An Irish Worldcon, Part 3: Saturday

Previous instalments of my Worldcon write-up can be read here and here.

Folk Horror panelists
For me this morning began with breakfast and then a panel on Folk Horror, featuring Neil Williamson, Lisa Tuttle, Tim Major and Ramsey Campbell. If you have been a member of the Folk Horror Revival group on Facebook for some time now or indeed if you attended the 2014 Fiend in the Furrows conference in Belfast or the British Museum’s Folk Horror Revival event in 2016 (my account of which will soon be available) then some of this ground will be broadly familiar. The folk horror term appears to have been conjured up retrospectively to group three films from the late 1960s and early 1970s (The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, and Blood on Satan’s Claw), all set in the British countryside and appearing to share themes connected with disturbing intrusions into the modern or modernising world of sinister elements from the past. The panel toured through some familiar literary, dramatic and musical works influenced by Folk Horror ideas or lumped into the genre but some of the recommendations here went beyond what is normally recommended in these contexts. I particularly liked the sound of Ghost Wall, a short novel by Sarah Moss about things going wrong when people attempt some Iron Age reenactment (which reminded me of that 1978 TV documentary about people living in an Iron Age village). Lisa Tuttle’s highlighting of the music of The Handsome Family also piqued my interest; they are one of those acts who plays here fairly frequently and are often praised but I have never properly engaged with their work.

I do wonder nevertheless how long this Folk Horror revival has left to run: can people indefinitely discuss the same three films and a whole succession of other things that to a greater or lesser degree are not strictly folk horror? For all that, I was struck by a remark of Lisa Tuttle near the panel’s close: that what is scary in Folk Horror is belief and the way the antagonists in Folk Horror narratives are consumed by a faith that is untroubled by facts or countervailing evidence. In a world where so many countries are currently in the grip of irrational politicians appealing to the atavistic impulses of their followers that kind of analysis seemed particularly on point.

No messing allowed when I met Conor Kostick.
That was pretty much it for programme items for me on the Saturday. Much of the rest of the time I spent at the Point Square information desk. The addition of a sign at the entrance to the Odeon complex telling people that the Alhambra and Stratocaster rooms were in the Gibson Hotel reduced rather than eliminated the numbers of people asking me where they were.

I did have time to wander around the dealers area in the Convention Centre, where I added to my Unread Books Mountain and met hardnut author Conor Kostick, who told me all about that LitRPG stuff that he is now involved in. I also had time for a few pints with some of my buds in Martin’s Bar (named after the late Martin Hoare, Worldcon’s bar manager). My memories are a bit hazy but I seem to recall a conversation about panama hats. Sadly I could not stay forever as I was on cat wrangling duties that evening and had to return home to attend to the needs of Billy Edwards.

Hungry Cat
More of my Worldcon pictures

Film: “Midsommar” (2019)

Ari Aster was widely praised for Hereditary and now he has returned with this offering, which can still be seen in the cinemas. You may well be broadly aware of the film’s premise, which is that a bunch of American students head off to take part in the midsummer festival of a weirdo cult in a remote part of Sweden; high-jinks ensue when the less appealing aspects of the cult’s way of life become apparent. Unusually for a horror film, the action mostly takes place during daylight (the festival is so far north that there is almost 24 hour sunlight). It also takes place in a strange alternate universe where none of the characters have ever heard of either The Wicker Man or Nazi paganism. Of course, many people have never heard of these things, but the American characters are mostly students of folklore and folk traditions, so you would think that both of these would have impinged on their consciousness.

The spectre of The Wicker Man does of course haunt this film, with its similar basic setup, but the film plays with that a bit, using deliberate misdirection. At one point we learn that each year the cultists choose a young lady to be their May Queen, and we think we know where that is going; we are wrong. But the film is also its own thing. Where Howie was alone in investigating Summerisle, here there are a group of American visitors, joined by an amiable English couple (whom I got very fond of and wished they were appearing in a film with a more pleasant outcome for them). The film plays on the tensions between the visitors that in large part distract them from the more unsavoury aspects of the Swedish community’s life: two of the Americans are research rivals, while in turn the romantic relationship of Dani and Christian (mmmm) is in the throes of disintegration.

That relationship is interesting, with the two strongly played by Jack Reynor as Christian and Florence Pugh as Dani. It is easy to see Christian as a bit of a dickhead and I certainly found myself initially thinking of him like that, but I think there is a bit more to him, at least with respect to his relationship to Dani – he is in this relationship that has really run its course but is unable to leave her because she is in a very bad place and to do so would make him a heel (or so he seems to think, perhaps it would be better for everyone if he were to cut and run). The bros he hangs out with are however almost completely terrible.

It should be noted that Pugh’s performance as Dani is particularly striking in the sense of strength and fragility it presents. Anyone who has seen her in Lady Macbeth or the not-good film The Falling will not find this a surprise.
Another thing that should be noted about the film is the bright colour palette, which is not too much of a surprise for a film mostly taking place under the heady lights of a Scandinavian summer. What is particularly striking about this is the way the film evokes the magic mushrooms consumed by the characters at key points in the story, with colours and flowers pulsing in an unstoppable manner. Kudos should also go to the musical soundtrack by Bobby Krlic of the Haxan Cloak, which includes both the tunes performed by the cultists (like the Summerislers, they are a musical bunch) and the more usual kind of scored accompaniment, yet even the latter feels as much like part of the sound design as something meant to just signify mood to the audience. In this it reminded me of the soundtrack to Dunkirk, and I was going to launch into a discussion about how this represents and interesting new direction for soundtracks, until I recalled seeing the same kind of thing recently in the 1977 film Suspiria.

I am however not sure if Bobby Krlic did the song about the bear that appears not in the film but in an advertisement for the Bear In A Cage novelty tie-in product.

Film also features weird sex scene.

images:

välkommen (Guardian: Midsommar: what the hell just happened? Discuss with spoilers)

Handing on the torch (Vanity Fair: Midsommar’s Showstopping Flower Dress Was So Heavy They Hid a Chair Under It)