Connect with us


‘Midsommar’ (2019): Dani’s Divisive Development



Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) is one of the most contentious horror movies of recent years, with people either loving or hating it. I’ve never met anyone who said it was just okay. Personally, I’m on the loving side. I see it as a disturbing character study of Dani, a young woman who experiences extreme trauma. This article, with spoilers galore, will discuss Dani’s development, particularly in the director’s cut.

The inciting incident of Midsommar comes in the first few minutes. Dani’s sister Terri has sent an ominous email ending with “goodbye” just before killing herself and their parents via carbon monoxide poisoning. Because of Terri’s bipolar diagnosis, Dani’s boyfriend Christian wants to write off this last email as another “obvious ploy for attention.” Although Dani is panicking, saying that this message “seems different” from the others, Christian tiredly gaslights her into disregarding the serious nature of it. He sees Dani as hysterical and needy. Dani, meanwhile, is just trying to care for her sister in a difficult time. Christian writes off Terri as irrational and Dani as enabling.

Of course, as we soon learn, the email was not seeking attention but was truly a farewell. Christian’s disregard for the sisters’ needs shows that his empathy is lacking. We learn that he’s wanted to break up with Dani for over a year, but he hesitated because he might want her back. It’s clear, however, that he doesn’t love or even care for her anymore. Dani expresses to a nameless friend her worries of leaning on him too much, of beingtoo much. Her friend says the point of a relationship is to lean on each other, and wouldn’t Dani be there for Christian if he needed support? Dani struggles, as so many women do, with the desire to not appear needy and as a chore. Women, like all living beings, do have needs. Women, like all humans, are social creatures who need support from time to time. Dani fills space in her boyfriend’s life. She is not a background figure or a toy, despite how much he wants her to be. Granted, by the time the movie starts, there’s really no good opportunity for Christian to end the relationship. Even so, he doesn’t deserve to die.

Yet his death at the end is a victory for Dani. She has developed from a passive to a functional character in her own story. She surveys the turmoil and fire, smiles, and thinks to herself, “I did this.” Some audience members may smile with her, like I did. Not only has she become an active player, but the one who restrained her will never have power again. She “purged the wickedness,” which is also what a villager says before setting the temple ablaze. She is no longer complicit and beaten down. How much more can we ask for than to be seen and to be an active participant in life?

Let’s look more into her development. When Dani finds out about Christian and his friends’ upcoming trip to Sweden and asks him about it, he gaslights her again. She remains calm as she confronts him, but his insistence that he should leave so she can cool down leads her to apologize profusely. But Dani has nothing to apologize for. She didn’t verbally or physically attack and she didn’t even cry, though her upset is clear and valid. At this point, she is a passive player in her own life.


Dani first genuinely smiles when she speaks to Pelle about his Swedish home. We glimpse who she could be when she doesn’t feel herself a burden. Sweden and Pelle provide the opportunity for her to feel belonging. In Sweden, when Dani has a panic attack, Christian is nowhere to be seen but Pelle is there to comfort her. He asserts that she deserves a family, to be “held,” to have a home. Christian gives her none of that. This is an early turning point for our protagonist, one of the first instances when she sees potential for healing.

One common criticism of Midsommar, especially the director’s cut, is the amiable framing of the Swedish cult. Dani is undoubtedly indoctrinated into the cult at a time when she most needs support. On the way to Pelle’s home of Harga, Christian’s friend Josh reads a book about Nazi symbols because the village uses such a runic alphabet. Dani makes light of this and says, “See that, Pelle? You’ve managed to brainwash all of your friends.” Little does she know how true this is. Pelle jokes that Christian was brainwashed already, which we can deduce from his enthusiastic participation with the cult from the beginning.

Furthering the Nazi agenda are the allusions to eugenics, such as when another friend, Mark, asks what makes Swedish women so hot and gets a vague answer about the gene pool. He doesn’t care much about how that gene pool is cultivated because he is shallow and already brainwashed. Incest is also discussed in Harga, when we learn that outsiders are occasionally brought in to avoid such coupling.

