Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster, is set to unsettle and disturb Film Festival audiences around the country, starting in Auckland this Sunday. How best to prepare for a film that's been lauded as "a psychedelic fairy tale", equal parts "deeply upsetting" and "wickedly funny"? Here are some films that might brace you for what's to come.
The best place to start is probably Ari Aster's first film, Hereditary, the breakout horror that scared the pants off 2018. While there are supernatural spooks and ghostly occurrences in Hereditary, the film is primarily a brutal, painful resignation to the idea that we may be doomed by our own families. As much as this film is scary (like, really really scary), it's also intensely emotional, drawing visceral horror from all-too-familiar themes of grief and family trauma. Toni Collette's Oscar snub for this still hurts; she goes for broke with a harrowing, beautiful, insane turn that's one of the greatest horror performances of all time.
Before Midsommar, another group of friends took an ill-fated trip to Sweden in The Ritual. This little-seen title starring Rafe Spall, dropped quietly on Netflix last year, follows four friends on a hiking trip that goes horribly awry when they take a shortcut through some ominous woods (I mean, what did they expect?). While The Ritual's scares are a little more familiar and cliche, it's still a gripping horror/thriller that packages in a surprisingly heartfelt story about friendship and the journey to overcome grief. There's also a whole lot of creepy paganism in here that should prepare you nicely for Midsommar.
From what we've gathered from early reviews, punters heading into Midsommar shouldn't be expecting mile-a-minute scares – rather, it's a slow-burn horror that takes time to build its atmosphere of dread. The Witch does something very similar, to powerful effect. This 17th-century folk tale about a Puritan family in rural New England feeds on God-fearing paranoia and suspicion to tell an unsettling tale of a family who accuse their daughter of witchcraft when their infant son disappears. Director Robert Eggers pulls some hellish storytelling tricks – just wait until you meet Black Phillip – but the real horror here is internal, with mounting hysteria and fear itself providing more scares than any witch could.
Come along, they said; it'll be fun, they said. That's the set up for Midsommar, and for many horrors before it, most memorably in recent years with Get Out. When we journey with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to her parents' house, something doesn't feel right. Her white parents are overtly, excessively accommodating, and the few black people he meets in their community are behaving very strangely. Get Out takes an astounding dramatic swerve halfway and goes balls-to-the-wall crazy, packing in a vital critique of American racial divides in the form of a visceral, near-perfect horror movie that's a must-see for any genre fan.
Another come-along-they-said thriller, this time in the form of a dinner party that feels off from the get-go. This underrated feature from Jennifer's Body director, Karyn Kusama, follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who, with his new girlfriend, Kira, goes to a dinner party at the home of his ex-wife, Eden, and her new husband. Haunted by the death of his and Eden's son, Will is paranoid from the outset – something doesn't feel right about Eden's new-age spirituality and the intention behind the gathering. Naturally, things go haywire. It's best to go in blind to The Invitation; Kusama's construction of almost unbearable tension and her ability to surprise the audience is masterful. The last half hour of this film will leave you shaking.