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Before the arrival of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Ari Aster’s bucolic horror-comedy Midsommar was the only film in this season’s UK box-office top 20 that wasn’t a sequel, remake or jukebox musical. It happens also to be superior in every way to the same director’s higgledy-piggledy Hereditary, shot through with sly humour, audacious shocks and a savage line in anti-date-movie rhetoric. (If it hasn’t been the catalyst for an improvement worldwide in the behaviour of men toward their wives and girlfriends, then there is no justice.) Though it’s impossible for anyone who’s seen the film to experience afresh its surprises, there is enough scrupulous characterisation and quirks of tone to survive repeat viewings. Whereas the only discernible advantage of a new “director’s cut”, which stitches 24 minutes of additional footage into a film already pushing two-and-a-half hours, is that its weaknesses underline the strengths of the original.
There is still so much to admire, not least the intense prologue in which Dani (Florence Pugh) experiences a multiple bereavement that makes it inconveniently impossible for Christian (Jack Reynor) to follow his friends’ advice and break up with her. That section closes with an ingenious sign of the picture’s twisted sensibility: the word Midsommar floating in the wintry night sky while Bobby Krlic’s clanging, doom-laden score rings out. Hell’s bells, in other words. It’s the same topsy-turvy impulse that leads Aster to stage most of the film’s horrors in blazing sunlight and to cast Björn Andrésen, the former embodiment of youthful idealised beauty in Death in Venice, as a frail elderly man who doesn’t live to get the benefit of his Freedom Pass.
Most of the additional footage serves to reiterate or unpick points that landed better as hints and asides. Christian is now shown to be even more inattentive and manipulative, pretending that he was planning all along to invite Dani to join him at the Swedish pagan festival which occupies most of the film. (“I wanted it to be romantic,” he lies. “You’ve ruined the surprise.”) A longer argument once the gruesome festivities are underway shows them both letting off steam but in doing so allows the cringing tension between them to dissipate. There’s another pagan ritual, this time at night, which violates the film’s sunny palette and feels like pure padding. In restoring that scene, and others which delve deeper into the Midsommar celebrations, Aster is too keen to parade his research at the expense of pace, though we do at least get to hear Pugh’s brilliantly exasperated line reading as she’s encouraged to join the onlookers at yet another ancient spectacle: “Why, what’s happening now?” she pleads, sounding not merely wary but weary.
Repetition and embellishment are the order of the day: Mark (Will Poulter) is even more irksome and disrespectful, Josh (William Jackson Harper) is still insufferably earnest about his PhD thesis, while the feud between him and Christian starts sooner and lasts longer. New overheard conversations – one about a woman with three clitorises, another concerning a man whose penis is bitten off (“Hope you enjoyed the meal, bitch!”) – compound the culture of misogyny against which the film wreaks its glorious revenge.
Any elements that might genuinely have benefited from being expanded upon tend to be overlooked. It’s still no clearer that Ruben (Levente Puczkó-Smith), who has physical and mental differences, isn’t being used by the movie for exploitative ends; Aster has called him “the full articulation of whatever the film is saying politically”, but that’s still no substitute for being a character rather than a symbol of exoticism or revulsion. There’s no joy either for viewers hoping to discover more about the traumatic events in Christian’s past which have lead him to wear the scoop-neck T-shirts that provoked a rumpus online.
None of the flaws of this longer version come close to diminishing the effect of Pugh’s sustained, mature and modulated work. Nor do they weaken the case for hers as the finest performance of the year so far, irrespective of whether it delivers the best actress Oscar nomination that is surely her due.
• Midsommar: Director’s Cut is on release.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Midsommar: Director’s Cut review – extended folk-horror tale is a survivor | Midsommar