about to become indoctrinated into a prolonged religious ceremony embracing elements of ritual suicide, regulated incest, corporal mutilation, and human sacrifice. And that the troubled Dani is beginning to feel a curious sense of belonging.
With scenes which exceed the impact of such controversial pictures as Ken Russell’s “The Devils” from 1971, Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” in 1973, and even Wes Craven’s own “The Last House of the Left,” “Midsommar” becomes an extremely well-made and well-produced picture which relies on the viewer’s natural curiosity and respect for unfamiliar religious practices, along with a sympathy for the discomfort of strangers in a foreign land and the revulsion we feel for foreign customs outrageous to the sensibilities of western civilization.
Set in the land of the midnight sun, in contrast to other films in the horror genre, each scene in “Midsommar” is beautifully photographed in broad daylight--save for the opening American sequences and one brief nightmare segment, “Midsommar” contains no substantial nighttime scenes. There are few actual scares in the picture per se, but the sense of dread is palpable, and at times nearly overwhelming. And despite the graphic nature of the picture’s content, the images the filmmaker inspires in the viewer’s mind are infinitely worse. This is a movie which will haunt the viewer’s dreams for days.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, the journeyman American filmmaker responsible for last year’s surprise hit “Hereditary”--an unconventional and innovative horror film which itself earned more than its share of controversy--”Midsommar” is decidedly not for everyone. With echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s later pictures “The Shining” in 1980 and “Eyes Wide Shut” in 1999, this is a difficult, challenging picture, brilliant but often sickening, with scenes of shocking brutality, graphic carnage, and explicit nudity.
Along with another impressive performance from Florence Pugh, the critically-acclaimed British actress who appeared earlier this year as WWE professional wrestler Paige in “Fighting with My Family,” “Midsommar” features supporting performances from an ensemble cast which includes standout turns from Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter, and Hampus Hallberg.
“Midsommar” is earning impressive scores from the critics, including an approval rating of 81% from Rotten Tomatoes and 73% from Metacritic. Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore conversely assign “Midsommar”a grade of C-plus. Distributor A24 Pictures expected to earn up to $10 million in revenues from the picture during the long July 04 opening weekend, and actually had counted some $3 million in ticket sales by the end of the film’s opening day.
Filmed on locations near Budapest, Hungary, “Midsommar” is rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, and objectionable language. Proceed with extreme caution--this picture should probably have earned an NC-17 rating.
A 171-minute director's cut of the movie was released to theaters August 30, returning 22 minutes of cutting room footage to the picture and enhancing the impact of several key sequences. That version of "Midsommar" is not rated, and will reportedly not be included as an extra on the initial DVD and Bluray release.
Needless to say, “Midsommar” is not for the kiddies.