Midsommar

Favorite Things: Best of 2019

As another year ends, it’s time for me to reflect on my favorite pieces of horror entertainment. It’s been another amazing year for horror, making it incredibly difficult to narrow down what I thought was the best. From movies to books to music to events, here are all of my best horror of 2019 selections!

BEST MOVIES OF 2019 (Note: I have two #1 films as I couldn’t choose between them)

10. Sweetheart

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I had a really hard time choosing between a few films to take this spot on my list, but ultimately Sweetheart stuck with me more than the others. Released on Netflix just before the end of the year, this film by J.D. Dillard brings together the thrills of an aquatic monster film with the deeper message of a social commentary film. I wish Blumhouse had done a bit more to get the word out about Sweetheart. It has great creature design/effects, a strong performance from Kiersey Clemons, and sends an important message. Full review here.

9. Harpoon

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This film surprised me because the three characters are so unlikeable! Normally this ruins a film for me because there isn’t anyone to root for, but it worked in Harpoon. Instead of rooting for someone to survive, we could all relish in their darkly humorous demise. The small setting on a boat adds to the tension of being trapped with people you hate and the performances from all three leads are wonderful to watch. Full review here.

8. Happy Death Day 2U

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It was hard to imagine there was any way to make a sequel to Happy Death Day. Yet writer/director Christopher Landon was able to double down and make a sequel that added to the mythos, injected even more humor, added some great sci-fi elements, and made the film have even more emotional depth. Plus, it’s impossible not to love Tree, played by Jessica Rothe. Full review here.

7. Crawl

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Everyone knows I’m a sucker for aquatic horror. Crawl was no exception. It drew from multiple fears people have including natural disasters, small spaces, and of course alligators. The film is very exciting and surprisingly gory, which is everything I could want from a killer gator film. Yet I believe the film held back just enough to keep it from getting too cheesy. Full review here.

6. The Perfection

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This was a film that caught me completely off guard. While watching for the first time, it shocked me again and again while also making me question what subgenre of horror it would end up fitting into. The many twists and turns, the unique format, and the overall plot made me fall in love with The Perfection. It may not work as well upon second watch, but I won’t forget how it felt watching it for the first time. Full review here.

5. Satanic Panic

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Satanic Panic is by far the funniest horror film I saw this year. I loved the play on the classic 80’s idea that the rich get rich by worshipping the devil. It allowed for some hilarious hijinks and fun practical effects. Plus, it’s impossible to not fall in love with the trifecta of badass female leads; Rebecca Romijn, Hayley Griffith, and Ruby Modine (especially Modine because she has the best dialogue). Full review here.

4. Tigers Are Not Afraid

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Writer and director Issa López truly created a powerful film with Tigers Are Not Afraid. It offers a unique glimpse into the lives of little kids surviving on the streets of Mexico, with an added supernatural element. The children acting in this film are absolutely fantastic. The balance of cartel violence, eeriness, and heartbreak tell a beautiful story that can appeal to even those who don’t enjoy horror. Full review here.

3. Daniel Isn’t Real

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This is a film with a plot that shouldn’t work on film. Yet Adam Egypt Mortimer not only made it work, but he create a beautiful film about trauma, mental illness, and inner demons. On top of having a great story, the film also has gorgeous visuals and superb performances from the two male leads. Daniel Isn’t Real is the kind of film that really takes an emotional toll and sticks with the audience long after it’s over. Full review here.

1. Doctor Sleep

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The more I think about it, the more I completely adore everything about this film. Mike Flanagan managed to write and direct what, in my opinion, might be the best Stephen King adaptation with Doctor Sleep. Not only did he bring the book to life, but Flanagan also managed to incorporate the film version of The Shining to appeal to fans of both the film and the books. The film really perfectly conveys trauma and addiction in a beautiful way, has fascinating characters, incorporates gorgeous visuals, and has a cast of amazing actors. Full review here.

1. Midsommar

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It might seem impossible to create an effective horror film drenched in daylight, but Midsommar does just that. Seeing truly horrific events unfold in the light and in a beautiful setting somehow makes everything more disturbing. Another emotionally driven film, the way writer and director Ari Aster is able to convey grief, trauma, and the longing for that feeling of “home” results in a memorable film experience. As someone who was once in a similar relationship as the one between Dani and Christian, I found the film to be especially cathartic to watch. Full review here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Films I watched, but didn’t review – no order)

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Wounds, The Nightingale, Knife + Heart, Velvet Buzzsaw, Ready or Not

BEST HORROR SHORTS OF 2019

5. Road Trash – Written and Directed by Natasha Pascetta

4. Fanatico – Directed by Hannah May Cumming, Written by Hannah May Cumming and Sam Schrader

3. Hana – Written and Directed by Mai Nakanishi

2. Cemetery Song – Directed by Michelle Prebich, Animated by Justine Prebich

1. Finley – Written and Directed by J. Zachary Thurman

BEST FILM SCORES OF 2019

5. Tigers Are Not Afraid – Music by Vince Pope

4. Black Site – Music by Max Sweiry

3. Candy Corn – Music by Michael Brooker and Josh Hasty

2. Midsommar – Music by The Haxan Cloak

1. Satanic Panic – Music by Wolfmen of Mars

BEST TV SHOWS OF 2019

5. Creepshow S1 – Shudder

4. N0S4A2 S1 – AMC

3. Castle Rock S2 – Hulu

2. What We Do in the Shadows S1 – FX

1. Stranger Things S3 – Netflix

BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2019 (not necessarily released this year)

5. Osgood as Gone by Cooper S. Beckett

4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

3. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

2. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (I know this is cheating since it’s 3 books, but it’s my list so I don’t care)

1. Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

BEST EVENTS OF 2019 (no specific order)

  • Midsummer Scream
  • Portland Horror Film Festival
  • The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder – including the holiday specials
  • Into the Dark on Hulu
  • Joe Bob Briggs Live: How Rednecks Saved Hollywood

 

 

Midsommar

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Dani has experienced recent emotional trauma. When her boyfriend invites her on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a solstice festival in Sweden, she thinks it is just what she needs. The sunny, idyllic location is the perfect setting for the festivities. Yet the rituals become increasingly bizarre and violent, threatening the lives of Dani and her friends.

Writer and director Ari Aster (Hereditary) has created another work of art with his sophomore feature film, Midsommar. This film takes on a different kind of cult that focuses more on the pastoral horror seen in films like The Wicker Man. The audience is first introduced to Dani as she is going through a very traumatic time in her life. She gets roped into what was supposed to be a guys’ trip to Sweden for a festival that only happens every 90 years in a remote village. The insanity that ensues is beautiful, disturbing, sometimes humorous, and everything in-between. Aster clearly has an affinity for paganism and cults and he takes great care in creating an intricate mythology.

There are two aspects of the film that give it quite a bit of intensity. The first is Dani’s emotional issues, which are exacerbated by the tension in her relationship with her boyfriend and the events of the festival. She is constantly at odds with her own emotions. Even when everything is falling apart around Dani, she tries her best to hold herself and her relationship together. The second is with the festival itself. While the events become increasingly horrific, there is an even deeper dilemma that arises with the rituals. Many of the outsiders who are in Sweden for the festival are anthropology students. They show how there is a delicate balance when observing different cultures. Sometimes what you see is horrifying to you, but from that culture’s perspective it is normal. I studied anthropology in college, so I can understand the moral quandary that comes from wanting to be respectful of different customs and cultures, even when faced with something shocking. The way the rituals in Midsommar gradually become more strange and violent allows for tension to build while also conveying the increasing difficulty the outsiders have in deciding when things have gone too far.

One of the most surprising plot points of Midsommar is the underlying theme of home and family. Home can mean different things to different people, but the common thread is usually having a place to belong and being around people who care about you. Much of Dani’s journey relates to family and the need to feel as if she’s at home. The character arc Aster creates in relation to Dani’s quest for that feeling of home is compelling and ends in an entirely satisfying way.

On top of the intricate and suspenseful story, Midsommar also has powerful performances. Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Malevolent) stars as Dani. Pugh makes Dani a fascinating and sympathetic character. Her portrayal especially shines when she conveys Dani’s emotional trauma in a way that is absolutely gut-wrenching. Jack Reynor (Free Fire, Sing Street) plays Dani’s boyfriend, Christian. In many ways Christian is the polar opposite of Dani. Reynor manages to make Christian a very unlikeable character, especially when he is gaslighting Dani and just generally being a terrible person. Normally it is important for couples in film to have great on-screen chemistry. That isn’t the case for Pugh and Reynor as their lack of chemistry only helps to tell the story of their unfortunate relationship.

After only two films, Aster has managed to create a signature style for his films. His films always have gorgeous production design, unique transitions between scenes, and he always has a simple signature sound used throughout the film. Most horror films are shrouded in darkness, yet Midsommar takes the opposite approach. Almost the entire film is drenched in sunlight and has vibrant colors. Not only does the outdoor setting have this appearance, but the various buildings in the Swedish village have this same quality. This is a bold choice that pays off because of how well Aster makes even the most cheery-looking place seem sinister. The cinematography helps to make the production design and the transitions even more eye-catching. In Hereditary, Aster used a slight clucking noise made by one of the stars to build tension throughout the film. Aster repeated this method in Midsommar, only this time it is with a strange, quick breath out and in. This sound is haunting and memorable. It takes the most innocuous sound and gives it an edge that can insight terror.

Midsommar brings terror into the light in this shocking pastoral horror film. Aster perfectly exemplifies his talents as both a director and a screenwriter, making it clear that he is a true master of horror. The film creates a fascinating pagan mythology set in a remote village, then builds on that mythology in disturbing ways. As if that isn’t compelling enough, Aster also uses Dani’s character to convey trauma and the human need for home. Pugh’s portrayal of Dani is haunting and will stick with audiences. There will likely be audience members who don’t like this film because it isn’t scary enough for them, because of the brightly lit setting, or because of some of the more strange rituals. I believe the film is a work of art and I can’t wait to see what Aster comes up with next.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10