Why captivity horror? Because we want to talk about Lucky McKee’s amazing The Woman, and this seemed like a good excuse. McKee’s must-see horror joins a host of incredible films that explore our fears of being held against our wills as they look at the ugliest side of human nature. Plus, cookies. Fun!
5. Cube (1997)
Making his feature directing debut in 1997, Vincenzo Natali, working from a screenplay he co-wrote, shadows 7 involuntary inmates of a seemingly inescapable, booby-trapped mazelike structure. Those crazy Canucks!
Cube is the film Saw wanted to be. These people were chosen, and they must own up to their own weaknesses and work together as a team to survive and escape. It is a visually awe inspiring, perversely fascinating tale of claustrophobic menace. It owes Kafka a nod, but honestly, stealing from the likes of Kafka is a crime we can get behind.
There is a level of nerdiness to the trap that makes it scary, in that you know you wouldn’t make it. You would die. We would certainly die. In fact, the minute they started talking about Prime Numbers, we knew we were screwed.
What Natali was able to accomplish within the limitations he has – startlingly few sets, a very small cast, a 20 day shoot schedule – is astounding. An effective use of FX, true visual panache, and a handful of well-conceived death sequences elevate this far above Saw and many other films with ten times the budget.
4. Compliance (2012)
Compliance is an unsettling, frustrating and upsetting film about misdirected and misused obedience. It’s also one of the most impeccably made and provocative films of 2012 – a cautionary tale that’s so unnerving it’s easier just to disbelieve. But don’t.
Writter/director Craig Zobel – who began his career as co-creator of the brilliant comic website Homestar Runner (so good!) – takes a decidedly dark turn with this “based-on-true-events” tale. It’s a busy Friday night at a fast food joint and they’re short-staffed. Then the police call and say a cashier has stolen some money from a customer’s purse.
A Milgram experiment come to life, the film spirals into nightmare as the alleged thief’s colleagues agree to commit increasingly horrific deeds in the name of complying with authority.
Zobel remains unapologetically but respectfully truthful in his self-assured telling. He doesn’t just replay a tragic story, he expertly crafts a tense and terrifying movie. With the help of an anxious score, confident camera work, and a superb cast, Zobel masterfully recreates a scene that’s not as hard to believe as it is to accept.
3. Green Room (2015)
Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). But when bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, band and concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots) find trouble. They’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.
As he did with Blue Ruin, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff. It’s a path worn by Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and plenty more, but Saulnier again shows a knack for establishing his own thoughtful thumbprint.
And yet, Saulnier manages to let some mischievous humor seep out, mainly by playing on generational stereotypes. Poots, barely recognizable under an extreme haircut and trucker outfit, has the most fun, never letting bloody murder alter Amber’s commitment to bored condescension. Love it.
It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.
2. The Woman
There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleek (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.
The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Notorious horror novelist and co-scriptor Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee – in his most surefooted film to date – has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing.
Aside from an epically awful performance by Carlee Baker as the nosey teacher, the performances are not just good for the genre, but disturbingly solid. McIntosh never veers from being intimidating, terrifying even when she’s chained. Bridgers has a weird way of taking a Will Ferrell character and imbibing him with the darkest hidden nature. Even young Zach Rand, as the sadist-in-training teen Brian, nails the role perfectly.
Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.
So a guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that the guy is a dick. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.
The guy is Min-sik Choi. The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.
This is not a horror film in any traditional sense – not even in South Korean cinema’s extreme sense. Though it was embraced – and rightly so – by horror circles, this is a refreshing and compelling take on the revenge fantasy that takes you places you do not expect to go. But that’s the magnificence of Chan-wook Park, and if you have the stomach, you should follow where he leads.
Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.
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