It is exceedingly important that Dani becomes the May Queen. She is an outsider, alone in the world, but once she starts dancing, she loses herself in giggles, smiles, and community. The fact that the May Queen is not a Harga native shows how easily a vulnerable person can be taken in. Studies have shown time and time again that people who feel isolated and weak are often picked up by cults. Look at Germany when Hitler came to power or, in a more recent case, incels and the far right in the U.S.

Dani’s grin at the end displays her reclaimed power. She is now healing from trauma through community. The audience members who smile with her may be in need of some healing themselves. As a person who experienced trauma and is still recovering myself, I felt Dani’s relief in the final shot. In the beginning, she bears the crushing weight of survivor’s guilt. By the end, she is able to smile not because she’s polite or high, as happens before, but because she wants to. The desire and ability to smile probably seem like trivial matters to those who haven’t experienced trauma or neurodivergence. When a person is in the depths of depression, trauma, or any significantly disruptive event, smiling can be a difficult task. Wanting to express a positive emotion is a huge feat, and I am so glad that Dani reaches that point with us.


Although Dani finds her power in a deeply problematic collective, the simple fact is that she develops from passive and alone to an active figure in a loving community. That community just so happens to be a eugenicist murder cult.


Amanda Nevada DeMel is a born-and-raised New Yorker, though she currently lives in New Jersey. Her favorite genre is horror, thanks to careful cultivation from her father. She especially appreciates media that can simultaneously scare her and make her cry. Amanda also loves reptiles, musicals, and breakfast foods.

Continue Reading


Why the Willy Wonka Boat Scene is Still the Scariest Thing You’ve Ever Seen



“There’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…”

If those words don’t immediately strike fear into your very heart, then someone was very good to you as a child. You were somehow spared the experience of being set in front of 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), blissfully unaware of what you were about to get yourself into. And look, it’s not like the boat scene comes out of nowhere. There’s already a bit of murder and mayhem going on in the first act before the boat scene. Hell, mere minutes before we reach the boat scene, we have consigned Augustus Gloop to a fate of being slowly asphyxiated as his lungs fill with molten chocolate, like the world’s most delicious case of pneumonia.

But the boat scene. Nothing quite matches its raw power, even more than five decades later. Here it is, if you need a refresher:


Willy Wonka, Why Are You Like This?

There are a lot of different reasons that this scene exists. For one, Roald Dahl (who was also the film’s screenwriter, though he eventually disowned the film over some uncredited rewrites) was never afraid of including material that would rattle his audience a bit. Ever heard of The Chokey? 


Dahl was in tune with the fact that children’s stories, largely being parables of one kind or another, do typically feature some kind of unsettling or downright horrifying element to help teach their lessons. This is a tradition that dates back to fairy tales and early folklore. Listen to your elders, or you’ll turn into sea foam trying to get a human prince to notice you. Don’t wander by the river at night, or La Llorona will drown you. And here’s a personal favorite: Make sure to sweep the floor, otherwise the Sweepings Demon Ahalmez and the Stabbing Demon Ahaltocob will lurk in those unswept areas and stab you to death. 

That’s why the darker elements of Willy Wonka are present in the first place. However, the boat scene stands out among the rest because it is so brilliantly put together. The base layer of the footage playing out on the tunnel walls is creepy enough. There’s a sinister, unpredictable arbitrariness to what images are chosen and why. However, pair that with Gene Wilder’s outstanding performance as Willy Wonka and you’ve got pure magic. Wonka was never designed to be understood, and the way his eerie, partly sung monologue builds to a climax caught somewhere between abject terror and orgiastic delight is deliciously opaque and disturbing.

