Short films rarely get their due, and getting an audience is rarer still. Any opportunity to sit down with a set of shorts that made a splash in the festival circuit is an opportunity worth taking. If arterial spray and laughter are your thing, Hellarious is a chance worth taking.
The compilation contains seven short films, each a horror
comedy. There’s no framing device or theme, simply a collection of sometimes
bawdy, once in a long while sweet, mostly viscous horror. There are a lot of
Like an automatic door to hell, James Feeney’s Killer
Kart opens things. His creeping camera sets a fun tone for an absurd “ordinary
item” monster movie (a la Rubber). An inspired score by Daniel Hildreth,
Christine Rodriguez and Ray Bouchard matches the mayhem nicely.
Robert Boocheck’s charming Horrific—a tale of mutant
varmints, hula hoop porn and besotted tidy whities—lands laughs thanks to Mike
Nelson’s semi-heroic central performance. Likewise the Deathgasm-esque Death
Metal offers a highly enjoyable and sometimes morally questionable
bloodbath with the most delightful practical effects.
A sweet authenticity drives Bitten, Sarah K. Reimers’s
romantic, dog-loving upending of the werewolf tale. (Who’s a good boy? Iggy is!
Iggy’s a good boy!) If you can take your eyes off that adorable dog, you’ll
notice two tenderly funny performances by Francine Torres and Michael Curran.
Director Jason Tostevin, who also compiled the films, helms two of the shorts in the program, both co-written with Randall Greenland. ‘Til Death offers a post-mortem comeuppance tale boasting several strong performances. Born Again, though, is one of the compilation’s two highest points.
Six and a half minutes with the worst Satanists ever exposes you to a really beautifully filmed subversion of expectations. Slyly comical performances top to bottom entertain, but Greenland is a laugh riot in a starring role.
The collection’s second high peak comes thanks to Clarissa Jacobson and J.M. Logan’s sloppy concoction, Lunch Ladies. This is a delirious fantasy about underdogs rising to the challenge and making their dreams come true—becoming personal chefs to “the Depper,” Johnny Depp. Donna Pieroni and Mary Manofsky deliver consistent laughs in a film that almost makes a person want to love Johnny Depp again.
Variety, laughs, mayhem, blood spatter, romance, cheerleader pot pie—Hellarious is a tasty treat of bite sized horror.
With this episode we hit the big 200, so we wanted to celebrate in the most masochistic way possible. No! We wanted a really great topic (George’s choice) and a really great guest – filmmaker and co-founder/programmer of Nightmares Film Festival, Jason Tostevin.
Together we talk through the very best horror movies we could not watch a second time no matter what.
5. A Serbian Film (2010)
This is not a movie we would recommend to basically anyone. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – it’s pretty well directed, acted, and written. It’s just that the co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic is trying to articulate the soul-deadening effects of surviving the depravity of war. The film title is no coincidence – the film is meant to reflect the reality of a nation so recently involved in among the most depraved, horrific, unimaginable acts of war. It’s as if he’s saying, after all that, what could still shock us?
Like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious 1975 effort Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom – also a depiction of the depravity left behind after war – A Serbian Film overwhelms you with horrifying imagery.
4. An American Crime (2007)
In 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski, along with three of her children and two neighbor boys, was convicted of what’s commonly considered to be the most heinous crime ever committed in the state of Indiana. The senior investigator described the prolonged abuse and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens as the most sadistic case he’d investigated in his 35 years on the force.
In 2007, two films were released depicting the horror. The Jack Ketchum-penned The Girl Next Door found a larger audience, but co-writer/director Tommy O’Haver’s An American Crime is the far superior film.
Elliot Page offers a full, layered performance, making Sylvia a realistic character – someone you might have known in high school. Of course, that makes it even harder to stomach what becomes of her. The entire cast—an impressive ensemble—does stunning work, but the dark magic here is Catherine Keener. Giving one of the best performances of her already stellar career, Keener guarantees that it will be a long time before you recover from this movie.
3. The Painted Bird (2019)
If you paint the wings of a sparrow (or stitch a star to his jacket) the rest of the flock will no longer recognize him. The other birds will swarm and peck him until he plummets back to the earth. This is just one of the horrific lessons a young boy learns as he desperately searches for anywhere or anyone safe in war-torn Eastern Europe.
What follows is a brutal parade of the worst humanity has to offer. Domestic abuse, graphic violence, multiple instances of animal abuse and death, rape, child abuse and rape, and more. Then the war crimes start around hour three.
The Painted Bird is a test of endurance. It’s also a beautifully shot, well-performed, and incredibly moving piece of cinema. You simply have to be willing to go where it wants to take you. And all of those places are dark and darker.
