Midsommer: unwatchably good horror

I’m a long-time horror connoisseur. Like many, I adore the genre and all of the twists and turns the genre has delivered over the years. The psychopathic serial killer we can’t help but love, the world-ending apocalypse I catch myself almost wanting to live in myself and the characters that are thrust into gut-wrenching situations that must do whatever it takes to survive.

But like any nerd for the genre, I catch myself growing tired of the repetition. Like clockwork, we get more or less the same horror movies each year: a family moves into a home, ghosts terrorize them one-by-one, they figure out how to escape the horrifying mystery or die trying. I’ve lost count at how many movies have been added to the never-ending “Conjuring” universe, and have, quite frankly, given up trying to find rationale for an eighth “Saw” film.

But with the saturation of endless sequels of over-done franchises, I still believe in the existence of a diamond in the rough. Personally, I’ve found a few of these treasured diamonds that have left my jaw on the ground and my skin crawling over my bones.

Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” a horror-movie cast against the ghastly atmosphere of broad daylight and lush, natural surroundings, left me stricken with this exact reaction and more. The physical reactions I had to this movie were nearly indescribable as I watched the rest of the theater stand and leave in a similar state once it was over.

The movie follows a broken relationship between a college-aged girl named Dani and her boyfriend Christian. As audiences are convinced their fractured relationship won’t last the next 10 minutes of the film, horrific tragedy strikes Dani, who is already struggling with a severe anxiety disorder. This tragedy, which occurs in the very beginning of the film, is the type of situation that one can expect from an Ari Aster movie (I’m a huge “Hereditary” fan, I’ll admit). We are presented with a scene that is very carefully constructed and made to look almost grotesquely, disgustingly beautiful; no extended torture or “Saw”-style gore is anywhere to be found. Even so, I found myself deeply uncomfortable and frightened when presented with it within the first 10 minutes, and instantly knew what was to be expected on what would be a rollercoaster ride of a movie.

After that particular scene, the title screen rolls. Much to the dismay of Christian’s friends, Christian brings Dani along on their trip to Sweden for one of their friend’s home community’s midsummer festival in the months following the tragedy. Christian knows he can’t break up with Dani after what happened, for it would be far too cruel. Despite this, he keeps his emotional distance from her as her mental health continues to plague her during the trip.

Once in Sweden, the group finds themselves in a small, outdoor community that is both strikingly beautiful and abhorrently sinister – in a world that knows no nighttime during this part of the summer, their traditions and celebrations are fun, upbeat and horrific as anything the group of friends could ever imagine. They quickly realize there is something profoundly wrong with the community, despite their Swedish friend’s reassurance that it is normal for them.

I believe it’s easy to disturb with blood, gore and the like. Gross-out movies are not as uncommon as people may believe, and typically offer cheap, easy ways to scare or “gross-out” an audience. What usually comes to mind with this particular category are all the “Saw” films, notably past the first two in the franchise and films such as “The Human Centipede”.

“Midsommar,” however, never once felt “easy” to me. While it’s imagery left me wishing I could turn away, the scenes that audiences are exposed to are grotesquely artistic and mournful, equally beautiful as they are gut-wrenching throughout the film. We never watch anyone die – we only watch what is made of them after, and what they are made to turn into before. This “cult” they find themselves in is not even a real “cult” – the Swedish group does not try to indoctrinate its members, nor does it seek to dominate the thinking or beliefs of outsiders. They merely want to share their traditions. If you disrespect them, they simply grow very, very angry.

The character development of Christian and Dani is also to be applauded, for character development is something that I don’t believe is done well in the majority of horror movies. We see exactly what type of person Christian and Dani are – and while this is no feel-good movie, the movie forces you to wonder if its terrifying final events are truly as bad of an outcome as they seem. I love movies that make me gape at a good character-turned-bad in disbelief, at stories where you can’t help but stare at the screen and root for them as they watch the world burn around them. You won’t know what to think about certain characters by the time this movie is over. It’s one of the elements of “Midsommar” I love the most.

While some parts of the movie feel drawn-out at times, part of this is due to the fact that audiences are constantly kept in a state of suspense. Nobody really knows what is going to happen next, and when the movie grows quiet and serene, you aren’t sure if bloodshed or light celebration is to come next. It keeps the movie flowing, even if there are moments where it feels that the most you are exposed to is a long, seemingly endless scene that only gives you the characters, the sunshine and the looming reminder that mental and physical agony will follow the unfortunate group of friends wherever they go.

“Midsommar” was a phenomenal edition to a recent trend of horror movies where they not only stand out as incredible horror tales, but as incredible films with unique, moving storylines and vibrant characters. Though I feel guilty saying this, please go watch “Midsommar” for a refreshing take on horror and the debilitation of mental health on an individual and a family, as I certainly won’t be able to stomach watching it again.

Samantha Walsh is a fourth-year student majoring in English and special education. SW850037@wcupa.edu

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