Midsommar Ari Aster (USA, 2019) Florence Pugh, Jack Raynor
viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 July 2019; ticket: £10.75
Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ is no more than a goof-ball college comedy transposed to the psychic depths of contemporary pagan Sweden. A sort of Wicker Man without the Wicker. Aster’s po faced intoning from be-alb-ed matriarchs replaces the manic glee generated by director Hardy’s joyous ‘Wicker’ actors as they set to and enjoy a good old fashioned human sacrifice.
After a little opening pre-title foreplay, the Midsommar script dumps our four sophomores, together with two barely explained extras from England, into a sort of vaguely menacing pastoral setting. Even if we overlook the superannuated bad acting complete with crass laboured dialogue, we are left with plot that inches its way into inconsequentiality slowly laboriously dragging itself towards an inevitable fiery finale. On the way it drops a lot of baggage, non sequiturs and dead ends, epitomised in Aster’s disinterest in the fate of half of the characters, who fall off the edge of the script rather than anything more meaningful, disappearing without trace. Such is the lacklustre nature of the ‘Sommar’ scenario their absence is barely noticed except as a clumsy device to pare down the action in readiness for the finale.
Skulls get clonked and suspicious dodgy liquids drunk but finally it’s down to the final scene, the stitch-up with Christian the male protagonist sewn into a bear skin to meet his end whilst Dani the heroine is crowned Queen of the May. Dani’s face in her incarnation as cult queen with all its efflorescence, provides the final shot of the movie. This is of course the default politically correct shot of a self satisfied mien locked in little smile as she watches the sacred pyramid burn, with all her chums inside.
After a long half hour setting up a psycho drama in relation to Dani and the suicide of her sister the film finally lurches out into the sticks and Aster gets shooting. From the point the film moves into exteriors Aster resorts to increasing use of drone fly-by shots. Drones tracking, drones lifting, drones overhead and drones droning. Midsommar seems to be a textbook exercise of how not to use drone shots. What is interesting in the film is the laziness of the shooting of many of the scenes and the implications of this labile shot creation for the disconnectedness and lack of tension generated by the scenario. The use of drone shots in Midsommar distances and disconnects the viewer from the already flaccid action.
A decision to use a closer camera and using closeness to push the bounds of the relations between the kids and the cult people might have forced Aster to work harder on scripting. It would not have rescued his movie but it might have stopped his film moving into total disconnect drive. As we watch the drone shots – the overheads of the feasting – the tracking into the sacred pyramid – what the footage communicates is the simple message: you are watching a movie and the director has decided to use a drone shot at this point. The drone turns the audience away from the action alerting them directly to the mechanics of the camera. The drone shot used repeatedly as in Midsommar becomes about the technical process, a cue for distraction and detachment alienating the audience from participation.
A drone shot can rarely be disguised. Used to affect the drone in pointing out that a shot in a movie refers to itself as a particular type of seeing, can be valuable tool in the director’s armoury of effects. Overused, as it is by Aster in Midsommar, drone shots simply becomes a banality, a sign of lack of imagination and ability to understand and use film language.