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A Lesson in Underwhelming Excellence

I used to watch a lot of movies. And I mean…a lot. I haven’t in recent years. Mainly due to time constraints. But I’ve made an effort to correct that over the past couple weeks. And one movie that has fallen under my radar is the often debated horror film Midsommar.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, Midsommar is the sophomoric film of Ari Aster, writer/director of the equally loved/hated horror film Hereditary (which I have just as much to say about but that’s for another time). Going into Midsommar, I didn’t know much other than it was a different kind of horror film. And that it was.

The basic premise is simple: some Americans spend a holiday in a Scandinavian commune and fall victim to a pagan cult. But this is merely the backdrop for the protagonist going on a journey of grief after her family recently died.

From a technical standpoint, Midsommar is a masterful film. The individual components are top notch. Cinematography. Acting. Editing. Directing. Set design. Costume design. The writing of individual scenes.

But that last one is the key. The writing of “individual” scenes. Because to me, that’s how Midsommar excelled. In parts. It’s a filmmaking tour de force in terms of tension and characterization. But when it comes to a complete film…the movie is…how do I put this delicately? Kind of boring.

The film’s trajectory is rather unnatural, just like its climax. From a story and character standpoint there’s a lot to analyze, especially as the protagonist navigates her grief and relationship with her boyfriend. But this literary strength mainly exists on paper. It lacks the engaging narrative and filmmaking choices that keep a viewer’s attention, focusing on a slow burn, indie approach that makes it more art than entertainment.

From a premise standpoint, the film has a lot in common with Eli Roth’s Hostel. Both films are about Americans duped into an obscure European trip that winds up with them getting in over their heads. I would conclude that Midsommar was a better-made film, but I had much more fun watching Hostel. It was made to entertain rather than send a message. There’s also a lot of horror similarities between Midsommar and Hereditary that felt as if Aster was just rehashing his old tricks.

This has all made me wonder if the story of Midsommar would perhaps be best served in a different medium. Maybe in a novel, which allows for a lot more leeway when it comes to pacing, but alas we shall never know.

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