As we hit the peak of summer, horror fans are being treated to a barrage of fun sequels and remakes. But somewhere between mainstream and independent art-house — lies Ari Aster. His directorial debut Hereditary (2018) stirred up emotion with his unique brand of disturbing storytelling. It was our first introduction to just how high uncomfortable scenes can raise the heart rate without relying on scares alone. This time around we introduced our subject to Midsommar (2019), a Swedish nightmare set in broad daylight.
We restricted our subject to seeing only promo stills of the film and avoided the trailer altogether. We wanted the same apprehension she had walking into Hereditary for the first time. In fact, this time around with Midsommar, our entire team had no idea what to expect.
Dani and Christian are a young American couple with a relationship on the brink of falling apart. But after a family tragedy keeps them together, a grieving Dani invites herself to join Christian and his friends on a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village. The carefree summer holiday in a land of eternal sunlight takes a sinister turn when the insular villagers invite their guests to partake in festivities that are increasingly disturbing.
For Midsommar we equipped our test subject with a professional grade, hospital certified heart-monitor to record real-time measurements of her heart-rate, oxygen intake and stress levels. (FearScale reports on Heart-Rate monitoring but at times will take into account story structure, acting and plot to draw conclusions about physiological responses when compiling results)
Test Subject: Abby
Resting HR: 62-65 bpm
Walking HR: 80-85 bpm
Our subject began Midsommar a few beats higher than her resting average due to the physical apprehension of the film. After the strong opening with a familiar violin soundtrack and some uncomfortable moments, our subject was able to sink into her seat and chill. A few chuckles and some clever audio editing lifted her from resting numbers but it wasn’t until an hour into the film that we saw her mountainous peak of 89bpm occurring at 1:04. The climbing beats per minute mirrored the grotesque scene playing out on screen and similar to those events, our subjects heart rate dropped quickly when it was over.
For the rest of the film, she rode an uncomfortable wave of uncertainty, unsure of how the plot would eventually unfold. As she reached the finale, the choice between laughter and awkward silence became more difficult to make. More often than not, it was a quiet confusion rather than stress affecting her results.
Midsommar (2019) was a beautiful, deep movie at its core but on the surface struggled to create enough exhilarating moments, disturbing or otherwise, to consistently raise our subject’s heart rate. While our subject had moments of nervousness, the film’s slow-burn pacing allowed her numbers to retreat back to resting making it harder to build momentum. A true threat of danger did not emerge until much later in the film, this accompanied with a lack of compassion for certain characters kept her average heart rate fairly low.
However, with a two and a half hour runtime you will have no problem burning off the psychedelic mushroom tea you’ll need to fully comprehend the artistic vision of this trippy experiment in filmmaking.
Midsommar: Burns an average of 231 Calories
Mushroom Tea: 10 Calories