Horror movies are an extremely important genre of film. They often tell the stories we don’t want to hear - stories where everyone dies, where people have unresolved dysfunctional relationships, where people are terrified, vengeful, guilty, and violent. Stories that are human. So much of film, specifically Hollywood, ends on a high note - the good guy wins (it’s still usually a guy), the lovers get together, the bad guy gets his due, etc. There is often little logic to how these endings come about and they give the illusion that everything always turns out alright. This is the lie that horror movies so often end up combatting.
Midsommar, from the director of Hereditary, picks up this fight perfectly. The film is about a dysfunctional relationship, an old world culture, and ultimately the redemption a person can find in killing others and finding community, however fucked up it may be. It’s also, much like Hereditary, a story of loss of control, of being powerless in the face of your circumstances. Conservatives often mistake horror movies for being instructions on how to be sick and violent and depraved but they’re not, they’re realistic tales dealing with the very real sick, violent, and depraved thoughts we all occasionally have that conservatives would claim are criminal, or sinful, or from the devil - anything but what they really are: human.
Unfortunately, for a long time after the heyday of 70s, 80s, and up through the mid to late 90s, we’ve had mostly garbage horror movies. Exceptions exist, but the torture porn genre of horror dominated with awful franchises like Saw, Human Centipede, and The Purge being the center of conversation. Besides those we had terrible sequels to dead franchises - Freddy vs Jason, Cult of Chucky, etc. Horror generally became commercial and soulless and lost its intent.
Movies like Night of the Living Dead seems decades ahead of something like 2006's The Hills Have Eyes. Fortunately, over the last few years, new directors and writers have come together and started a horror revival. Their movies question societal norms, make the viewer uncomfortable in a thoughtful way, and address the darker truths of humanity. Movies like Get Out, Us, The Witch, The Babadook, Hereditary, and Midsommar are all some of the greatest horror movies ever made.
Even sillier movies like Truth or Dare and Happy Death Day or more traditional scary movies like The Conjuring and It are making audiences scream, laugh, and shake their heads at the darker sides of being a human being. I’ve often thought the reason people laugh at horror is because laughter is one of the best medicines when dealing with trauma and violence.
There’s a basic truth in becoming a mentally healthy adult that you have to confront and accept your dysfunctional thoughts and impulses. Organized religion and moralizing conservatives would have us think its a fight of good versus evil, but it’s really not a fight at all. Anger, fear, jealousy, etc. are all natural emotions that we can learn from, manage, and deal with healthily when they arise. Horror movies can provide subconscious relief to this part of the mind.
I hope that this trend of high quality horror continues because any critical media is sorely needed in our modern world. If you haven’t, I highly suggest going to see Midsommar. It is disturbing, hilarious, entertaining, and feels totally real. Just don’t expect a happy ending.