I just saw Ari Astor’s Midsommar and was blown away by it.
In brief, the whole horror lifestyle that I live by is a funhouse aesthetic that cutes up the fact that I believe existence is bookended by existential dread, that real bonding is hard as long as we spend our times locked inside our own heads, and that the safest bet is always to bet your money on people’s worst habits and personality traits winning out. It’s why compassion is so important to me and why treating people with kindness is so necessary: when all that is decent in humanity is always on the losing side, it’s those small acts of compassion that means the most.
It’s why I liked Midsommar. It reminded me of everything I loved in the horror genre, only with fewer masks and fewer pantomimes. It says “yes, life is fear, pain, and death at its bedrock, in the midst of life we are in death etcetera.”
I can talk about specific problems or experiences in my life, but when I see it captured in some form of art then I feel seem and understood. I can tell people, “hey, this experience hurts,” and they’ll nod and sympathize and care, but it’s different when you encounter something that accurately captures the feeling of being there.
When I watch Midsommar I can point to the screen and say “this is what it’s like to get a scary message about a loved one in trouble that turns into the worst possible scenario. This is what it’s like to try to express grief and pain to people who either can’t or refuse to sympathize. This is what it’s like to take a psychedelic when your brain isn’t a shiny happy round red gum ball and have it drag you into your own custom hell. This is what it’s like to feel like you have a black cloud in your heart that you’re just trying to vomit out. This is what it’s like to have constant nightmares about ghost versions of people you know and love who become distant and alien and scary in your mind.”
It ain’t a perfect movie. Like Hereditary it’s in love with scattering puzzle pieces that are meant to reward viewers after repeat viewings at the cost of blunting the emotional impact of the story, and there is a halfway point where it kind of becomes just another horror film as an exercise in atrocity, but there is a pretty fantastic hook towards the end.
Much of the horror in the film is based around a sense of community. Dani, the lead character, is grieving the death of her family but she’s doing it around a bunch of people that aren’t equipped to deal with it. She has to separate herself from her friends and boyfriends to panic and cry, so as not to test their patience. By that point in the film, we know the cult is one of those daffy groups who worship the sun or whatever and ominously make outsiders disappear, but when Dani sees something that magnifies all her pain and terror, the girls surrounding and lavishing love on her don’t let her run away. They cry and scream and share her pain with her. It’s a type of love that you just don’t really see all that often in the modern world (though it reminded me a lot of the group therapy scenes that violent prisoners shared in the documentary Work) and I could see it being incredibly healing and helpful. As the child of a broken man who joined new age communities to heal the damage of a bad childhood, I’m skeptical of touchy feels communities that have a toxic agenda underneath their touchy-feely exterior, but that one aspect of it is good. It’s what the character needed.
Lately I’ve been obsessed with the concept of hedonic reversal, which is essentially the weird trick of some brains to find pleasure in stimuli that most people would consider negative. I feel like that idea fits me to a tee, in a Garbage’s “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” kind of way. I’ve always had a love for the gloomy and the macabre and I’m not particularly shy about physical or emotional pain so long as it’s not connected to something I’m terrified by. This movie hit those buttons for me. Before Midsommar got all Black Mirror obvious, I felt seen and acknowledged.
It was like taking poison to heal.