I’m going to keep this review short. I feel that the two and a half hours I spent watching the movie shouldn’t lead to more time wasted. And I plan to spoil the entire movie here, so if you think you may want to waste YOUR time, stop reading.
Full disclosure: I am part Swedish. I even said Skol (skål) at the conclusion of the father-of-the-bride’s toast for my daughter’s wedding. So I was a bit excited to see a movie set in Sweden. About what, I wasn’t sure, but I love surprises.
Surprise! This movie sucks. And that was after a fairly promising start. The opening scene presents us with the view of a serene forest in winter overlaid with the sound of Kulning, or melodic Swedish yodeling. Cut to a telephone ringing, and the rest gets really weird.
The main characters, Dani and her boyfriend of four years, Christian are on the verge of breaking up, only she doesn’t realize it. Still, she confides to a friend that she’s afraid she may be driving him away with her neediness and anxiety. Shortly after Christian is counseled by his friends to end the relationship, Dani’s bipolar sister kills herself and her parents with an elaborate auto exhaust pipeline from the family’s garage to their upstairs bedrooms. Christian is now powerless to leave the devastated Dani. So instead, he takes her on a trip to Sweden with his buddies to visit his friend’s communal “family” during a nine-day summer festival. It turns out to be the first major festival in ninety years. Uh oh.
Their arrival in Sweden got me thinking of the 1973 movie The Wicker Man, also filled with pagan ritual sacrifice in a foreign locale. We immediately realize that this is not “family” – it’s a commune, a cult, and they have some bizarre ideas about the cycle of life (after four eighteen year cycles, you jump off a cliff) that include kidnapping strangers to maintain the diversity of their DNA. Of course, they periodically engage in deliberate incest to produce special “open” beings to generate books of cryptic symbols interpreted by the elders for posterity.
Drugs play an important role in the ongoing shenanigans. And the lack of cell phone service prevents any of the visitors from calling for help. So, one by one, the guests begin to disappear while Dani gets recruited for a dance contest around a Maypole of sorts. She is crowned May Queen, drugged and forced to select the ninth in a group of human sacrifices from either a randomly selected member of the commune or her own boyfriend. Well, she just witnessed a drugged Christian impregnating an eager young maiden in a barn, surrounded by a variety of naked, chanting townswomen. So, bye bye, Christian. But seriously, being burned alive inside a gutted bear seems a bit harsh.
There is no happy ending, no rescue, escape or even redemption here. The final image is of Dani, in a full body flower costume, grinning vacantly, having either become transformed into a willing cult member or perhaps having lost her mind. Who cares at this point? Groans were audible from the audience as we all crawled out of the theater during the closing credits.
Ari Aster directed Midsommar. His only other feature film credit is 2018’s Hereditary, another recent movie I warned friends not to see. I generally like films that have newcomers and unknowns. There were lots of very authentic sounding Swedish names in the cast list for this movie. The only recognizable face was that of William Jackson Harper, who we know as “Chidi” in the TV series The Good Place. The cinematography was lovely and the actors all did fine jobs, but the story was pointless and grotesque. As a thriller, it generated some ongoing suspense, but not to the level of horror. The graphic violence was all so matter-of-fact as to be a perverse medical documentary.
Sadly, human beings have engaged in some horrific rituals and practices through the ages, but I really don’t care to witness them. Knowing they exist is bad enough.
Midsommar (2019) runs 2 hours, 27 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?