Special Mention: Sightseers
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe
This bloody, satirical road trip comedy is by no means as great as Terrence Mallick’s Badlands, but it is truly unique, strange, disquieting, and uncomfortably funny. Ben Wheatley is one of the most exciting genre filmmakers working in the industry today and has a talent for coaxing naturalistic, improvisational performances from his actors. Here, Wheatley is working for the first time from someone else’s script. Sightseers was written by TV acting and writing duo Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with input from Wheatley’s longtime collaborator Amy Jump. In Sightseers, they achieve the relatively rare feat of striking the right balance between sharply observed characterization and jet-black humour. Sightseers was pitched as an unsold TV pilot, which was rejected by every UK broadcaster for being too dark. It isn’t quite horror, but Sightseers shows us evil in all its brutality.
10. We Are What We Are
Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici
The third and most polished feature to date from horror specialists Jim Mickle and Nick Damici (Mulberry Street and Stake Land) is a deeply disturbing religious allegory about an otherwise normal family who subscribe to a belief that they will die if they don’t eat human meat. Ostensibly a remake of director Jorge Michel Grau’s stunning 2010 Mexican cannibal saga of the same name, We Are What We Are exchanges the impoverished urban setting of the original for a rural New York state that bears the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, while also cleverly flipping the original’s gender dynamics around. Technical contributions are worthy of note: Mickle along with regular cinematographer Ryan Samul do a fine job shooting in damp conditions that are integral to the story and Brian Spears’ lurid makeup effects will leave audiences squirming in their seats. The strings-based score is incredibly effective, as is its choice of closing song, a Tommy Strange country number. We Are What We Are is that rare modern horror movie that doesn’t rely on cheap scares and post-production tricks. Instead, it heightens suspense via traditional methods of foreboding atmosphere, methodical plotting, good acting and a creepy score. What starts as a film suffused by an eerie, biblical atmosphere, slowly esculates into an unexpected burst of violence that will leave you wishing to be vegan.
9. Magic Magic
Written and directed by Sebastián Silva
Chile and USA, 2012
This gut-wrenching psychological horror never really scares but it takes its premise to darkly comic extremes. Deranged and deadpan are but two ways to best describe Sebastián Silva’s unsettling drama that runs deep with themes of isolation, perception, paranoia, and medication (both therapeutic and pharmaceutical). This is a movie that likes to play tricks with our minds, and you never quite have a handle on where its headed. Did we really just see that, or was it our imagination? Did Alicia see that or was it her imagination? These are just some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself while watching Magic Magic. Every incident on the initial journey feels like an omen, and Silva weaves an underlying suggestion that everyone and everything is in some way working against Alicia (Juno Temple). At times, Silva channels early Polanski – increasing Alicia’s sense of panic and unraveling state of mind we become more and more invested with her psychological breakdown. And Silva knows that true fear comes from the power of suggestion. There are zero jump scares in this film, but the insufferable waiting for something terrible to happen will keep you invested from start to finish. Silva keeps tight control of the film’s tone, creating an atmosphere that is by turns intensely claustrophobic and ominous from first frame to last. The cliff-jumping scene is a master class in building suspense. Meanwhile, Glenn Kaplan and Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is uniformly brilliant, deftly capturing the beauty of Chile while using elegant tracking shots and a slightly off-kilter focus. The soundtrack is also good, making great use of the Swedish band Knife and of Cab Calloway’s jazz classic “Minnie the Moocher.”
Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg
In Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial debut, two competing companies in the thriving field of celebrity disease transfusions make it their business to harvest viruses from famous people and infect customers with clones of that virus, so they have, in essence, fallen ill from their favourite celebrity. If that wasn’t enough to send shivers down your spine, there’s also a black market for meat formed out of cloned celebrity muscle cells. Antiviral is a satire of celebrity fandom – a cold and clinical look at consumerism, modern technology, and the stuff that is making us a little less human. This isn’t much of a horror film, but it does conclude with an abrupt piece of ghoulishly vampiric symbolism.
Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead
Written by Justin Benson
Resolution is the debut feature film from a pair of directors who deliver a clever, engrossing, and original meta-horror film about a man helping his friend to beat his drug addiction. As one character states: “If we can get to the end of this reel of film, we will be fine.” The same can be said for the viewer. Resolution feels like a distant cousin to last year’s The Cabin in the Woods, in that it is a self-aware postmodern horror film that happens to take place in and around a cabin in the woods. With The Cabin In The Woods, director Drew Goddard and co-screenwriter Joss Whedon commented not just on the conventions of the genre, but on the audience’s desire to continue watching, even when a movie revisits the same old genre tropes. Much like Cabin, Resolution is a satisfying exercise in examining the way in which stories are told, only Resolution takes an opposite approach: where Cabin reveled in movie monsters, Resolution’s monsters are instead internal.
With Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead aren’t working on as large a scale, but they achieve a little more with substantially less. What starts as a micro-indie about addiction and friendship quickly takes a terrifying turn, when a character discovers strange artifacts in and around the cabin: an eerie collection of ominous old photographs, records, 8mm movies, webcam footage from a hidden cam, and more. It gets even creepier when videotapes containing footage of the friends arrive at their doorstep (a la David Lynch’s Lost Highway). At first, they discover these objects seemingly by chance. And neither we, nor they, know quite what to make of the situation. But it soon becomes apparent that these artifacts are deliberately left behind, for them to find. But by whom or what? Resolution delivers an intelligent commentary on the genre and our relationship as a viewer, without ever feeling smug or shallow. This is truly a unique film and recommended for fans of mystery rather than robots of reason.
6. V/H/S 2
Written and directed by Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Adam Wingard
A group of rising indie horror helmers put several spins on found-footage horror in V/H/S 2. It’s as scattershot as its predecessor, but V/H/S/2 earns a much higher batting average, delivering a rip-roaring good time. The segments revolve around four horror genre staples: ghosts, zombies, demonic possession, and alien abduction. Adam Wingard (You’re Next), plays with surreal and shocking imagery in his entry, Phase I Clinical Trials, about a young man who has visions of dead people thanks to his synthetic eye recently implanted. Blair Witch alums Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park breathes fresh air into the derivative zombie genre. Despite the confines of the camera (shown from the perspective of a camera mounted on the helmet of a mountain biker), Sanchez and Hale pull off a stylish, over-the-top, funny, and gruesome entry, climaxing in a gory assault on a children’s birthday party. Safe Haven, from Timo Tjahjanto (Rumah Dara) and Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid) raises the bar with an intriguing narrative that easily could be expanded to a full length feature film. More so than any other chapter, Haven demonstrates relatively steady camerawork, a great premise and breathtaking long takes that would make Alfonso Cauron jealous. Finally, Slumber Party Alien Abduction, from Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun), is mostly shot with a camera strapped to a family dog. The result can border on seizure-inducing, but Eisener does have the most fun with the gimmick.
V/H/S/2 runs shorter than its predecessor, and features one less segment, but less, here, is more. It’s more confident in what it can do and uses the first-person point-of-view in creative new ways. This crew basically succeeds this time around, with equal laughs and scares in ample amounts, and like all noteworthy sequels, V/H/S2 elaborates and expands.
– Ricky D