2. Irreversible (2002)
French filmmaker/provocateur Gaspar Noe does not play well with his audience. Every film, no matter how brilliantly put together or gloriously filmed, is a feat in masochism to watch. Later efforts, like Enter the Void, spread the misery out for its full running time, but for Irreversible, he gave it to us in two horrifying scenes. While the head-bashing is tough viewing, the film centers on a rape scene that is all but impossible to watch.
Noe’s general MO is to punish you through sheer duration. The scenes last so long you feel like you cannot endure another minute, and this scene certainly does that. Not shot even momentarily for titillation, and boasting a devastatingly excellent performance from Monica Bellucci, it justifies its own horrific presence. There are other films with necessary and difficult rape scenes – Straw Dogs, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – but none is harder to stomach than this.
1. Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013)
This film is tough to watch, and the fact that it is based on a true story only makes the feat of endurance that much harder. But writer-director Katrin Gebbe mines this horrific tale for a peculiar point of view that suits it brilliantly and ensures that it is never simply a gratuitous wallowing in someone else’s suffering.
Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is an awkward teen in Germany. His best friend is Jesus. He means it. In fact, he’s so genuine and pure that when he lays his hands on stranded motorist Benno’s (Sascha Alexander Gersak) car, the engine starts.
Thus begins a relationship that devolves into a sociological exploration of button-pushing evil and submission to your own beliefs. Feldmeier is wondrous—so tender and vulnerable you will ache for him. Gersak is his equal in a role of burgeoning cruelty. The whole film has a, “you’re making me do this,” mentality that is hard to shake. It examines one particular nature of evil and does it so authentically as to leave you truly shaken.
What a killer year 2018 has in horror been already! One mega-blockbuster, another big indie hit, loads of fun stuff big and small. Whether you think the great Annihilation and The Endless are horror, whether you believe unhinged Mom and Dad-style Nic Cage is the best kind of Nic Cage, and no matter where you stand on The Strangers: Prey at Night, we’re here to has it out.
It’s time we count down the best of the best so far this year, and we are thrilled to have Senior Filmmaker Correspondent Jason Tostevin join us, as is tradition, to argue over what is and is not horror, what is and is not great. Plus, we sing!
5. The Ritual
David Bruckner has entertained us with some of the best shorts in horror today, including work from V/H/S, Southbound, and one of our favorites, The Signal. Directing his feature debut in The Ritual, Bruckner takes what feels familiar, roots it in genuine human emotion, takes a wild left turn and delivers the scares.
Five friends decide to mourn a tragedy with a trip together into the woods. Grief is a tricky, personal, often ugly process and as they work through their feelings, their frustration quickly turns to fear as they lose themselves in a foreign forest where danger lurks.
The film works for a number of reasons, but its greatest triumph is in making the woods scary again. That environment has become such a profound cliché in horror that it is almost impossible to make it feel fresh, but there is an authenticity to the performances, the interaction among the characters, and the frustration and fear that grounds the horror. And then there is horror—intriguing, startling, genuinely frightening horror. Yay!
Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy—brittle, unlikeable and amazing) is living your worst nightmare. After moving 400 miles to escape her stalker, she begins seeing him everywhere. She visits an insurance-approved therapist in a nearby clinic and quickly finds herself being held involuntarily for 24 hours.
After punching an orderly she mistakes for her stalker, that 24 hours turns into one week. And now she’s convinced that the new orderly George is, in fact, her stalker David (Joshua Leonard—cloying, terrifying perfection).
After laying bare some terrifying facts about our privatized mental health industry, Steven Soderbergh structures this critique with a somewhat traditional is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy storyline. Anyone who watches much horror will recognize that uneasy line: you may be here against your will, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here.
And the seasoned director of misdirection knows how to toy with that notion, how to employ Sawyer’s very real damage, touch on her raw nerve of struggling to remain in control of her own life only to have another’s will forced upon her.
He relies on familiar tropes to say something relevant and in doing so creates a tidy, satisfying thriller.
The rape-revenge film is a tough one to pull off. Even in the cases where the victim rips bloody vengeance through the bodies of her betrayers, the films are too often titillating. Almost exclusively written and directed by men for a primarily male audience, the comeuppance angle can be so bent by the male gaze that the film feels more like an additional violation.
Well, friends, writer/director Coralie Fargeat changes all that with Revenge, a breathless, visually fascinating, bloody-as-hell vengeance flick that repays the viewer for her endurance. (His, too.)
Fargeat’s grasp of male entitlement and the elements of a rape culture are as sharp as her instincts for visual storytelling. Wildly off-kilter close-ups sandwich gorgeous vistas to create a dreamlike frame for the utterly brutal mess of a film unfolding.
Symbol-heavy but never pretentious or preachy, the film follows a traditional path—she is betrayed, she is underestimated, she repays her assailants for their toxic masculinity. But between Fargeat’s wild aesthetic, four very solid performances, and thoughtful yet visceral storytelling, the film feels break-neck, terrifying and entirely satisfying.
2. A Quiet Place
Damn. John Krasinski. That big, tall guy, kind of doughy-faced? Married to Emily Blunt? Dude can direct the shit out of a horror movie.
Krasinski plays the patriarch of a close-knit family trying to survive the post-alien-invasion apocalypse by staying really, really quiet. The beasts use sound to hunt, but the family is prepared. The cast, anchored by Krasinski’s on-and-off-screen wife Emily Blunt is amazing. That you may expect.
What you may not expect is Krasinski’s masterful direction: where and when the camera lingers or cuts away, how often and how much he shows the monsters, when he decides the silence will generate the most dread and when he chooses to let Marco Beltrami’s ominous score do that work for him.
It’s smart in the way it’s written, sly in its direction and spot-on in its ability to pile on the mayhem in the final reel without feeling gimmicky or silly.
Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.
With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.
Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.
Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.
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.
The year is half over already?! Well, hell. Suppose we should argue over the best the genre has had to offer thus far? Senior Filmmaking Correspondent Jason Tastevin joins us to debate whether 10 Cloverfield Lane is a horror film or not, whether The Witch is any good, and to count down the best in horror so far this year.
“For all you lost souls racing down that long road to redemption…”
Successful anthology horror is difficult to pull off. Southbound manages to do so as it spins its diabolical tale, interlocking five stories of travelers on a particularly lonesome road.
The film opens strong as two bloodied passengers rush to a desolate gas station to clean up and take stock of their situation – a situation we’re given very few clues about. But the immediately menacing, we-know-something-you-don’t-know atmosphere inside that gas station sets us up for the nightmarish episode that will unravel.
What follows are pieces on similarly distressed wayfarers – a rock trio with a flat tire, a distracted driver, a brother searching desperately for his missing sister, a family on an ill-planned vacation, then back to the original bloodied pair heading for gas.
Rather than feeling like five shorts slapped together with a contrived framing device, the segments work as a group to inform a larger idea – together they help to define this particular and peculiar stretch of highway.
4. Nina Forever
Brothers Ben and Chris Blaine crafted their feature debut as a “fucked-up fairy tale.” The truth is, that tag line sells their bleakly comedic, emotionally relevant, disquietingly familiar film short. Though you may laugh, Nina Forever swims a wellspring of sadness.
Check out girl Holly (Abigail Hardingham, wonderful) falls hard for mopey, over-aged stock boy Rob (Cian Barry), who’s still suicidal over the motoring death of his longtime girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). Whenever the two living lovers hook up, Rob’s viscera-and-glass-shard-covered ex writhes her way into their embrace.
As an analogy for those awkward relationships you just can’t seem to let go of, Nina Forever excels in its amplification of all that is awkward and unruly. The filmmaking duo, who also write, avoid clichés and easy answers while their talented cast creates unpredictable and dimensional characters.
There is real depth and authenticity to a film that constantly surprises without really feeling contrived. Few seasoned directors handle tonal shifts with as much confidence as the Blaines in their feature debut.
If you’ve ever wondered what hell might look like, first time feature director Can Evrenol has some ideas to share. They are vivid. You’ll swear they even have an odor.
Evrenol’s Baskin is a loose, dreamily structured descent into that netherworld in the company of a 5-man Turkish police unit. (Baskin is Turkish for “police raid.”) The serpentine sequencing of events evokes a dream logic that gives the film an inescapable atmosphere of dread. We are trapped along with this group of somewhat detestable, somewhat sympathetic men as they respond to a call for backup in an “off the map” nearby area. What they find is deeply disturbing.
Evrenol’s imagery is morbidly amazing. Much of it only glimpsed, most of it left unarticulated, but all of it becomes that much more disturbing for its lack of clarity.
There are moments when Baskin feels like a classier, more stylishly made Nightbreed, but there’s no camp factor here. Just a surreal exploration of the corruptibility of the human soul, and its final destination.
2. Green Room
The tragic loss of 27-year-old talent Anton Yelchin makes this one bittersweet. 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). Bass guitarist Pat (Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.
Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), 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. What Green Room lacks in depth, it makes up in commitment to genre.
Only a flirtation with contrivance keeps Green Room from classic status. It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.
1. The Witch (2015)
The unerring authenticity of The Witch makes it the most unnerving horror film in years.
Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, isolationism and radicalization roil beneath the surface of the film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.
As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.
As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.
The year is over and the time has come to assess the damage. What were the best the genre had to offer in 2015? New Zealand came up big, while new filmmakers, creepy twins, and potentially contagious horrors kept us awake this year.
Not that this was an easy list to compile. We enlisted the assistance of Senior Filmmaker Correspondent Jason Tostevin for some wisdom, which led to some polite disagreement, but we thank him all the same! Listen to the whole argument, errr, podcast HERE.
5. What We Do in the Shadows
In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.
Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.
Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).
The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It was also the first great comedy of 2015.
That’s right – it’s a good, old fashioned Kiwi Tie for 5th place.
New Zealand teenage outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) knows he and his friends are losers, so of course they start a band to get loud and be cool! But when their rocking involves playing an ancient piece of music known as the Black Hymn, they unwittingly summon an evil entity and the body count starts rising.
In his feature debut, writer/director Jason Lei Howden, a veteran of Peter Jackson’s special effects team, borrows heavily from Shaun of the Dead-style pacing and camerawork while managing to poke some blood-spattered fun at the “devil music” stereotypes often thrown at heavy metal.
You’ll find plenty of laughs, some rom-com elements, and winning performances from both Cawthorne and Kimberley Crossman as Medina, the school beauty who can also swing a pretty mean ax.
Clever and surprisingly self-aware, Deathgasm is fine excuse to feed your inner metalhead.
4. Bone Tomahawk
In a year rife with exceptional Westerns, this film sets itself apart. S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut embraces the mythos of the Wild West, populating a familiar frontier town with weathered characters, but casting those archetypes perfectly. Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, in particular, easily inhabit the upright sheriff and eccentric side kick roles, while Patrick Wilson’s committed turn as battered heroic lead offers an emotional center.
Zahler effortlessly blends the horror and Western genres, remaining true to both and crafting a film that’s a stellar entry into either category. Bone Tomahawk looks gorgeous and boasts exceptional writing, but more than anything, it offers characters worthy of exploration. There are no one-note victims waiting to be picked off, but instead an assortment of fascinating people and complex relationships all wandering into mystical, bloody danger.
Because the true horror is a long time coming and you’re genuinely invested in the participants in this quest, the payoff is deeply felt. This is a truly satisfying effort, and one that marks a new filmmaker to keep an eye on.
3. Goodnight Mommy
There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).
During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. They spend their time bouncing on a trampoline, floating in a pond, or exploring the fields and woods around the house. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.
Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. Their graceful storytelling leads you down one path before utterly upending everything you think you know. They never spoon feed you information, depending instead on your astute observation – a refreshing approach in this genre.
The film is going to go where you don’t expect it to go, even if you expect you’ve uncovered its secrets.
2. The Nightmare
An effective scary movie is one that haunts your dreams long after the credits roll. It’s that kind of impact most horror buffs are seeking, but even the most ardent genre fan will hope out loud that Rodney Ascher’s new documentary The Nightmare doesn’t follow them to sleep.
His film explores sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder – or a label hung on the world’s most unfortunate night terrors – that’s haunted humanity for eons. And dig this – it sounds like it might be contagious.
Ascher’s a fascinating, idiosyncratic filmmaker. His documentaries approach some dark, often morbid topics with a sense of wonder. His films never push an agenda, and he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on his subject matter. Instead, his is open-mided approach which, in turn, iinvites the audience to follow suit.
It’s not all earnest sleuthing, though, because Ascher is a real showman. What’s intriguing is the way he draws your attention to his craftsmanship – like framing a shot so you see the speaker not head on, but in a large mirror’s reflection, then leaving the reflection of the cameraman’s arm in the same shot. Touches like this never feel amateurish, but they don’t really feel like a cinematic wink, either. Instead it becomes a way to release the tension, and remind you that you are, indeed, watching a movie… a heartbreaking, terrifying movie.
We spend a great deal of time watching horror movies, and we cannot remember an instance that we considered turning off a film for fear that we would dream about it later. Until now.
1. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.
Yes, It Follows is the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.
Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.
Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.
Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.
Looking for a shot at romancing your way into a fine Valentine’s Day? The Gateway Film Center (1550 North High St.) is way ahead of you. How better to woo your guy or gal than with the best romantic comedy since Fight Club, Shaun of the Dead?
For the third year running, the theater with a special place in its heart for horror unspools the hilarious zombie romp starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. As bromantics Shaun and Ed, the duo need to come to terms with one unhappy girlfriend, one unwanted stepdad, and one zombie horde. Best place for that? The pub.
It’s a truly brilliant film, one worth seeing again and again with the one you love. It’s also an excellent choice for viewing when you’re trying to avoid all the ‘one you love’ shenanigans this time of year.
Bonus: both Valentine screenings (7:30 and 9:30 pm this Thursday, 2/14) will open with the short “Til Death”, a macabre take on love gone wrong. The film comes from local filmmaker Jason Tostevin, who won the Gateway’s Homemade Horror Short contest in October with his medical spookfest “Room 4C”.
It’s a film pairing that, like love itself, tells you to aim for the heart.
Wait. Scratch that. The heart will do you no good. Apparently you’re supposed to aim for the head.
Tickets are $6.50. Expect prizes, trivia, and drink specials (which couldn’t hurt your Valentiney chances).