Sunny and 73: Horror in the Daylight

By Jordan Gerdes

The trailer for Midsommar dropped today, and the internet cannot wait to get their hands on this. The thing about Ari Aster’s sophomoric follow up to Hereditary is that it is so bright. A complete contrast to Hereditary, which was predicated on dimly lit shots, using darkness to conceal hidden horrors until your eyes adjusted enough to comprehend them. Midsommar is full of natural light, pastel colors, and blue skies, and clearly isn’t like many horror films. This discussion was started in multiple twitter threads, about bright horror or sunny scary movies, as a subgenre.

These films are few and far between, but they exist. Films that seek to accomplish the same introspective analysis of the macabre or the uncanny, but rather to do it awash in daylight. The uncanny is the idea of taking something familiar, and skewing it, making it unfamiliar, threatening, or uncanny. Perhaps that is the most uncanny, to take something we are told is safe ,like the daylight,, and turn it against us, making it the setting for all our horror. So many films are predicated on surviving the night, or being afraid of the dark. In fact, the light is usually the safest. So, I decided to compile a list of a few films that take that safety of daylight, and make it just as horrifying.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Robin Hardy’s film follows a police officer’s visit to Summerisle, an isolated island off the coast of Scotland, in his search for a missing girl. Sergeant Howie soon finds that the inhabitants of the island are practicing paganism. This classic film is shot in predominantly all daylight, and is the most in theme with Midsommar as far as we can tell right now, both centering around pagan festivals. Wicker Man is loaded with shots that tell you something is awry, bathed in sunlight and blanketed in blue skies. Specifically the last shot of the film, the Wicker Man ablaze, crumbling to reveal the sunset behind it, is something that will stand out as a champion of the bright and uncanny.

Hell (2011)

Tim Fehlbaum’s German horror film follows a group of people trying to survive after climate change. Specifically, solar flares have destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere. There is little water, crops have died, and it is deadly to travel outside during daylight hours. The film’s cinematography transition between the safety of darkness, behind cardboard and newspaper taped up to keep out the sun, and the harsh natural light of outside, often overexposing the shot at first, that strains the eyeballs and entrances them at the same time. This underrated gem literally makes the sunlight scary.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper’s slasher follows a group of friends road tripping to a family estate. While some is shot in darkness, Hooper’s 16mm low speed film required four times more light than today’s cameras, resulting in brightly lit scenes, or naturally lit scenes. Once again, the last shot of Leatherface in a rage against the setting sun is something that has always stuck with me, illuminating a boogeyman that doesn’t have to hide in the shadows.  

Carriers (2009)

Alex and David Pastor’s viral pandemic film follows a group of two brothers and two girls headed to a secluded beach where they can wait out the spread of the virus and find a way to start new lives. Along they way they must traverse collapsing society, armed groups of militants, and infected people. This one shares a lot in common with Hell, as they are both roadtrip movies that feature daylight shots, and force us to look upon a world in shambles, brightly lit.

The Human Centipede (2009)

Directed by Tom Six, this film’s reputation surely precedes it. It tells the tale of a crazed German surgeon, who kidnaps three people and sews them surgically, mouth to anus, to form a conjoined triplet, or a human centipede. It’s shocking, nasty, and vile, but it does feature lots of natural lighting, and specifically uses sunlight for the first reveal of the “human centipede”, a scene that is equal parts disturbing and memorable. Say what you will about Tom Six, but that scene is great.

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