Halloween is just around the corner so I decided to torture myself with doing a little listicling for all you wannabe scared-to-go-to-sleepers out there. And Sweet Satan was this process painstaking! Like poking flaming needles in my eyes while my ankles were hobbled by a split ax. Or something like that. I flipped, back-flipped, see-sawed, hemmed and hawed.. etc. As a horror movie aficionado, whittling an entire decade of my favorite genre down to a mere two-hands-worth of selections was Sophie’s Choice after Sophie’s Choice. With no Meryl Streep to help! Which is probably why the last time I did this, I ended up with 13 entries. And though some of these may seem like obvious entries or redundancies that you’ve seen before, I really haven’t seen anyone nail the best of the decade, so this is me putting my feet to the fire and throwing the cards out there. Read More
The great thing about Netflix is that it gives you a lot of TV and movie watching options. The bad thing about Netflix is that it gives you…a lot of TV and movie watching options. To cut down on your Netflix search and discover time, Netfix aims to ease the process of parsing the good from the bad. The great from the not so great. From action films to foreign dramas, we’re raked the catalogs to offer only the finest that the preeminent streaming service has to offer. So settle in, get your remotes ready and prepare for the red wave of Netfix to wash over you.
FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Östlund, 2014)
Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure was a favorite at the 2014 Cannes Festival, boasting a talented cast, beautiful cinematography and an original balance betwixt thrills, suspense and comedy. When a Swedish family takes a holiday in the French Alps, an avalanche strikes, causing major upheaval in the psyches of Tomas and his wife, Ebba. A character study of morals, you could say, Force Majeure is an offbeat collection of misunderstandings and displaced desires in supposed paradise.
AMELIE (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
It’s hard to have missed this quirky 2001 French comedy starring Audrey Tautou, but if you still haven’t seen it, prepare to be charmed out of your mind. Amélie tells the story of a whimsical, oddball woman who decides to bring people together in lovely ways through acts of kindness. If Wes Anderson were a French director, he might have made something like this film. Also, the soundtrack is supremely pleasant.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
Pretentious in a hipster kind of way, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a wildly confident Iranian Vampire Western, filmed in black and white. Blending genres can be hit or miss, but in this case it’s most definitely a hit. The film follows a young female vampire, played brilliantly by Sheila Vand, as she roams the empty, silent streets of Bad City. The western vibes enter around the character of Arash, who offers the vampire a ride one night.
THE HUNT (Thomas Vinterberg, 2013)
This expertly portrayed story of false persecution delves into the lonely life of Lucas, played to perfection by Mads Mikkelsen, following a disparaging misunderstanding between him and a student that costs him everything. Any further information would be too much information. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, this is Danish cinema at its finest!
WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson, 2014)
1982 Stockholm is the world three preteen female protagonists live within in We Are the Best!, navigating through their angst, vastly different home lives and the 80’s punk scene. Friendship, gender equality and youthful rebellion are just a few topics this film touches on, and in the most charmingly adolescent way that smacks you with nostalgia, especially if you’ve ever cut all your hair off as a young girl, which I am certainly guilty of on more than several occasions.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
A young boy becomes friends with his next door neighbor and realizes she’s responsible for a few murders about town, yet this doesn’t scare him off. Adapted for the screen by original author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is a creepily portrayed glimpse of adolescent angst. Americanized in 2010 as Let Me In, both versions are certainly worth a watch. But watch this one first.
A HIJACKING (Tobias Lindholm, 2013)
While we’re on the subject of Americanized versions, A Hijacking, out of Denmark, was released the same year as Captain Phillips. The two could be considered companion films, although vastly different in portrayal. A Hijacking focuses evenly between the hostage protagonist, and the back and forth between the captors and the CEO of the freight company.
THE BABADOOK (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
Australian horror flick The Babadook is a psychological journey into the home life of a troubled young boy and his insomniac mother as they deal with personal demons. When an unsettling children’s book finds its way onto Samuel’s shelves, Amelia is forced to see her son’s unstable condition not as hallucinations or imaginative stories, but something real.
OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook, 2005)
Oldboy follows Oh Dae-su as he’s inexplicably locked away in prison for fifteen years, only to be eventually released with no information on why he was ever incarcerated. Quirky, comic and full of revenge violence, this South Korean film of vengeance won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Festival, and rightly so. Rightly so.
People might tell you that 2014 was a lackluster year for horror. They would be wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact, 2014 was a superlative 365-days for the genre. So much so that piecing together a Top Ten List was exorbinately difficult as there were at a handful that may have earned a place in a lesser year but didn’t exactly have the goods to nose their way into the top slots. Among those notable contenders is Kevin Smith’s batshit walrus misadventure Tusk, superior alphabetical anthology flick The ABCs of Death 2, and a trio of delectable found footage flicks featuring werewolf realism – Wer – Altimizer’s gone demonic – The Taking of Deborah Logan – and a horrific vampiric flu – Afflicted. Cautionary internet tale The Den had a lot going for it as well, another strong contender for the year. Had I considered E.L. Katz‘ monstrously good Cheap Thrills a horror – I don’t – it might have topped the list but that’s an argument to be had in a separate space.
10. THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT
It takes little imagination to find a souring brand of daunting realism in Bobby Roe‘s grizzly found footage account (one of four on this list) of a group of Halloween thrill-seekers who stumble too far down the rabbit hole. Going above the conventions of normalcy, The Houses October Built arcs at terminal velocity into the unforgiving maw of a real hellhole, offering scares that gingerly walk the fine line between reality and invention in which it’s improbable to parse the artifice of trying to scare the sh*t out of someone with actually, you know, trying to kill them. You’ll never enter a haunted house the same again.
9. THE BABADOOK
A storybook nightmare come alive with electric performances from Essie Davis and youngster Noah Wiseman, the former of which offers a performance embedded with equal strands of motherly sacrifice and true terror, the later half-wittingly stumbling into one of the least self-aware performances from a child the year had to offer, regardless of genre. The Babadook may not present the bone-chilling frights some of the its chief pundits have claimed but its mightily well made, with fierce attention to relationships and an original enough concept to boot – an undeniably winning formula in our eyes.
8. THE BORDERLANDS
The whole descent into hell thing has been done before (even once later on this list) and anyone a fan of the genre is no stranger to priests nosing into miracles-cum-hauntings but the way in which The Borderlands builds and builds while tightening and tightening makes it a fine study of found footage done justice. The other chief victory for director Elliot Goldner comes in his writing, which keeps us surprisingly invested in the characters, offering three-dimensional beings not often found in the found footage catalog. Robin Hill‘s wisecracking Gray clashes perfectly with Gordon Kennedy‘s damaged but devoid Deacon so that when things finally come to a head, and boy oh boy do they, you’re rooting for them, not against (as is too often the case.)
2014 was a plugged full of studio misfires for the genre – a fact that has contributed to the misconception that it was a minor year for horror – what with Annabelle, The Purge: Anarchy and Ouija all being marked gaffes and The Evil Within and The Quiet Ones failing to make much noise at all – but if there was one studio released scary movie that fans and critics were able to rally around it was this. Oculus thrives on its sense of internal consistency and increasingly high-stakes games of mindf*cking, and Karen Gillan s overly committed performance didn’t hurt. For a film about a haunted mirror, Oculus is able to inject an overbearing sense of dread into what could have easily been a disaster of epic proportions. That director Mike Flanagan also managed to blend two time periods seamlessly into one, presenting a fully distorted picture that was great than the mere sum of its parts, is further evidence of his subtle mastery of the genre.
Sam Raimi accidentally invented the horror-comedy in 1981, almost stumbling upon a wheelhouse hungry subcultures didn’t yet know they wanted, his whacked-out formula later taken by a young, tooth-cutting Peter Jackson to further extremes in the celebrated messterpiece Braindead. In the great tradition of wily horror-gone-funny, New Zealand’s very own Housebound jettisons the zany hallmarks of past horror-comedy successes – all the while very intentionally tipping their hat to them – giving it space to hone in on its very own import of yuck-horror and bloodspolsions. This tongue-in-cheek haunter may be bratty, puerile and claustrophobic but, most importantly, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Mark Duplass has always played something of an everyman. Even on The League – an FX comedy deliciously overstuffed with caricatures of characters – his Pete is snarky but believably human. Perhaps that’s what makes his turn in the delightfully eerie Creep so, uh, creepy. Starring opposite him is (first time) director Patrick Brice, playing a man who’s just responded to a mysterious Craigslist ad that enlists him as a cohort of sorts to Duplass’ increasingly odd asks. Never quite going the direction you expect, Creep relies sternly on the ever captivating presence of its two leads – who never disappoint – and their slightly askew developing relationship.
Rose Leslie melted many snowy hearts north of The Wall as Ygritte on HBO‘s winning Game of Thrones series but seeing her stripped of that throaty accent, her hoary nightgown and, eventually, her personality in Honeymoon showed a new side to her, one hemmed with dimensionality and rich with ambiguity. She was, in a phrase, a nightmarish panorama. Less a conventional antagonist than a harbinger of uncertainly and unease, Leslie’s Bea was one of the more interesting characters additions from 2014 and director Leigh Janiak knows just how to manipulate her stalwart tendencies and flip them on their head. In a film that’s all about marital bliss gobbled up, Honeymoon is one savagely appetizing gaze at alien femme fatality.
3. AS ABOVE/SO BELOW
Critically dismantled, criminally underseen, As Above/So Below was dealt a losing hand upon its unceremonious theatrical dumping. To get an idea of how little confidence Universal had in their picture, they screened the film at 7 PM the night of its official release. Meaning, they screening it a mere 3 hours before they started showing it to general audiences. Of all the entries on the list, this suffered the biggest blowback for its critical panning in the eyes of the suits – coming in with a shabby 21 million off an estimated 5 million production budget – but the true loss came on behalf of the audiences who skipped it assuming ineptitude. From the truly inspired Paris Catacomb settings to its litany of diabolical lore, As Above/So Below is stuffed with arcana and welcome scares, like a giddy, terrifying adventure of Legends of the Hidden Temple with an improved upon Laura Croft as your host.
2. STARRY EYES
If there is one consistency from the year, it’s that 2014 was a moment for the woman in horror. From As Above/So Below‘s kickass Perdita Weeks to Honeymoon‘s subterfuging Rose Leslie, Oculus‘ exceedingly zealous Karen Gillan, The Babadook‘s sublime Essie Davis, Housebound‘s ever-angsty Morgana O’Reilly and It Follow‘s perfect casting in Maika Monroe, the stars have not shone brighter on the fairer gender within our beloved genre. But no entry on the list had as big an ask of their actress as Starry Eyes, a bone-dry, humorless waxing on the pitfalls of ambition. Alexandra Esso literally buried herself in the role and you won’t find another who chick on this list or any another that undergoes such a shocking 360. An absolutely blood-curdling series of dispatches – a barbell tops the gruesome weapons list – in the midst of Essoe’s particular brand of body dysmorphia makes it an unforgettable genre entry that’s slowly been earning a deserved cult following.
1. IT FOLLOWS
The urban legend of the STDemon seems like one that’s been whispered amongst circles of throbbing-genitialed teenagers forever. Debuting at Cannes and making a hell of a festival circuit run, It Follows spins its own Are You Afraid of the Dark type mythos of a sexually transmitted entity that never stops, never sleeps, never reasons. Just follows. Brilliant in its simplicity, It Follows doesn’t squander time with getting to know you’s. Rather, it’s a raw, dirty, brilliant orgy of nail-crunching tension, rich with pregnant silences and offscreen moments of self-sacrificing, proving that sometimes the simplest of ideas are the best of them.
It’s almost hard to believe that SIFF is winding down to a close but thems the facts, and I still need to get another 12 movies in before the end of next week. While that might seem an insurmountable challenge for you regular, non-obsessive folk, I’ll think of it as a walk in the park. With this capsule reivew series now in the tail end, I can safely say that SIFForty has certainly had a wealth of good stuff to offer but they’re nothing if not hidden amongst a trove of unenviable watches. As always, the good is mixed in with the bad, paper-bagged and drawn at random. But of course, this is why you read reviews. But still keeping within the reigns of SIFF protocol, these micro-reviews are sliced and diced down to a brief 75 words so you can read them fast, I can write them fast and the studio’s fat, rich, and happy. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning (or is it getting towards the end now?) of a beautiful friendship.
dir. Aaron Wilson star. Khan Chittenden, Mo Tzu-Yi (Australia)
An aggressively tedious concept film that sees an Australian pilot attempting to survive when shot down over enemy lines in 1942 Singapore. A total lack of momentum makes Canopy an aggravating, if not admirably shot, experience in positively bland, thanklessly simplistic filmmaking. The chirping sound design is like a setting on an Oasis Dream Machine (albeit interrupted by blips of gunfire) and coupled with the fact that the film is essentially dialogue free, Canopy is a snooze fest; a stressed cacophony of too little, too late. Though Aaron Wilson tries to put you into the midst of things, he’s more likely to put you to sleep. (D+)
dir. Non Young-seok star. Jun Suk-ho, Oh Tae-kyung (South Korea)
With a title that works on many levels, Intruders is a Hitchcockian thriller by way of South Korea. A screenwriter tries to find recluse in a snowy off-the-beaten-path village but winds up with far more than he bargained for in this strange, exciting thrill ride. Though there are some technical snags – mostly born of budgetary constraints (Non Young-seok sorely needed a better indoor camera) – the festering story is a novelty of old and new, East meets West and with its nail-biting final act, will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat until the closing moments. (B)
dir. Jennifer Kent star. Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney (Australia)
An eerie children’s pop-up book warns that once you’ve seen the Babadook, you’ll wish you were dead. Thankfully, that’s not true of the film itself. This Australian ghost tale circles the real life impossibility of single parent child-rearing in a film that’s part Home Alone and part The Shining. Babadook is a frugal little haunter that makes smart use of its minimalist means and wrings a borderline outstanding (or at least compelling unselfconscious) performance from its young actor, Noah Wiseman. (B+)
dir. Joe Swanberg star. Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg (USA)
Joe Swanberg returns to his meandering, improvisational ways in a comedy/drama about a new family unit celebrating their second Christmas, which is promptly crashed by recently dumped and perennially immature sister Jenny. Jenny (the irresistibly lovable Anna Kendrick) is a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pant’s kinda girl and Kendrick’s hopelessly awkward antics marry perfectly to Swanberg’s trackless filmmaking. His wandering style allows this grounded story of family fuck-ups to highlight the little things in life (babies cackling and dogs chewin’ on bones) and is a fully worthy successor to last year’s borderline commercial Drinking Buddies. (B)
Click through for more recap segments and stay tuned for the next collection of four in this whopping ten part series.
Part 1: JIMI: All is By My Side, Zip Zap and the Marble Gang, Hellion, Fight Church
Part 2: Cannibal, The Double, Time Lapse, Another
Part 3: Half of a Yellow Sun, Mirage Men, The Trip to Italy, Starred Up
Part 4: Difret, The Fault in Our Stars, The Skeleton Twins, In Order of Disappearance
Part 5: Willow Creek, Firestorm, Mystery Road, 10,000 KM
Part 6: Obvious Child, To Kill a Man, Night Moves, The Internet’s Own Boy