I don’t watch horror movies. I wish I could – my avoidance of the genre doesn’t come from a place of snobbery. Fundamentally, I am just a wuss. However, in the summer of 2019, I went to see Midsommar at the cinema. Why? I can’t really tell you. I would do anything for Florence Pugh, I suppose. Whatever the case, I went to see Midsommar, and I loved it. So what was different about this particular horror flick? Why was Midsommar the exception to the rule?
Let’s start with the basics. If you haven’t seen it, Midsommar is a film about a group of Americans taking a trip to Sweden. After a horrific family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) is reluctantly invited along to accompany her anthropology grad student boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) and Mark (Will Poulter). They’re visiting a remote commune with a mutual friend for a midsummer celebration that only occurs every 90 years and Josh wants to write his thesis on the event. However, once they arrive, things take a disturbing turn.
One thing that immediately sets Midsommar apart from other horror films is the way it looks – the movie is filmed almost entirely in daylight. Aside from the scenes back in the US at the beginning, Midsommar is all bright colours and sunshine. In Sweden, it only gets dark for a short amount of time during the summer months, for one thing. In the trailer, the letterboxing around the picture is blinding white instead of the usual black. There are no shadows for anyone or anything to hide in – everything is thrown into sharp relief.
Then there’s the fact the events of the movie are so far removed from the everyday. The strange behaviours and horrible rituals that take place in the Hårga commune are completely alien to us. When we think about horror, we often think about the uncanny – the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar. The uncanny locates the strangeness in the ordinary, but in Midsommar the ordinary is located amongst the strangeness. There’s nothing familiar about the Hårga. There isn’t anything supernatural in this movie, either – everything that happens can be rationalised or explained. The evil in Midsommar is all human. You could argue that this makes it scarier, as it has more potential to be real, but that’s not how my brain works. It’s why I can watch thrillers and crime dramas but baulk at the idea of ghosts and demons.
I’m not saying Midsommar isn’t scary – I walked out of my screening and straight into the nearest pub for a drink to calm my frazzled nerves. But something about it, the human evil that’s so removed from everyday life and thrown into stark reality by the harsh daylight, cured me of my horror movie fears. Or at least, I think it has – I haven’t been brave enough to test the waters with another one yet.