But it can serve another purpose. It can lift us from the pits of depression and despair, as Shannon McGrew observes in her essay at Rue Morgue. "Horror gives us the chance not only to face our fears but to find a way to deal with some of the pain and suffering life throws at us," she writes--an acute assessment whether or not our pain is part of our depression, is situational, or even self-inflicted. They provide comfort when things fall apart.
The past few years have seen several opportunities to exercise our frisson by being immersed in tales of terror in print and film. Paul Tremblay, Nathan Ballingrud, and John Langan have all produced remarkable collections this year, while Us saw Jordan Peele avoid the sophomore slump some of us perhaps expected after his spare, terrifying Get Out.
It's been a remarkable time for the horror story, offering more personal visions than we saw during the genre's heyday, when menacing children stared blankly from black paperback covers and Freddy Krueger stalked our collective unconscious. More remarkable still: this summer has been kind to horror, with two radically different movies providing fans and general audiences alike with a respite from the never-ending run of sequels and remakes that plague the cinematic landscape.
Midsommar, Ari Aster's gorgeous second feature, takes everything he learned from his masterful first effort Hereditary and improves upon it. After a traumatic family incident, college student Dani (Florence Pugh) follows her anthropologist boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to an ancestral commune in Sweden to witness a midsummer ceremony that occurs every ninety years. They arrive to a place where the sun does not set, and tensions arise after the first ritual. Like Hereditary, Midsommar is populated by damaged characters in situations they cannot escape. Bright and surreal, horror fans and critics have compared it to The Wicker Man, though Aster makes this effort at folk horror all his own, and likely will become an art-horror classic. It stayed with me days after my initial viewing.
I understand that Aster won't be making another horror movie after this. He doesn't need to, and I plan on following him wherever he goes.