Not only is this downright terrifying to witness in the first place, it taps into the way that children’s fates lie in the hands of adults pretty much all of the time. This scene is an immaculate exaggeration of how, when you’re a child, the adults in your life are driven by motives that are murky to you at best, and trusting that they have your best interests at heart isn’t always an easy thing to do.

The Willy Wonka Boat Scene in a Broader Context

On top of all the stuff the Willy Wonka boat scene is doing on purpose, there’s something about the fact that this scene was put together in the early 1970s that helps lend it its undying potency. If you need proof of this, check out the same scene from Tim Burton’s 2005 re-adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s just not the same, sending Charlie and his pals down a CGI-laden log flume that’s so unmemorable I had to look up if the movie even had a boat scene.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came to cinemas at a time that horror filmmaking was reaching a new creative peak, just three years after Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby showed what horror masterpieces could look like on opposite ends of the spectrum, offering up infinite possibilities in between. Things were really cooking at this time, as grindhouse cinemas churned out grotty horror outings (like Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1970 gross-out flick The Wizard of Gore) en route to a true explosion of exploitation cinema.


Willy Wonka’s boat scene is born from the same primordial ooze that gave us 1972’s The Last House on the Left, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and 1978’s I Spit On Your Grave. It’s gross to look at, deeply disturbing, and feels genuinely unsafe.

Even though the way the images are projected behind the passengers doesn’t necessarily look real, it nevertheless looks tactile, grungy, and gross. This is thanks to the quality of film stock used to make these kinds of movies at the time. It has a tactility to it that digital cinema doesn’t possess, leaving you feeling like if you were to reach out and touch it, it would either abrade your hand or leave behind a trail of slime, something that enhances the viscerally repulsive sight of images that were already designed to poke at your lizard-brain fears.

Because all of this is found within the context of what is ostensibly a children’s movie, the juxtaposition of genres makes it even more powerful to witness. The Willy Wonka boat scene is well-made, well-timed, and well-suited to making your skin crawl, no matter what age you are when you encounter it, or how many times you may have seen it before.

Continue Reading


My Final Girls Support Group: How Horror Helps Me Grieve



This article discusses topics that may be distressing or triggering to some readers. If you find such content uncomfortable, you may choose to proceed with caution or refrain from reading. Your well-being is important, if you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there is help.

Sidney: I’ve seen this movie before.

 Ghostface: Not this movie, Sidney.

 Sidney: You really need some new material.

 Ghostface: I got you here, didn’t I?


 Sidney: You might actually be the most derivative one of all. I mean, Christ, the same house?

 Ghostface: Maybe so. But you forgot the first rule of surviving a Stab movie. Never answer the—

 Sidney (hanging up): I’m bored.

Seeing a Final Girl Come Full Circle

Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott hanging up on Ghostface is maybe one of my favorite moments from the entirety of the Scream franchise. She’s come so far since the first movie, and after 25+ years, she deserves to be able to hang up on her trauma. 

On July 6th, 2023, I sat in my mom’s dark hospital room alongside my aunt, dad, and brother as we watched my mom take her last breath. On July 6th, 2015, I walked into my roommate’s room, who was also one of my best friends, to find him dead in his bed. 


So, unfortunately, Sidney’s whole conversation with Ghostface in Scream (2022) right before hanging up on him has become quite relatable to me. It was a scene I could never shut up about, even before it became so painfully relevant. It’s a scene I’ve rewatched a lot since my mom’s passing. It’s a moment I want to be able to recreate someday—me, more annoyed than anything else when my trauma starts resurfacing.

The week after finding my friend dead, I found myself watching both parts of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2 finale, “Becoming“—found myself crying every time I watched Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy Summers slow motion run to help her friends, knowing she’d already failed and when she caught the blade of the sword her evil ex hurled at her, hitting him with the hilt before kicking every inch of his ass. After my mom’s passing, I found myself revisiting the end of Buffy’s season 5, where she’s grieving the loss of her mom but still having to deal with the current apocalypse—even saying, “I just wish my mom was here,” before going into battle in the finale.

