We are halfway through 2017 already – whew! It’s been a sucktastic year in many respects, but not when it comes to horror movie output. The young year has already seen so many great flicks that we had to leave some real gems off this list, but we’re pleased to say that Senior Filmmaking Correspondent Jason Tostevin returns to keep us honest.
5. The Girl with All the Gifts
It is the top of the food chain that has the most reason to fear evolution.
Isn’t that the abiding tension in monster and superhero movie alike? The Girl with All the Gifts explores it thoughtfully and elegantly – for a zombie movie.
So, what’s the deal? A horde of “hungries,” each infected with a plant-based virus, has long since overrun the human population. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), her researchers and the military are holed up while trying to derive a cure from the next generation, like Melanie (Sennia Nanua) – the offspring of those infected during pregnancy.
But much of the film’s success sits on Nanua’s narrow shoulders, and she owns it. The role requires a level of emotional nimbleness, naiveté edged with survival instinct, and command. She has that and more.
Cirector Colm McCarthy showcases his bounty of talent in a film that knows its roots but embraces the natural evolution of the genre. It’s not easy to make a zombie film that says something different.
But what Girl has to say is both surprising and inevitable.
And she says it really, really well.
4. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Winter break approaches at a Catholic New England boarding school. Snow piles up outside, the buildings empty, yet Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) remain. One has tricked her parents for an extra day with her townie boyfriend. One remains under more mysterious circumstances.
Things in writer/director Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter quietly unravel from there – although quiet is not precisely the word for it. There is a stillness to the chilly, empty halls. But thanks to the filmmaker’s brother Elvis, whose disquieting score fills these empty spaces with buzzing, whispering white noise, a sinister atmosphere is born.
Perkins repays your patience and your attention. You can expect few jump scares, but this is not exactly a slow-burn of a film, either.
It behaves almost in the way a picture book does. In a good picture book, the words tell only half the story. The illustrations don’t simply mirror the text, they tell their own story as well. If there is one particular and specific talent Blackcoat’s Daughter exposes in its director, it is his ability with a visual storyline.
Pay attention when you watch this one. There are loads of sinister little clues to find.
3. Hounds of Love
Driven by a fiercely invested and touchingly deranged performance from Emma Booth, Hounds of Love makes a subtle shift from horrific torture tale to psychological character study. In 108 grueling minutes, writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut marks him as a filmmaker with confident vision and exciting potential.
It is the late 1980s in Perth, Australia, and at least one young girl has already gone missing when the grounded Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out her bedroom window to attend a party. This isn’t nearly as dumb a move as is accepting a ride from Evie White (Booth) and her husband John (Stephen Curry).
As the couple dance seductively and drink to celebrate, Young disturbingly conveys the weight of Vicki’s panicked realization that she is now their captive. It is just one in a series of moments where Young flexes impressive chops for visual storytelling, utilizing slo-motion, freeze frame, patient panning shots and carefully chosen soundtrack music to set the mood and advance the dreadful narrative without a spoken word.
And then, just when you might suspect his film to wallow in the grisly nature of the Whites’ plan for Vicki, Young turns to dialog sharp enough to upend your expectations, and three vivid characters are crafted in the suffocating dread of the White’s neighborhood home.
No doubt, events get brutal, but never without reminders that Young is a craftsman. Subtle additions, such as airplanes flying freely overhead to contrast with Vicki’s captivity, give Hounds of Love a steady dose of smarts, even as it’s shaking your core.
What you’ll find in writer/director Julia Ducournau’s notorious feature debut is a thoughtful coming of age tale.
Justine (Garance Marillier, impressive) is off to join her older sister (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school – the very same school where their parents met. Justine may be a bit sheltered, a bit prudish to settle in immediately, but surely with her sister’s help, she’ll be fine.
Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, peer pressure generally, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.
In a very obvious way, Raw is a metaphor for what can and often does happen to a sheltered girl when she leaves home for college. But as Ducournau looks at those excesses committed on the cusp of adulthood, she creates opportunities to explore and comment on so many upsetting realities, and does so with absolute fidelity to her core metaphor.
She immediately joins the ranks of Jennifer Kent (Babadook) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) – all recent, first time horror filmmakers whose premier features predict boundless talent.
1. Get Out
Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” writer/director Jordan Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.
When white Rose (Alison Williams) takes her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the fam, she assures him race will not be a problem. How can she be sure? Because her Dad (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama’s third term “if he could.” It’s the first of many B.S. alerts for Peele, and they only get more satisfying.
Rose’s family is overly polite at first, but then mom Missy (Catherine Keener) starts acting evasive and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets a bit threatening, while the gardener and the maid (both black – whaaat?) appear straight outta Stepford.
Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.
Get Out is an audacious first feature for Jordan Peele, a film that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.