By Akie Kutsunai
Note: Spoilers for “Midsommar” and “Ready or Not”
The problem can’t be solved if it can’t be found, and this summer, we found some problems lurking in soft-spoken packages. “Midsommar” (2019) takes familial and romantic trauma and moves it outside, into the light of the unceasing Swedish sun; “Ready or Not” (2019) takes a bright new beginning inside, into the cloistered, candle-lit mansion. Over the course of each film, our final girls find the true nemesis is not within themselves, but without: their lives have taken an unexpected turn because of the men who are closest to them. How could these guys ever hurt anyone? They have the best intentions, and they never mean any harm! They’re nice guys!
The Nice Guy can be a bait and switch villain who has risen to recent prominence in narratives including “Megamind” (2010), “Colossal” (2016), and “Big Little Lies” (2017-present). In horror movies, the Nice Guy is a step up from ‘the call coming from inside the house’ of “When a Stranger Calls” (1979)—this time, the call is coming from inside a female character’s entire life. The metatextual commentary on the killer secretly being one of the good guys all along came to modern big-screen prominence in “Scream” (1996), but this summer, “Midsommar” brought us the failing upwards Nice Guy, just as “Ready or Not” brought us the entitled Nice Guy as the surprise villains of the season.
In “Midsommar”, Christian (Jack Reynor) first appears deep in conversation with his friends about an upcoming trip abroad to visit the Hårga commune in Sweden and observe their communal rituals. This scene becomes increasingly uncomfortable as the action unfolds around him; similarly, after his girlfriend Dani (Florence Pugh) tragically loses her entire family, he sits awkwardly on her sofa as she screams with grief. While there’s never a “right” response to this difficult situation, Dani overwhelms Christian for a different reason: breaking up with his long-term girlfriend now would completely destroy his own safe, Nice Guy life. As the passive Nice Guy, he shrinks from taking action, preferring to let rewards fall into his lap.
“This summer, “Midsommar” brought us the failing upwards Nice Guy, just as “Ready or Not” brought us the entitled Nice Guy as the surprise villains of the season.”
Unlike Christian, Alex (Mark O’Brien) has worked hard before “Ready or Not” even begins. The present-day narrative picks up in the midst of wedding finery at the mysterious De Lomas estate. While Grace (Samara Weaving) is nervous about fitting in with his family, Alex is nervous about his family, having put considerable time and effort into escaping his charmed life. His unease escalates into fury and panic when Grace draws the ‘Hide and Seek’ card. After evading his lackadaisical guard, Alex explains the immediate problem: by drawing the worst card, Grace has begun a lethal game, and the family must find and sacrifice her before sunrise. But Alex refuses to let his family destroy his new life, and as the active Nice Guy, he’s ready to help Grace escape into the night.
Christian and Alex appear to support their partners with the immediate problems of the Hårga and the De Lomas clan, respectively. However, they blithely absolve themselves of all missteps–Christian didn’t really forget Dani’s birthday, there was just a lot going on! Alex didn’t really want to get married in the first place, and with a different card, nothing bad would have happened! For those who have experienced gaslighting, these Nice Guys set off alarm bells well before the reveal of their true colors.
“It’s not the final girl who deserves to die, but the man who has made her doubt herself for years, the man who believes that sacrificing the love of his life is better than her walking out the door alone.”
By the time Dani discovers Christian in the midst of a sex ritual with Maja, she has endured multiple accusations of overreacting as a typical “hysterical” woman. By the time Grace physically fights Alex, who has chosen to side with his family and sacrifice her to the mysterious Mr. Le Bale, she has already endured a literal battery of physical assaults from everyone else in the mansion. Most devastatingly, Alex confesses that if he hadn’t proposed, or if he told her about his literally Satanic family, she would have left, and he couldn’t have risked that possibility. Christian’s privilege speaks for itself, but Alex’s entitlement takes our breath away.
These movies, and their bait and switch villains, speak a powerful truth to us. Dani does not die at the hands of the Hårga, nor does Grace die at the hands of the De Lomas clan—rather, each woman rises to the occasion after confronting the truth of the Nice Guy who has been beside her all along. It’s not the final girl who deserves to die, but the man who has made her doubt herself for years, the man who believes that sacrificing the love of his life is better than her walking out the door alone. Consigning these villains to their doom empowers the final girl to put her best foot forward, blood-stained or otherwise, and empowers us to be watchful for the horror of the Nice Guys in our own lives.