Jojo Rabbit (2019): A Masterpiece of Satire and Heart

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     Taika Waititi is brilliant. “Jojo Rabbit” is one of the best satires I have ever seen as it mixes the feel of a Wes Anderson film with the biting edge of a Mel Brooks comedy. This film has so much heart and the powerful message alone are reason enough to see it. This might be my favorite film from Taika and will most likely make my Top 5 Films at the end of the year.

The film was directed and written by Taika Waititi and based off the story Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.

The story follows “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a German child at the end of World War 2. He’s fully bought into the Nazi propaganda and has an imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi). His world is soon changed when he finds his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Characters and Performances – The main characters are wonderful. You have the naive Jojo who grows out of the fascist propaganda over the course of the film. You have his mother Rosie who is fighting against the Nazis trying to spread the word of resistance through Berlin, this is one of the best performances I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson do. Elsa is the heart of the film as the Jewish refugee who forms a friendship with Jojo over the course of the film.

The Satire – The satire is brilliant. Like Mel Brooks mocked Hitler in “The Producers,” Taika does this hear with a cartoonish Hitler who acts like a child that is eventually seen by Jojo to be the insane man he is. It is gradual but we see how it is from made up mythological stories that Hitler built his brand on in the lies told about what it means to be German and the lies about anyone considered an enemy of Germany. Be they Jewish, Romani, Russian, etc. Over the film you see this revealed in the people fed up with the lie or those embracing it even as it ruins their lives and those of the people around them.

Dangers of Fascism – One of the strongest themes of the film is the danger of fascism. In it you see how the populace suffers and only a very small group of the delusional are those who profit from the status quo they create. A women’s role becomes to bear children for the Empire, minorities are killed off and anyone who is injured or damaged is cast aside and forgotten about. Any difference from the ideal has no place and it is this ideal that is used to blind enough people to fulfill the will of those in power. This film illustrates all this beautifully and it is part of what gives the film so much power.

The Emotional Core – The emotional core of the film is in witnessing everything Nazism has destroyed and our heroes finding life at the end. Elsa lost her betrothed and family to the Nazis. Jojo goes from “Othering” Elsa to becoming her friend and it is powerful seeing him go through deprogramming himself from all the fascist propaganda. Jojo’s mother is hung for fighting against the Nazis and in the end one of the Nazi soldiers who protects Elsa risks his life to save Jojo. These moments lend the film so much power. It is this heart that makes it more than simply a brilliant dark satire.

The Cons:

Ending Length – This was a film that could have gotten to the final scene faster. The last third of the film drags at times, which does a good job of putting you into Jojo’s mindset but also hurts the narrative flow, since before this I never noticed pacing at all. This is the only con I could find though, which says a lot for how great this film is.

This is a powerful film that is well worth your time. The message of fascism’s danger and the evil in “Othering” people is relevant as ever now. I hope more people see this film and that the message is taken to heart. This film is a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see what other films Taika Waititi makes in the future.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Near perfect.

 

The King (2019): Feels Like a Pilot to a Show

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      The best thing I can say about “The King” is it made me want to read more about the “Hundred Years’ War.” The film is adapted from Henry IV and Henry V written by William Shakespeare. I haven’t seen the plays but this story did a great job of sparking that interest and honestly, I wish it had just chosen one of the plays. There is a lot of story in this film and it does feel like we don’t get the full picture of what is going on. I would say if you like historical dramas, it is worth checking out, just don’t go in expecting anything great. There isn’t enough story fleshed out so it feels like the pilot of a show versus a complete film.

The film was directed and co-wrote by David Michôd with his other co-writer being Joel Edgerton.

The story follows Prince “Hal” and his rise to power after the death of his father King Henry IV and the politics surrounding his rise in the Hundred Years’ War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The fight sequences that exist are fantastic. The war is brutal and we see characters we know die as well as different tactics being used on the battlefield. The action really brings you into this brutal world, which honestly keeps the film from sucking.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film. I’ve come to expect this from Netflix, so this is more of the same but the wide sweeping shots of France and England really give scale to the war and battles.

The Politics – The politics could have been expanded upon more but I love that we see that the United Kingdom isn’t united and just how complicated the war for power and control is. I would have preferred more politics, especially getting more of the French point of view, but what we see in the court with Henry IV is intriguing and I liked the different voices represented on King Henry IV’s council.

Okay/Con:

Historical Accuracy – This is a film adapted from a play that was already changing history, so when adapting Shakespeare I don’t expect historical accuracy. All the same I would have liked to see characters developed further. There is so much within history to pull from and not much was done in how the characters were presented or the screen time they received.

