According to the view from here, 2018 should be a weird year for horror and genre film. Though there is plenty of promise for upcoming indies, there are also a slew of potentially pandering remakes and franchise films from large studios. As the eternal film optimist, I would rather focus on some upcoming releases that I know are amazing than spend the next 12 months dreading my next trip to the cinema.
As always, these are all films that I have seen and loved. I too am excited about the next PURGE and Alex Garland’s ANNIHILIATION, but I haven’t seen them yet and can’t recommend films I haven’t seen.
There is life in the infection subgenre yet! Not quite a zombie film (because these infected don’t die, they can’t be undead), THE CURED follows the aftermath of a massive zombie-like scourge. Just like 28 DAYS LATER this infection turns people into biting, maiming, killing, rage-filled machines. Instead of focusing on the initial outbreak THE CURED shows us life after a near-total cure for the infection is found. This thoughtful, measured film examines the lives of those individuals who lost loved ones to infected attacks as well as the lives of those who have been cured. This world is a complicated reality and there is no precedent regarding how to forgive either yourself or others. Ellen Page stars in the film, and has been making some interesting genre films lately (skip FLATLINERS, but do see INTO THE FOREST), and I’m curious to see where this takes her career.
The rape-revenge subgenre also has incredibly deep roots in horror. From Wes Craven’s non-porn directorial debut with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to the still shocking IRREVERSIBLE there is something so brutal and instinctual of watching those sickos pay for what they’ve done. REVENGE does not necessarily break new ground within the pantheon of these films, but it does execute a kick-ass film in its own right. Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) is far too young and too smitten with her new dude to understand why she should be scared to be out in the remote weekend house with her married boyfriend. But she soon has a painful and violent dose of reality, and must fend for herself out in the desert if she is to survive long enough to get some revenge. Though Jen has clearly made a really terrible series of decisions in her life, the film never blames her for the rape and violence. She is not at fault- those scummy friends are. I appreciated this complete absence of victim blaming that has become all too familiar in both film and real life.
LES AFFAMÉS is a slow moving, contemplative zombie film. It has plenty of long, wide shots where characters move slowly through the frame. Its visual composition is closer to a painting than a video game. It takes its time to observe characters interacting, rather than telling us who they are though exposition. All of these beautiful, expressive elements are the reason that I fell in love with this film, but there is one major element that sets LES AFFAMÉS apart from all the other slow-as-molasses zombie films: these zombies scream. They scream in a way that pierces your sense of comfort in a wheat field. They scream in a way that reminds you of the humanity and the fear that might still be lurking behind their rotting physique. Zombie cinema is not dead, still deserves our attention, and LES AFFAMÉS is heralding the next era of the film movement.
If the premise of TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is somehow familiar to you, there is a good reason for that. This Spanish language dark fairy tale shares much its DNA with Guillermo del Toro’s PAN’S LABYRINTH. Rather than taking place during the Spanish civil war the film is set in Mexico today, as the drug wars rage on throughout the streets. And rather than having a single child going through a series of quests to save herself and her family we have a group of kids in a seemingly adult-free city. The other parallel from TIGERS to PAN’S is the fact that they are both cripplingly heartbreaking examples of the power of hope in the hopeless, and how fear can be the greatest educator. TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID has earned the comparison to del Toro’s masterpiece and it is deserving of similarly high praise.
Way back in 2012 I had the privilege to see the micro-budgeted horror comedy MON AMI. In the film two incompetent buddies have to get rid of a body, and a bloody hilarious mess follows. In a spiritual follow-up to that film, director Rob Grant and Mike Kovac step in front of the camera to explore the complicated role of responsibility in making violent films. Do filmmakers owe it to their audiences to show realistic ramifications of violent acts? Or should the film be viewed solely as a form of entertainment, and people should be responsible for separating fact from fiction? The documentary toys with what it real and what is not. Even though there are clearly fictionalized elements to the story, the earnest topic of conversation deserves attention, regardless of the alleged truth behind it. FAKE BLOOD takes on a well-explored topic but keeps the arguments topical and fresh.
LOWLIFE has the best opening for a film I saw all last year. Without wasting any time the film launches you into its own hilarious, pitch-black, violent world with a pompous luchador among its crazy cast of characters. Blending multiple, intersecting story lines, LOWLIFE has a lot of ground to cover and moves swiftly from one dangerous situation to the next. This film had me laughing my ass off in one scene (particularly at Jon Oswald) and then cheering on the ass-kicking women in the next. The brilliantly diverse cast meshes together to inhabit this rich world in such a way that challenges other films to be more selective with their casting choices. Even with all of these moving parts, Nicki Micheaux stole my heart as one of the more tragic storylines in the film. If you enjoy the story telling structure of PULP FICTION, but wish it had more luchadores and swastikas, then definitely check out LOWLIFE. Heck, even if you don’t, still check out this stellar film.
Using the classic “shack in the woods” trope from horror’s hallowed halls, DEAD SHACK adds some additional intrigue by showing that having company nearby can sometimes be worse than isolation. After tagging along with his friend’s family to the woods for a weekend all three kids get to exploring those woods and finding that they are not alone out there. But these neighbors are not your typical shut-ins, and they are far more active in seeking out fresh meat than your typical Flanderinos. The film admittedly suffers from some pacing issues (or, at least the festival cut I saw did), but the new take on some classic ideas, along with great kid performances and some extra bloody kills, made DEAD SHACK far greater than the sum of its parts.
Loyal readers must know by now that I have little patience for nostalgia. If I want to watch an 80s throwback film I’ve got plenty of films from the 80s to turn on. No need to recreate something that already exists, only this time crappier and with less heart. Because of that admitted bias I was honestly a little wary of Graham Skipper’s SEQUENCE BREAK. Essentially a love letter to both Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME and arcade video games this film wears its influences prominently on its sleeve. Were is not for some truly relatable characters (Fabianne Therese steals the film, as she is wont to do) and some uncomfortably sexual video game controls the film could have been drowned in its own nostalgia. But it isn’t. It is fun, surprisingly sweet, and overall a welcome addition to the teeny collection of throwback films that I honestly enjoy.
A midnight movie blood bath if there ever was one, GAME OF DEATH holds true to its name. The story is fairly simple. A group of privileged teenagers all take a brief break from their humdrum lives by the pool to play a little 8 bit board game. Though its instructions to kill or be killed seem like empty threats at first, the fate their friend soon meets is very real and very sticky. This game is no joke. While I will be the first to point out how disappointed I was by the film’s unkept promise of a high body count (animated deaths do not count, in my book), I will also point out the GAME OF DEATH is a heckin’ good time. These kids are so terrible it is great to not only watch them die, but also watch them get really upset by their friends’ deaths. It’s win-win, really.
Director Ted Geoghegan’s sophomore feature is a far cry from his first film, WE ARE STILL HERE. A far battle cry, that is. While Geoghegan’s previous film was a fine study in slow burn horror, taking its cues from 1970s pastoral scares, MOHAWK instead focuses on a little bit of colonial drama and then proceeds to burn the whole thing to the ground. Initially the characters (American, Brits, and Natives) are all playing out a struggle representative of how early settlers treated the already settled peoples in America. In other words, the film makes the political personal. It is also unnerving to see how little has changed in some people’s attitudes in the last 300 years. Though the plot focuses on these interpersonal tensions, it never shies away from showing the brutality of that era. And when the final act of the film rages on full speed towards revenge it holds back nothing in its carnage or passion. So wonderful to see new directors taking on such original storytelling, only to leave the audience in utter shock.