Don’t Stress. You’ve Already Seen the Superior Cut of Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar is my favorite 2019 release I’ve seen so far, with only a quarter of the year left to go. Its morbid humor, detailed costume & production design, and dread-inducing continuation of Wicker Man-style folk horror made for an immensely satisfying theatrical experience. Twice! Last month, A24 re-released Midsommar back into theaters for an unexpected victory lap in an extended “director’s cut,” which was an excellent excuse to revisit the film to see if I was still as high on its perverse charms as I was when it was first released. To my delight, it was even better the second time around, with plenty of winking references to the horrors to come in the film’s transcendent third act telegraphed hours earlier in plain sight (especially involving bear imagery & the Swedish cultists’ blatant honesty about the rituals they’d be performing at the violent height of the festival). However, I don’t think people need to stress too much about having missed the extended, three-hour cut of the film if it didn’t happen to play in a city nearby. You’ll be fine.

No sooner did the extended cut disappear from theaters than it was announced that its streaming rights would be exclusive to Apple TV later this year. That means physical media releases of the film will only include the original theatrical cut, which is the exact kind of thing that drives rabid Blu-ray collectors into apoplectic mania. I was already seeing some online pushback against the extended re-release of the film as an “A24 cash grab,” and those grumblings only gained intensity after the announcement of its precarious life on home video after the fact. I suppose the assumption is that there will eventually be a “Collector’s Edition” re-release of the Blu-ray with the extended cut included as an extra or that, worse yet, it will never reach physical media at all, as its exclusive streaming rights are a better commodity that way. Personally, I can’t be too mad at smaller companies like A24 for working every angle they can to turn a profit in an increasingly tight, over-crowded market dominated by big-budget, Disney-owned IPs. I also can’t be too mad because the extended cut of Midsommar is something of a fans-only novelty. The original release was far superior.

The experience of seeing the extended cut of Midsommar on the big screen was deeply rewarding as an already converted devotee, but not really in any way that could be recreated at home via physical media replay. The original cut of the film tells the exact same story as the extended one. The recovered, extraneous content of the extended cut packs in more Jokes, but narrative-wise only makes what’s already obvious about the characters onscreen more blatantly explicit. Christian is more of a jerk; Josh is more of a selfish academic; Mark is more of a dunce; Pelle is more of a liar; Dani is in more of a daze, etc. It felt like exactly what it was: hitting Play All on the Deleted Scenes menu of a DVD you already loved just as much without them. There’s nothing especially substantial about the extended cut of Midsommar that you haven’t already seen streamlined in the original; at most you missed a few extra laughs. Both cuts were also approved by Ari Aster himself, so it’s not like you could pass the newer one off as a “Director’s Cut.” They’re both director’s cuts. One is just unnecessarily longer.

Most of what I got out of seeing Midsommar on the big screen a second time would have been exactly the same as if it had been the same cut on both watches. As a fan, though, I’m still extremely grateful of A24 for re-releasing the film for a late-summer victory lap. Mostly, that’s because the crowd attracted to seeing an extended release of this already long, niche horror film were a lot savvier than the first batch. Whereas the first crowd I saw it with received the film in perplexed, frustrated silence, pretty much all the jokes landed in the exact right way the second time. No one really laughed at inappropriate moments where humor was not intended either, which feels like an even rarer treat. Plus, all the women in the room were audibly groaning in frustration anytime Christian opened his big dumb mouth throughout, which was incredibly heartwarming after months of bizarre “Christian wasn’t that bad” apologism in the months since the initial release. Maybe a few extra scenes of him being a colossal dipshit helped amplify that reaction, but for the most part the improved environment of the screening had to do more with the crowd the extended cut attracted, not the deleted scenes it recovered.

Watch Midsommar again! It plays even better the second time. Details like the summer camp vibe of the fictional excursion resembling a traditional slasher template and the ursine implications of a cultist clapping in Christian’s face to scare him will jump out at you on a revisit. Just don’t stress too much about “missing out” on the extended cut in this temporary purgatory where its availability is being limited so that A24 can better pay the bills. If you missed the extended cut in theaters you already missed what made the experience special: its ability to draw like-minded weirdos out of their hidey holes to create a better communal atmosphere for the film’s perverse sense of humor. You can totally recreate that experience at home with the original cut by just being selective about what friends you invite over to share it with you. If anything, you’re just saving everyone a half-hour of their time.

-Brandon Ledet

Midsommar (2019)

“For Dani, it is a wish fulfillment fantasy. A fairy tale.”

About a week after seeing Midsommar, the friend with whom I attended a screening featuring a post-film Q&A with director Ari Aster turned to me as we were hanging out and asked, “Boomer, did you actually like Midsommar?” And I replied, “Yeah, of course I did. Didn’t you?” To which he responded, “I’m not sure. I think that Q&A kinda ruined it for me.” And I have to admit, as soon as the film ended, I was fully ready to do my write-up, only for my excitement to dwindle as Aster and Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League swirled mostly-empty rocks glasses and chuckled. At first, I was mostly concerned for Aster’s feelings (I’m a softie like that); when I saw Hereditary, there wasn’t a single guffaw or chuckle from the audience with whom I sat in the dark and partook in a somber meditation on grief (at least until the very end, but I’ll circle back around to that), but in the sold-out audience for Midsommar, there were laughs within the first 5 minutes, leading to out-and-out peals of laughter until the film’s closing moments. I worried that Aster would hear this reaction and determine that we were a theater filled with bumpkins and deviants–and not the fun kind–who didn’t appreciate his work.

