One of the things about Hereditary that made it such a sensation was how unpredictable it was. Ari Aster’s debut feature was compared to several horror classics, chief among them The Exorcist, but he was clearly following his own rules, his glacial mastery making the overall experience much more terrifying than any of the film’s individual moments alone.
In Midsommar, Aster plays a completely different game. The film opens on Dani (the excellent Florence Pugh) as she experiences a traumatic family tragedy. She finds refuge in the arms of her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) who, in those circumstances, cannot bring himself to break up with her. He reluctantly invites her to join him and his college friends on their trip to a commune in Sweden where they are to study the traditional celebrations of Midsommar.
A group of gullible, overconfident young Americans in a place too beautiful to be true and without signal? Anyone can see where this is going (folk horror classic The Wicker Man is an obvious reference). But the film appears predictable on purpose, leaving countless clues waiting to be picked up — suggesting that, as opposed to Hereditary where the ending was a rather unexpected surprise, in Midsommar, the journey is the destination.
It also implies that just because you know what is going to happen doesn’t mean you can escape it. The film’s power resides in its execution(s), inexorably marching towards its unavoidable end, punctuated with unflinching, matter-of-fact moments of graphic gore.
Yet the descent into hell feels drawn-out in a way Hereditary simply didn’t. The sharp, tense visual constructions of the earlier film are replaced with a more conventional style and CGI effects that come across as rather cheap tricks. The thread tying up the events to Dani’s trauma and to the pain that the cowardly Christian causes her is thin; the idea that this indecision might be deliberate is tiresome. Implacable but slight, Midsommar leaves us grasping at straws.