Once in a blue moon, we get to experience movie releases that become a cultural event (e.g. Avengers: Endgame). It doesn’t happen very often for the horror community — but when it does, it’s a big deal. Earlier this year, “Us” was released, and horror fans held our breath in anticipation. We wanted Jordan Peele sophomore effort to be a success, we needed it.
Horror is a genre that is often dismissed by audiences, critics and filmmakers because they erroneously believe that horror movies don’t have anything meaningful to say. The community has embraced cerebral directors such as Peele and Ari Aster because, although we love silly and fun horror films, we also appreciate movies that make us think, and these directors are responsible for two of the best horror movies of the decade. Often, directors don’t want to pigeonhole themselves, but Peele and Aster are horror fans, and they love to push the boundaries of what is considered a horror movie. It is no surprise that their movies attract a large and diverse crowd.
Midsommar was released two days ago, and I could not wait to go and see it in cinemas. This is probably my most anticipated horror film of 2019. Hereditary was a transformative experience for me. When I went to see Hereditary in cinemas, I was not expecting that type of movie, at all. I believe the trailer played with the more conventional elements of the film to appeal to a larger audience. But I also believe that was not a smart move. My experience watching the film in cinemas was PAINFUL. When I go to the cinema to watch a horror film, I try to buy tickets for times when I think the cinema is likely to be empty. This was not the case when I went to see Hereditary. The marketing campaign attracted groups of teenagers who were expecting a conventional horror movie, full of jump scares and evil entities — and if you have watched the film you know this is not the case.
I had to put up with laughs every time Toni Collette‘s character was losing her shit, which really annoyed me (I even had to ask a group of exchange students who were sitting behind me to shut up). Despite an awful cinema experience, I needed to watch the movie again, and so I went to see it a few days later with some friends. My friends didn’t like the film, but I liked it more after the second viewing. Then I bought the Blu-ray, watched it, and liked it even more. Then I re-watched the Blu-ray and I liked even more than last time… You get what I’m trying to say.
I watched Midsommar at 8 pm on Wednesday, 3 June. I went with one of my friends who didn’t like Hereditary. I didn’t have to drag her with me this time, she seemed eager to watch the film. The trailer for Midsommar also made it seem like this was a conventional horror film, a sort of “The Wicker Man” re-imagined. The screen where I saw the movie is probably the smallest one in this cinema, and there was a considerable amount of people there. I thought that I was surrounded by Ari Aster’s fans, like myself. But boy was I wrong.
The trailers played, and the film began.
Midsommar’s first 20 minutes got me hooked. Florence Pugh‘sperformance almost made me cry. I hope Aster incorporates wailings of grief in every single one of his movies, because Collette’s and Pugh’s are the most real wailings I have ever seen on screen. The rest of the audience seemed very touched, as well. The relationship of the two main characters, Dani and Christian, is perfectly defined in those first 20 minutes. We all know someone who’s had that relationship. I felt sympathy for both.
After those initial minutes, Aster tries to lessen the drama with comedic elements all the way to the film’s ending. There’s tension, yes. But we have a joke following every tense scene — or interrupting it — and I would like to know if the film was always intended to be funny, or it just turned out this way. I’d be curious to know whether Aster knows that some people found Toni Collette’s character in Hereditary hilarious, and whether he decided to embrace that on this film. But the comedy made me more sympathetic to Dani. She is, deliberately, the only character not making any jokes. Dani is willing to play along this whole charade without becoming a caricature in the process. I felt like Dani while I was watching the film. I wasn’t laughing when the audience was, just as she wasn’t laughing when her boyfriend’s friends were. I felt her worries while the audience, just as the characters, dismissed them.
The film plays just as you might expect for a while. And then…
Midsommar goes off the rails in its final act; When we are left with Dani and Christian, once the secondary characters are murdered. They both embark on separate journeys to figure out what they want from life. This is where, in my opinion, Aster loses the less serious part of the audience. In my screening, people were laughing from the moment Christian “decides” to have sex with the local girl who fancies him, all the way to the scene where Dani is yelling and crying after she spies on him during intercourse. This is the most important scene in Dani’s character arc. She is finally ready to come to terms with the fact that his boyfriend is not a good person. She is ready to let him go and embrace her new life. Although the sex scene was intentionally shot to be funny during certain key moments, I believe it was also meant to be disturbing, and I don’t think most people saw the horror of it. I laughed uncomfortably for a few seconds. But the rest of the audience found the whole ordeal hilarious. And this, in my experience, seems to be an ongoing issue with Aster’s films. Aster’s audiences seem to split into two groups: the ones who are willing to take the story seriously, no matter how ridiculous it gets, and the ones who cannot take the over the top situations and characters and laugh their ass off.
When the credits rolled, I heard a few “what the fuck was that“ comments around me. Clearly, the movie did not sit well with a few of my fellow audience members. I also heard an “I need a minute”, and I thought “same”.
My friend and I liked the movie, and I am sure I will like it more when I get to re-watch it by myself. But it’s a shame that this type of movies cannot be enjoyed in the cinemas by their target audience without any sort of distraction, just because the marketing campaign is designed with the purpose of selling tickets and selling the movies as something that they are not.
I cannot wait for Ari Aster’s third feature film. Whatever it may be, I will be there to see it. Even if that means I must put up with annoying crowds, yet again.
Long Live the May Queen