This was not the case, or if it was, Aster did a good job covering his disappointment, engaging in the good natured ribbing of the characters’ foibles, noting that if a viewer didn’t think the film was intentionally comedic by the time an older woman was manhandling the male lead’s buttocks and helping him thrust, then he must not have done his job. Comedy was his real interest, he stated, and he had gotten sidelined into doing horror because that seemed to be of greater public interest. And that is one of the beautiful draws of Midsommar: it is hilarious. I needn’t have worried at all it seems; I wrote in my Hereditary review about “a moment close to the end of the film that sent much of the auditorium agiggle, despite being one of the creepiest sequences,” but Aster stated that he himself found that scene hilarious, and it was intentionally comedic.

It’s been long enough since Midsommar came out that an extended director’s cut rerelease has already happened, but in case you’ve had the misfortune of missing the film, a brief synopsis: Dani (Florence Pugh), recently having experienced a horrific family tragedy, accompanies her douchebag boyfriend Chad Christian (Jack Reynor) on a trip to Sweden. Ostensibly, this is not a holiday but a research expedition as part of Josh (William Jackson Harper)’s thesis research about Hårga, the commune from which the group’s exchange student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) hails. However, the inclusion of Mark (Will Poulter), a doofus completely lacking in even the least bit of self-awareness, cements that the Swedish foray exists solely for the purpose of eating a bunch of mushrooms and trying to bed as many commune girls as possible during the Hårga’s titular Midsommar festival, with this year’s being a special kind that only comes every ninety years. And then, as is the genre’s wont, bad things happen. And good things, too. After all, that quote about Dani above? That’s from Aster.

From Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Dead Calm to upcoming Movie of the Month Who Can Kill a Child?, I’m pretty much always on board with a daytime horror movie. Midsommar pushes past the boundary of the “day won’t save you” concept into a completely disorienting perpetual daylight. This starts even before the audience has the opportunity to ask themselves if something’s rotten in the village, when Mark expresses unease upon learning that it is after 8 PM, despite the sun still appearing high in the sky; the film takes advantage of the northern latitudes’ geographically anomalous prolonged days and plays on the effects that could arise from being unaccustomed to such an unusual night/day rhythm. Characters attempt to circumvent community rules under the cover of “darkness” with about the success that you would expect. People lose track of time and then possibly lose track of the concept of time, all under the watchful and unfaltering gaze of the sun. That alone isn’t enough to make the film worthwhile, of course; the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man kept the seminal original’s daytime frights, but lost the core of what made Robin Hardy’s version a classic (although what it lost in the fire it gained in the flood; it’s a romp).

What makes Midsommar work isn’t just the unease that comes from the finding of no safe haven from horror in the light, it’s also the discomfiting nature of lingering on what Aster called “static image[s] of relatively little interest.” It’s been three years since the YouTube channel “Every Frame a Painting” stopped updating, but I have no doubt that they would have a lot to say about the growing Aster oeuvre. His two big features so far have depended heavily on lingering shots of mostly-static settings to convey a sense of displacement and balance. The mainstream horror-going audience has spent over a decade now subsisting on films that depend heavily on unearned jump scares to produce a reaction, but Midsommar and its predecessor instead use the quietness of their presentation to inspire a disquiet of the soul. We’ve been forcefed Baghouls hiding behind open medicine cabinet doors for so long that when lingering shots of pastoral peace are succeeded by calm pans across striking farmhouses or documentarian framing of a Swedish banquet, there’s nowhere for that energy to go; so it just builds and builds until whoops, now you’re wearing a bear suit and boy are you not going to like it.

A friend who is known for his tirades recently produced a new rant about the performative sententiousness of horror fans, noting that many he has met seem to think that horror fans have a kind of ownership of subtextual analysis. And hey, I know I’ve been guilty of that. (Said friend also hated Hereditary, unsurprisingly.) In a way, Aster reminds me of Panos Cosmatos, in that his films act as originals in spite of being pastiches of older genre films; I’ve said before that my favorite thing about Hereditary is how it starts out as an apparent homage to The Bad Seed, before turning into Ordinary People for so long that you gaslight yourself into thinking all that seemingly extraordinary stuff from Act 1 was just in your head, before bam: Rosemary’s Baby all along. In Midsommar we find a movie that, frankly, owes its existence to the aforementioned The Wicker Man (1973, just to be clear), but has a lot more going on than at first meets the eye. You don’t need another thinkpiece on this movie; various outlets have already dove into the apparent pro-eugenics nature of the narrative, an argument that I’ve read four times now and still have difficulty following, and have read the film as a trans narrative and a new camp classic. And if a slightly sloppy Q&A (someone actually gave Aster their contact info on a Drafthouse order card and asked to work on his next project, so the audience was matching the level of “shoot your shot” that the director was putting out, at least) in which Aster admitted under questioning that the 72-year life cycle didn’t actually jibe with the 90-year festival cycle didn’t ruin it altogether, I don’t think anything can.

P.S.: I didn’t even get to touch on my three favorite moments, but here they are:

  1. The paneled cloth depicting a particular Hårga fertility ritual, and each time that something popped up on screen that had appeared in it previously (how Christian didn’t notice that his lemonade was distinctly pinker than anyone else’s is a mystery).
  2. The foreshadowing in Pelle’s scene with Dani, where he tells her that his parents died too. In a fire.
  3. “What game are those kids playing?”
    “Skin the fool.”

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond