The following post contains spoilers for the horror film Midsommar.
Have you seen Midsommar yet? It’s all anyone is talking about.
The indie horror film has been all the buzz across social media, with viewers flocking to Twitter and calling it “disturbing,” “hilarious,” and “beautiful,” per GameStop.
The film was produced by A24 and directed by filmmaker Ari Aster. Aster is well-known for another recently celebrated horror film, last year’s Hereditary, starring Toni Collette.
Critics also have a lot to say about Midsommar. With a score of 83 percent, Rotten Tomatoes certified the film as fresh.
“Ambitious, impressively crafted, and above all unsettling, Midsommar further proves writer-director Ari Aster is a horror auteur to be reckoned with,” reads the site’s critics’ consensus.
One writer over at The Guardian, however, has one major issue with the artsy horror scenes depicted in the film. Midsommar, she says, relies on a problematic trope revolved around showing disabled bodies for shock value — particularly in reference to one character.
Midsommar follows a couple, Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), whose relationship is on the rocks. After Dani loses her parents due to a murder-suicide set forth by her unstable sister, Christian reluctantly invites her on a research trip he and three of his friends and fellow Ph.D. candidates are taking to Sweden.
Jack’s friend’s Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) instigates the trip, as he grew up in a commune called the Hårga, located in the rural province of Hälsingland. The trip coincides with their celebration of midsummer, which happens every 90 years.
Things slowly turn sinister, as Dani, Christian, and his friends take psychotropic drugs and witness suicide rituals set forth by the commune. There is also Ruben, a mysterious disfigured oracle who is the product of incest.
Writer Emma Madden says that much like in Aster’s film Hereditary, “physical and mental disability provides a metaphor for trauma and familial dysfunction” and “the disabled body once again becomes the monstrous body, used to convey a monstrous world” — in reference to Ruben.
Tracing back the origins of the genre, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Phantom of the Opera, says Madden, are all examples of this popular but dangerous trope where disfigurement is seen as horrific. The rise of eugenics, a time when “it was feared that the white and able-bodied race would cease reproducing,” she writes, coincides with the rise of ableism in mainstream horror films.
Madden ultimately criticizes Aster’s decision to include Ruben in the film. The filmmaker previously admitted Ruben plays less of a character and more of a symbol or idea within the film.
“Disability is still considered shorthand for horror,” writes Madden. “How can a new wave of horror truly surface when the same damaging tropes are still being used?”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.