The Cons:

The Role of Catherine – Catherine convinces “Hal” that his Justice Gascoigne lied about the assassin and he believes her. We don’t see any of her perspective prior to this and when the conflict starts so “Hal” suddenly trusting her comes out of nowhere. This was a waste as since this is adaptation, she could have played a much bigger role in the narrative and in turn we could have been given reasons earlier to know she is trustworthy.

Underdeveloped Reasons for the War – Beyond Hal’s father having been fighting for territory we don’t really get any reason for the invasion of France beyond the false assassination attempt. There is so much history here that I wanted to hear why France and England had been at war. I wanted more reasons and history and this film did not give it.

For such a fascinating time in history I would have loved more history and context. This a film that chose to keep things simple with the characters and in the process we don’t get the deeper motivations of what drives them, and that hurts the film. The film isn’t historical because Shakespeare himself shaped history to tell his dramas, and this story adapted from his stories is no difference. This is a case where the nuance of history would have strengthened the narrative. We are asked to assume to so much or given the base of motivation. This is enough for the film to be fine, but isn’t good or great. It needed more than great action and cinematography.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Art of Self-Defense (2019): An Amazing Critique of Toxic Masculinity

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    “The Art of Self-Defense” is a film that was so close to the film I wanted. If you like black comedies and thrillers, chances are you will enjoy this film. This film is good, the cast is great, the writing and plot structure is solid. Most of the issues I have are with the larger world the story takes place in and how consequences are expressed. This a film that should have been longer given how much I found went unexplained. Before I get into spoilers though, I definitely recommend it.

The film was written and directed by Riley Stearns. This is the first film I’ve seen him do, so I hope he makes more.

The story follows Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) who after being attacked and nearly killed by bikers joins a Karate Dojo in order to learn self-defense. He soon learns all is not as it appears as he transforms under the tutelage of the Sensei.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Casey’s Arc – Casey’s story is strong. You have a guy who is afraid and at one point doesn’t even want to leave his house after he is nearly killed by a group of mysterious bikers. After he joins the Dojo he improves from Sensei in that he stands up for himself and starts to finally form connections with others. Where it falls apart is that his Sensei is a fanatic and his whole philosophy is based on dominance and destruction over others. Casey loses his job because he punches his boss in an asserting his dominance and Sensei uses this to make him his accountant at the dojo. When Casey realizes this and that Sensei was the one who had beat him up in the first place he gets revenge and finally changes the dojo. Jesse Eisenberg is wonderful in this role as the character he plays is anti-social and it is only among the other anti-social people of the dojo that he finds friends. Anna is his ally in the dojo and after learning her story and seeing how she saved his life when Sensei and the motorcycle gang almost killed him, he makes her Sensei after killing the prior one with a gun.

Toxic Masculinity – The main theme running through the story is that of toxic masculinity. Sensei believes that everything should be masculine and that masculine things are the only things men should like. This is expressed in that he believes in not just as martial arts as the only way to truly fight but also that heavy metal music, choosing to start fights and make others like you or destroying them and that women aren’t capable of this and are weaker in all things (she is up to brown belt but will never be black belt even though she is the strongest person in the dojo). This is all in reaction to the loss of his wife and him abandoning his “feminine” name.

The Cons:

Unfocused on the World Being Personal or Large – The main con in this film is that there is a larger story going on in the sidelines that never truly becomes part of the main narrative. Casey kills an undercover cop for the dojo but there aren’t any consequences for it. The dojo is so impenetrable from consequences outside of it that it comes off as unrealistic. This unfocus also related to the theme of the film in toxic masculinity. I wish the story had been told through Anna’s eyes, because it is through Casey’s we only get see so much of the ideology of Sensei and because he is new we don’t see why the others follow him so mindlessly. Why does Anna stay? These are all things I wanted to know that should’ve been fleshed out. There needed to be more reasons for motivations and beliefs beyond Sensei’s.

This is a solidly great film. The writing is sharp and the story flows. If the problem of consequences and it either staying focused on the small world of the dojo or truly making the world feel large the problem would have been solved. In the end scale is really what kept the film from landing higher on the list. I definitely recommend this film. It won’t make my Top 5 at the end of the year but I can’t wait to see what this director does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” Season 1 – The Power of Deep Lore and Great Characters

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   “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” is the best show I’ve seen on Netflix. I liked the original “Dark Crystal” but thought it was underdeveloped as a whole but had so many awesome ideas. This show develops all those ideas. We see how rich this world is and how complicated the characters are. The world of “Dark Crystal” is fantasy meets sci. fi. You have elven fairy Gelflings, Gnomelike Podlings and the monstrous villainous Skeksis. Jim Henson truly had an amazing imagination. This show takes all of that and develops the characters further. This show is also done all with puppetry, just like the original film and they are truly masterful.