An Outlet Via Horror

It’s moments like these that draw me to horror, especially when I’m grieving. I am more drawn to slasher-type movies when grieving than horror movies dealing with grief. I love Hereditary and The Babadoook, but those movies don’t make me feel the way I do watching Sidney hang up on her trauma, aka Ghostface, or watching Buffy beat the shit out of her evil ex-boyfriend. I want to be Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers telling Ghostface, “fuck you” even when she thinks she’s about to die in Scream VI. I want to be strong, I want to be able to survive—and also be witty about it. Watching final girls not only survive but be able to move on with their lives is something I find incredibly empowering—and inspirational.

I went to horror author Grady Hendrix’s book tour for his novel Final Girls Support Group. He did a full-on presentation before the actual signing and gave a history of horror that ended with him saying something like, “We don’t watch horror to watch people die but to watch them survive.” That notion has stuck with me ever since I saw it because it’s why I watch horror. The younger guy I was on a date with found it corny—I found it beautiful. I want to watch people survive odds that feel insurmountable—and not in a Hallmark movie way.

We’ve all seen the supercut of Jamie Lee Curtis saying, “It’s about trauma” at every single stop on her press tour for David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy. It became a meme-able moment, but also it’s true—I’m always interested in what the final girl or group of survivors from a horror movie do after they’ve survived. They would all clearly carry their trauma with them, not unlike me, but they’re still surviving. It’s why I hate any horror franchise bringing back a final girl just to kill her (I’m looking at you, Friday the 13th Part 2 and Final Destination 2). I’d rather never see her again than have her come back to die because that feels just too cruel and unfair—which, sure, life is unfair, but fictional stories don’t have to be.


In Halloween: H20, JLC’s Laurie Strode is shown to have had trouble moving on after the events of the second movie. But by the movie’s end, she’s saved her son (heartthrob Josh Hartnett) and his pals and goes to find Michael Myers for a final showdown—screaming his name while yielding an axe, no less! After defeating him, she makes sure he’s dead by chopping his head off (no, we won’t acknowledge Halloween: Resurrection). It’s why that movie stays my favorite in the Halloween franchise. It’s something I didn’t love about the newer trilogy, where they retconned all but the first movie and showed Laurie a total mess, prepping for an apocalypse with a zillion guns and living in the woods. But even that gave us a gratifying ending with Laurie, in front of the entire town of Haddonfield, throwing Michael into a trash compactor. I would love to crush my trauma into tiny little pieces that I leave in the bottom of a dumpster.

I often try to imagine what my gratifying horror moment would be. My trauma comes from real life—I have no monster to chop the head off of. No one is calling to scare me and telling me they’ll gut me like a fish. My horror movie is way more slow-moving with zero chase scenes. My horror movie is a boring one. But still, I find these women all empowering because, ya know, metaphors.

Finding Hope Through Horror

In Ready or Not, our final girl fights for her life against a family trying to kill her—only for her to survive long enough to watch them all explode due to a deal with the devil. In You’re Next, our final girl wields an axe and takes out the folks trying to take her out. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, our final girl tells her boyfriend, “I’m into survival” when he finds her reading a book on booby traps. These characters aren’t going down without a fight. In my life, I have yet to make it to the end of my horror movie—but when I do, I hope I can still be a badass final girl about it.

Having two of the biggest losses in my life happen on the same day really feels like a joke. The writers of my horror movie really do need to get new material. But seeing these final girls on their 89th movie and still not getting got—it gives me hope. 

I want to not only outlast but go on in the ways folks like Sidney Prescott, Laurie Strode, Gale Weathers, and Buffy Summers do. 


Sam: Are you going to be all right?

Sidney: I’ll survive. I always do.

For more on how horror can help us cope with tragedy, read here.

Continue Reading

Horror Press Mailing List