Midsommar is a slasher film with artsy ambitions that doesn’t quite work

Enlarge / Traveling to Sweden for a rare summer solstice pagan festival that only takes place every 90 years turns out not to be such a good idea in Midsommar. (credit: YouTube/A24)

A group of young Americans visit a remote Swedish village and find themselves at the mercy of a strange pagan cult in Midsommar, the second feature film by Director Ari Aster. The official synopsis calls it “a dread-soaked cinematic fairytale where a world of darkness unfolds in broad daylight.” There are certainly fairy tale elements, but the film also owes a great deal of its aesthetic to 1970s pagan horror—especially the 1973 film The Wicker Man—and your standard slasher film tropes. But the various styles don’t really mesh, and the end result is a film that is occasionally unsettling and disturbing, but never truly scary or surprising.

(Warning: spoilers below.)

Aster is a longtime fan of the horror genre and kicked off his career with a controversial short film called The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, in which a son develops a taboo incestuous relationship with this father. Hereditary, his first feature, also rooted its horror in dysfunctional family drama, with themes of trauma and grief—right before turning into a bone-chilling nightmare. It was lauded by critics as the scariest movie of the year and likened to such horror classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Audiences, however, begged to differ; the average CinemaScore for the the film was a “D+.” Hereditary still took in $79.3 million worldwide, more than recouping its modest $10 million budget.

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