The series was produced by Netflix with the Jim Henson company.

The story follows the Rian (Taron Egerton) as he is on the run after witnessing the Lord’s of Thra, the Skeksis kill and take the “essence” of his friend. At the same time Deet (Nathalie Emmanuel) arrives from the caves seeking to end “The darkening” as the princess Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) begins questioning Skeksis rule, prompted by a symbol from the past.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Puppetry – The puppetry is absolutely stunning. The level of detail on the Skeksis scarred or sickened faces, the kind faces and wings of the gelflings and the large eyes and large mouths of the Gelflings. All of them feel real and their expressions and emotions are brought to life largely due to how well these puppets were made. They all have a distinct walk in how they are used too and the talking feels completely natural. The Jim Henson Company has truly done it again.

The World of Thra – There are the Podlings, the Skeksis, the Mystics and the Gelflings. The Gelflings have the most variety and their service to the Dark Crystal and in turn the Skeksis adds for some compelling politics. This is a world that has consequences and the show starts in the middle of it all.

The Characters – There are so many great characters in this film. I chose the ones who go through the most development to delve into more deeply but shout to to the Emperor voiced by Jason Isaacs who is threatening as hell and driven to control by any means necessary, even if it destroys him and Thra. The General who revels in combat and enforcing the Emperor’s will voiced by Benedict Wong. Lena Heady as Maudra Fara leader of the Stonewood Clan who guides the development of others and nearly leads the Gelflings. The cast and characters are simply amazing.

Mother Aughra – Aughra is the seer who returns from the stars to find the Skeksis have become dictators over Thra and have corrupted the Crystal, making it dark. Her arc is connecting with the planet Thra once more and finding her purpose. In this she connects to the Gelfling heroes and sacrifices her life to save them, in turn being brought back when her friend the Archer sacrifices himself to defeat the Skeksis Hunter. She uses madness as her shield, as it makes it so the Skeksis aren’t threatened by her, which allows her to get close and help in the fight against them.

Rian – Rian is the main hero of the piece and reminds me a lot of Link in a “Legend of Zelda” game. It is his friend being killed that sparks his story and he is the one spreading word of the Skeksis being evil. In the end his revolution is successful as the Gelfling Clans unite under his banner and he finds the sword that is prophesied to defeat the Skeksis.

Brea – Brea is  one of the three princesses of the Vapra Clan. The Vapra are the High Elves and rule their All-Maudra rules the other Clans. Her sister Tavra who she is close too and Seladon the sister who follows the status quo and supports Skeksis rule. She is the youngest of the sisters and is the one pushing for change. Brea questions Skeksis rule and it is her discoveries that bring her mother and eventually Tavra and Seladon to go against Skeksis rule. At one point the Skeksis kill her mother and she has an arc going through that grief and connecting with the other Gelflings. Brea is the one who finds the Shard of Division after the Sword is destroyed and sees that it is the best hope the Gelfings have of defeating Skeksis rule.

Chamberlain – Simon Pegg does a masterful job bringing Chamberlain to life. In this we see his machinations as he seeks control over the other Skeksis and being second-in-command to the Emperor. He largely succeeds until Rian’s revolution leads to the General becoming the Emperor’s right hand. From here we see Chamberlain’s ideas payoff. He comes up with having soldiers who are undead (which the Scientist builds with the creation of the Garthim) and he was smart that killing all Gelflings means they run out of essence. This long term thinking goes away when the resistance comes to fruition and he is shamed before his fellow Skeksis. In the end he is back to where he was before as after Rian defeats the General he kills the General and once more is the most “trusted” of the Emperor as the first Garthim is introduced. He is such a great villain and I can’t wait to see him explored in future seasons.

Hup – Hup is a Podling who seeks to be a Paladin. He is corageous and best friends with Deet. He is so loyal and you see it hurt him when Rian and Deet grow closer. I don’t think he will survive the series, but I hope if he does die it is protecting his friends. He is the character who sees the bigger picture. He reacts to the Gelflings and how they oppress his people and one another. Deet is treated badly by the Vapra and Stonewood Clans simply because she is Grottan and her clan is from the caves. Hup is the only one who stands up against it, which we won’t see until Rian later.

