Cinematic Releases: Midsommar: The Director's Cut (2019) - Reviewed

New York based writer-director Ari Aster has been quite a trendy darling in the horror community over the past couple of years.  Back to back, he singlehandedly transformed the indie releasing company A24 into a formidable box office force with his directorial debut Hereditary and second feature Midsommar.  Both films debatably of the horror genre with frequently extreme elements drawing inspiration from European horror directors such as Roman Polanski or Robin Hardy, the thirty-three year old Mr. Aster quickly established himself as a major player in the horror film ballpark.  Before you dive in, be sure to check out fellow Movie Sleuth writer Michelle and Kyle's reviews here and here.

His previous film from last year, Hereditary marked the first truly terrifying and deeply disturbing horror film dealing in the occult since William Friedkin’s The Exorcist with an equally savage mean streak.  His most recent feature, however, is a far more ambitious and daring effort, pushing the envelope into realms of grotesque rituals and uncomfortable sexuality twined with grief and anger set against the broad daylight retreat of Swedish summer.  Arguably closer to Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage than Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, Midsommar proved to be a harrowing and confrontational work which unfortunately ran into a variety of problems in the editing room on the first go-around.

Though Aster retained final cut in the end, the American-Swedish co-production was hit with the dreaded NC-17 and A24 asked for the director to pare down the film’s near three-hour running time to a more commercially viable two-and-a-half hours.  Given the recent worldwide box office mega-smash Avengers: Endgame with its three-hour running time, that argument of a film being too long to make money no longer exists.  In any event, word got out after the film’s theatrical run that Midsommar was in fact truncated though bear in mind every cut was made with Aster’s full oversight.  Soon enough interest in what was deleted and what didn’t make the more audience friendly censored R rated cut gave birth to what would become known as Midsommar: The Director’s Cut.

Granted a limited release this Labor Day weekend and slated for an eventual iTunes exclusive digital streaming release (no current plans for a Blu-Ray), this is the original unrated version of Ari Aster’s masterful foray into a disintegrating relationship with Pagan ritualistic horror as the backdrop.  Having debuted theatrically with a running time of 147 minutes, this new Director’s Cut restores some 24 minutes of footage, bringing the length to a now extended 171 minutes. 

Filled with scene extensions peppered throughout the film as well as one crucial sequence which in my opinion is the heart and soul of the film, this new Midsommar: The Director’s Cut for me personally fixes much of what felt like holes and jumps in the third act.  While the theatrical cut worked just fine, I would be lying if I said the third act didn’t start to feel like it started making startlingly abrupt leaps in the editing room.  Here, scenes which felt cut a tad short are allowed to play out naturally here with ample breathing room without disrupting the mounting tension or offsetting the power of the film’s ever brutal shocks. 

What stands out the most here is the character of Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor), Dani Ardor’s (Florence Pugh) increasingly distant boyfriend.  While still an arrogant and two-faced prick, the theatrical cut as is still left a modicum of sympathy for his plight once his just desserts arrive.  With the director’s cut, which restores a great fight between himself and Dani, Christian comes off as a complete monster we can’t wait for the Pagans to viciously murder.  It’s a pivotal scene which for me personally is the missing piece that completes the film and provides a significantly different outlook on the film’s coda. 

While I did admire Ari Aster’s second home run with the horror genre and tendencies towards transgression and oppression, something about it felt amiss the first time around, like they started cutting corners to get to the finish line faster.  It felt unnatural and out of step with the beats of the film.  I’m happy to say this new extended and unrated Midsommar: The Director’s Cut resolves those problems and now feels finished and correct.  The theatrical cut is the one most people know and that version still manages to be a terrifying shocker and a return to broad daylight horror, but the director’s cut takes an already great film and perfects it into a masterpiece.

- Andrew Kotwicki