For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one may leave you miserable. Perhaps you’ve even lost whole nights of sleep in a struggle to get certain images or ideas out of your head, leaving you to trudge into work or school the next morning unable to function properly.
Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them to classics along a 10-point scale so you can determine which are too frightening for you. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore. This time: Ari Aster’s Midsommar, the writer-director’s much-anticipated follow-up to Hereditary. (We’ve included Hereditary below for comparison.) Let the festivities begin.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Midsommar, you know it consists of a series of eerie happenings and rituals that are clearly leading up to a grand ceremonial finale of … some sort. You certainly might start to feel dread about whatever it is these fair-haired revelers have planned, but the movie doesn’t sneak up on you much or rely on cheap shocks, other than one or two mild jump scares and some sudden close-ups on gory images, the latter of which is becoming something of a signature for Aster, who also memorably deployed the device with a severed head in Hereditary.
Although it’s tempered with frequent gallows humor, which I’ll discuss in a minute, Midsommar is pretty dang creepy. With the score by Bobby Krlic, aka the Haxan Cloak, setting up an almost claustrophobic atmosphere of tension, the movie proceeds from one demented, hallucinogenic set piece to the next, and it has several truly horrible deaths that Aster’s camera dutifully lingers on.
About those truly horrible deaths! Not all of them are staged for the camera—sometimes we just see the equally horrible aftermath, leaving us to imagine the deed—but when people do die on screen, we watch it happen in excruciating detail. My thoughts frequently went like this: “Oh, he’s going to cut away now. Ah, nope, going in for a close-up instead!” To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into specifics, but the movie checks pretty much every gore box you can imagine. Also bad for the vomit-averse.
I’ll admit I was straight-up afraid to see Midsommar. I found Hereditary more perversely fun than life-ruining, unlike some of my peers, but ritualistic violence and folk horror are high on my list of “I’d rather not.” Even so, to my surprise, Midsommar often plays like an incredibly dark comedy. At times, I found myself wondering whether we were even supposed to be laughing, but laugh we did. It is genuinely disturbing, and there are some decidedly no-joke sequences of violence and grief, so it still ranks toward the high end of the scale. But all in all, afterward, I slept just fine.
Additional chart photos by PBS, Buena Vista Distribution Company, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, Paramount Pictures, New Line Cinema, Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, IFC Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Lions Gate Films, Pixar, TWC-Dimension, and Sony Pictures.