Deet – Nathalie Emmanuel’s Deet is my favorite character on the show. She is from the cave dwelling Grotton clan. She is an animal caretaker and she is easily the most compassionate character in the entire show. It is this compassion that draws Hup to her when he rescues her from a creature corrupted by the darkening. She is the most in tune with the world around her and the best bet of the Gelflings not making the mistakes of the Skeksis again. She takes so much persecution from the Vapra and Stonewood Clans but never stops fighting against the darkening and protecting all Gelflings.

The Ending – The ending feels very complete. The darkness is used against the united Gelflings and Deet absorbs becoming an avatar of it. Rian and Aughra are the only ones who seem aware of it and after she saves the Gelflings she is walking into the forest as the darkening consumes life around her. At the same time the Skeksis’s new creation has been completed by the Scientist, signalling that even though they last the battle against the Gelflings, the Skeksis have not lost the war.

The Cons:

The Oppression of Podlings – The one issue I had with the show was the state of the Podlings. Gelfling oppression is recognized and it is what leads to the resistance against Skeksis power and control. The Podlings are oppressed by the Gelflings, Aughra and the Skeksis and the only one who comments on it is Hup. Hup is the one resisting Gelfling and Skeksis oppression but the show never fully recognizes it. I hope this idea is explored fully next season, it is the only con in the entire show.

Besides “Bojack Horseman” and the best of the “Defenderseverse,” this is the best of Netflix shows. If you like strange, puppets or dark fantasy please check this show out. I thought the original film was good, but this enriches it so much more. I cannot recommend this film enough. I hope that next season the injustices against the Podlings will be addressed. This is such a powerful show and I hope we see more shows like this. Honestly, it is worth it for the puppetry alone, but this time you will also be watching the greatest dark fantasy show.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The Lighthouse (2019): The Haunting Light

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     “The Lighthouse” is worth the hype. This is a film that feels that taps into the human psyche and the terror of both isolation and the monsters people are capable of being. It does all this while still having nuance within the script and giving us complicated characters. It helps that it is beautifully filmed. I really hope we see more films like this. It certainly feels like a film that Hitchcock would make or any of his contemporaries. From the almost stage nature and the symbolism and depth that carries the film, beyond the amazing performances by Pattinson and Dafoe. Before I get into spoilers, I highly recommend this film.

The film was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, with Max Eggers being the other writer.

The story follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is contracted out to be wickie for 4 weeks on an Island of the coast of New England. He meets impatient man in charge Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), and begins to experience strange visions after finding a statue of a mermaid buried within his bed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This film is beautiful. The use light in black and white is used to create a haunting and isolating environment. Jarin Blaschke truly did a beautiful job.

The Writing – The script feels like a stage play at times while still being natural. Characters will give monologues and the two of them read from a book, and that book becomes part of the theme and narrative. Myths and legends are weaved into the lives and lies of our characters. This is all used in the theme of the dreams tied to what the characters preach about. There is a sense of the supernatural through the entire narrative.

The Characters – Dafoe and Pattinson fully inhabit their characters. You have the superstitious Wake whose story about his bad leg is all lie but clearly is connected and worthy of the light from the Lighthouse. Both of them are so incredibly flawed and seeing them build trust with one another that falls apart is tragic and powerful. Each of them carries lies from their past and origins and over the course of the story those truths are revealed and come at costs to the different characters. Each of them are people who wouldn’t have a relationship as colleagues unless they had to. Wake likes his solitude and has committed crimes to keep it and has regret from it just as Winslow regrets what has driven him here. He clearly doesn’t want to be a drifter but feels as if he has no choice and because of it he can’t trust. Neither of them are good people but them being complicated makes their going mad all the more fantastic to witness.

Isolation, Loneliness and Lies and delusions – Some of the major themes of the story involve the isolation of our characters, the lies they tell one another and the loneliness they each face. The characters are consumed by visions and delusions. Winslow dreams of a mermaid and killing or having sex with it and sees visions of tentacles rising from Wake and him looking like a sea deity. The only time the characters aren’t alone is over meal time or when Winslow finally drinks with Wake. It is here we see the connection they come to share that is destroyed by the truth of their actions and past and the all consuming madness of the light.

The Consuming Truth – What ends up being a major theme of the story is consuming truth. As the characters go mad they learn more about one another see in the end the revelation of the lies and truth destroys their sanity and lives. It is powerful as both characters are murders and in turn meet their ends as they attack one another and give mortal injuries that signal that there is no escape for either from the truth.

The Haunting Light – The light from the Lighthouse is used hauntingly throughout the film. Winslow goes from not caring about it it becoming his obsession. He kills to see the light and in turn it leads to his eyes burning and him being punished by the gulls. The light is never peaceful and even when there is ecstasy it always has a dark implication. Wake masturbates to it and it is when Winslow watches him do it he sees tentacles above for the first time, an early sign of his madness. It is unknown if the light brings about the madness or simply reveals it but it is center to the story and I loved it.

I loved this movie. It is truly worth the hype. I really want to see Pattinson’s Batman now and this easily one of the best performances Willem Dafoe has done. If you like movies full of rich themes, psychological horror and are beautifully filmed, this is the film for you. This film doesn’t feel long at all. This might be my favorite film of the year and I can’t wait to see what Robert Eggers creates next.

10 / 10 The film is perfect and well worth your time.

Joker (2019): Can More Batman Rogues Get This Treatment?

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        “Joker” is a film that has received both a lot of hate and love. I can understand both perspectives but find myself on the liking side. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Rogues gallery and how different they all are psychologically is what makes them so compelling. Hell, they are more compelling than Batman. It is one reason Warner Brothers always casts big name celebrities in the roles. There is so much to do, even if we only get a glimpse into their psyche. This film is a deep dive into the Joker and it works.

The film was directed and written by Todd Phillips who co-wrote it with Scott Silver.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill clown for hire in Gotham City. As his life falls further apart he aspires to be a stand up comedian. Secrets tied to his past combined with social collapse in Gotham forever change him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Gotham – Gotham is so wonderfully portrayed in this film. The city is dark and grimy and you see the build up of trash (from the garbage men strike going on at the beginning of the film) contrasted with the Wayne’s version of Gotham where you have fundraisers at beautiful hotels and Wayne Manor, which is so far away from the city that they feel barely connected. You also get taste of the everyday life from the comedy clubs to Robert De Niro’s talk show host Murray. This is a version of Gotham I hope we see more of as it makes that it is a city where unless you are wealthy you will get eaten up and spit out. Which does help explain the rise of Joker and all the Batman rogues to come.

Isolation – One thing the film portrays will is isolation. Arthur Fleck doesn’t have any friends and the film follows his point of view. We see how alone he is with his mother, when he’s working and any large social event he is invisible, except for at the end when he’s embraced his new identity as the Joker.

Joker / Arthur Fleck – This is a story told from the perspective of Arthur Fleck. We don’t really see any of Gotham besides what we see from his point of view. This is great as we come to see how isolated, alone and ill he is. He’s medicated, has a tick where he laughs uncontrollably, lives with his mom who is also mentally unstable and is in a job he hates where he has no job protection or security. I wish there’d been more of a push for him to become a killer. This version of Joker is already broken and unstable and when he does kill for the first time in self-defense has no regret, but loves the attention it is getting him in the revolution taking place in Gotham. Joaquin Phoenix portrays this sociopath really well. From his dancing when he feels freedom and his lost within himself and delusions that we see through the film. This is a character completely alone and that combined with everything else just makes this character’s already unstable mind, so much worse to the point that he adopts the Joker identity.

Dreams, Delusions and the Unreliable Narrator – One of the reasons I think this film works as a Joker film is because it still gives us the unreliable mind of the Joker. Throughout the film Arthur has visions of being with his neighbor and to him they are real until reality comes crashing down on him. This brings up the possibility of this being all a lie told by the Joker at the hospital, as the final scene is him being interviewed before he kills the person interviewing him. This film is his justification, his life where he abused and bullied, the inequalities in Gotham and self-defense, in the case of his first murders. The versions of the Joker from the comic would tell some version of this, as the Joker is never responsible for anything. It is how he gaslit Harley Quinn. For me this is what works even though the writing had a lot of tell when it needed more show.

The Cons:

Themes Needed to go Deeper – There are a few themes the film touches upon, but isn’t willing to go deeper. We see wealth inequality and the detachment of the wealthy like Thomas Wayne and how insulated the rich are from the poor even as they cut their resources. Again, it is touched upon but there was so much they could have done with this. How was Arthur and his mother affording their apartment? What were some of the policies that Thomas Wayne wanted to enact? What is the history of the Waynes to Gotham? Who are the people protesting? These are all questions that would have enriched this theme. Same with lack of mental health care, Arthur loses his social worker but we never see him interact with others in his state or hear about her other clients. These are all great ideas that exist and the film briefly touches, but it needed so much more to elevate the film and better flesh out the world.

Too Much Tell, Needed More Show – This film has some dialogue that isn’t great. Joker literally blames “society” on the talk show, which is a living meme at this point given how Disney and other studios have used the vagueness of society to try and make their films appear more progressive, without actually addressing any issues. The dialogue at times feels unnatural, which is one reason why the best scenes are simply Joaquin Phoenix quietly acting. The guy truly deserves an Oscar for this role as he elevated a film with his performance. The telling rather than showing was easily my biggest issue with this film and I wish we had gotten more show.

This was a controversial film and I have friends who loved it and hated it. I really liked it and it was a film I’d highly recommend to any Scorsese fan (Phillips clearly takes inspiration from a lot of his work in how he frames Gotham and presents characters). I hope more of Batman’s rogues get this treatment as Scarecrow, Riddler, Penguin, Bane and countless others have stories worthy of the big screen. They are much more compelling than Batman (as Batman’s rogues usually are) and I hope this film inspires more of their stories to be told. This film didn’t achieve its full potential, but I appreciate what it did accomplish.

9.3 / 10. I really enjoyed this flawed film and I hope more Batman rogues get this treatment.

Midsommar (2019): An Amazing Film About Grief and Isolation

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   “Hereditary” was one of my favorite films last year and this year “Midsommar” has the potential to be that too. This is a psychological disturbing horror film that delves into the depths of grief. The only thing that really holds it back is the only likable character is our main character.

The film was written and directed by Ari Aster.

The story follows Dani (Florence Pugh) after her sister kills herself and her parents she finds herself isolated and alone. When her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends when they travel to an isolated Swedish village that is the hometown of one of the friends for the village’s midsummer festival.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen all year. There are wide shots that suck in just how isolating open spaces can be. The film largely takes place in daylight and Pawel Pogorzelski uses this to give an ethereal alien feel to our characters as they are drugged by their hosts and the midsummer 9 day festival begins.

Soundtrack – The music uses lots of chants and quick strikes on the strings and drums. This plays beautifully into the isolation and the nature focus of the cult and it plays into the isolation. The music is striking and it makes the scenes and experiences of the characters stand out.

Dani’s Isolation – Dani’s isolation is our primary perspective in the film. It is done beautifully and nature is used to portray it. She is alone, even when she is with people and this is reflected in wide shots of wherever she is (her college or the village) and her visions. The drugs cause some of those visions as well which compounds how alone she is feeling. In the end she is the Cult’s mark and her isolation she feels from the beginning the film is what is taken advantage of.

The Terror of the Cult – The cult is creepy. They view themselves as part of nature and will kill themselves when they reach a certain age or to keep the balance of how many people are in the village. This extends out to people bringing sacrifices to keep alive longer and to sustain the village bloodline. The creepiness is there the moment you enter the village. The villagers never give much information and there are hints in the art on what will happen to the tourists. They are the scariest part of the film and seeing it from Dani’s fear and isolation only makes it more powerful especially as she chooses Christian as the final sacrifice for the festival showing just how in the cult she has become.

Facing Grief – The main arc of the story is Dani facing her isolation and grief over her sister killing herself and their parents. The cult has a life built around the seasons and villagers willingly give up their lives for the cause. This acclimates her to death to the point that by the end she smiles even as her friends and ex are now all dead. For her the breaking scene is when she finds Christian in a sex ritual with a girl from the village. It is here the village women cry with her and in the burning of the past she is reborn in the village and smiles for the only time the entire film.

Okay:

The Characters as Expendable Tropes – The characters are all jerks except for Dani. Her boyfriend doesn’t want to be in the relationship and never listens to her, his friends are a partier and the one who is studying the village for his Thesis and never shows kindness to anyone. The friend who brought them there is terrible as well as he knew he was bringing them there to be sacrificed. The one reason it isn’t a con is it does play well into Dani’s isolation and her eventually becoming the May Queen and a member of the Cult.

If you enjoy horror films or Ari Aster, this is a film I highly recommend. The film is long but it doesn’t feel that way at all. “Midsommar” has has a Kubrickesque feel as it has you sit with characters and scenes so they sink in and you feel uncomfortable by what is happening or what might be about to happen. This is the kind of horror enjoy and the fact that the film uses the theme of grief as an exploration adds another layer to an already great film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 If the other tourists with Dani had been likable it would be perfect.