My favorite list of the year! As much as I love to rehash the great films from the past twelve months, I adore talking about the amazing films coming up. I travel far and wide and sit my ass in the theater for days on end in hopes of finding the best new horror films to tell you about. It looks like 2016 will be a doozy for horror too. In addition to Hollywood’s regurgitation of previous horror wins (the unnecessary English language MARTYRS remake, THE CONJURING 2, and yet another AMITYVILLE), we have all of these films to expect. I have already screened and enjoyed all of the films below. While there are certain titles next year I am looking forward to seeing myself (LIGHTS OUT, A MONSTER CALLS, THE PURGE 3) I have never recommended a film without seeing it first, and I’m not going to start now.
Southbound: Horror anthology films are tricky. It is rare to have the film be cohesive and consistent in quality across multiple plots and multiple directors. I thought that the unevenness was something that you just need to accept when seeing a new one, but SOUTHBOUND has proven that surrender to be completely false. The film is an anthology, but unlike one I have ever seen before. It has four separate tales of horror, but the transition between the films is so fluid you struggle to see exactly where one begins and the next ends. The characters, locations, and tone bleed in to one another. Rather than being confusing, the experience feels like a gentle ride from one terror to the next. Along the ride there is actual character development and inventive creature design. The tone and quality of each section is consistent to the extent that I did not realize I was watching an anthology film until the end credits rolled (I saw SOUTHBOUND at Fantastic Fest 2015, which accounts for my total lack of knowledge prior to the press screening; you blindly follow your schedule like a carnival ride for a week).
The Witch: Perhaps the most anticipated horror film in 2016, THE WITCH brings us back to a time where evil was very real, and living in our backyard. The film follows a family of religious extremists. Moving away from their colonial, new world settlement they set up their home farm on the edge of a wood. Within a year the fields are yielding crops and the family has a new baby by to adore. When he disappears within the blink of an eye the family’s tightknit insulation turns them into a furnace and the accusations towards the witch in the woods and her collusion with the eldest daughter reach a fever pitch. The Witch does not add anything new to witchy mythology, but rather elevates the material to new artistic heights. The film’s oppressive atmosphere, spectacular cinematography, and haunting performances all come together to create an astonishingly effective film. Unsettling and moody THE WITCH deserves all of the buzz surrounding its upcoming release.
Green Room: Jeremy Saulnier’s BLUE RUIN was like a swift kick to the nuts. It came out of nowhere and left audiences with their jaws hanging. Who is this guy, and what rock had he been hiding under? After the shock of seeing that poetic, sensitive revenge film wore off, we stopped asking where BLUE RUIN came from, and started demanding: What’s next? The pressure on Saulnier to match BLUE RUIN’s level of creative success must have been immense, but with GREEN ROOM he and lead man Macon Blair have shown that their talents are not flukes. GREEN ROOM has a much biggest cast and takes on a much bigger issue. After their paycheck-to-paycheck has an unexpected gig cancelation, an indie punk band is left with little choice than to play a show for a group of skinheads. The gig gets sour very fast and the band is left fighting for their lives against these well-armed racist assholes. Expanding the cast to work with better known actors (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, and Sir Patrick Stewart) suits Saulnier just fine. The film avoids any larger political issues at play when dealing with white supremacy, and instead focuses on the microenvironment of the green room itself. Saulnier was hilarious (and quite tispy) at the Fantastic Fest screening, and dubbed GREEN ROOM the second in his “inadequate protagonist” series. I dub GREEN ROOM a masterpiece of cinema. Seriously- do not miss this one.
Excess Flesh: Unlike many films on this list EXCESS FLESH does not have a scheduled release for 2016, which makes its inclusion on the list more of a hope than a guarantee. The film deals with issues that many women encounter, and amps them up to horrific levels. Jill (Bethany Orr) and Jennifer (Mary Loveless) are best friends and roommates but they could not be more different. Jennifer is a beautiful and confident social butterfly, and Jill is the quieter and less confident friend who much prefers to stay at home. Their underlying tension comes to the surface in a very violent way, and gets expressed through Jill’s personal issues with her body and her relationship t food. Women’s mixed relationship with their bodies and consumption is so common yet is has hardly been directly dealt with in film, let alone horror film. Director Patrick Kennelly has created an unsettling film which somehow manages to raise these complicated topics with equal doses of sensitivity and disturbing content. Not as polished as a big budget film, and certainly hard to watch, I dream of this film finding its larger audience and hope that Kennelly finds a courageous distributor who will make that happen.
The Interior: Horror comedies are an easy sell. The hybrid fun of oscillating between laughing and screaming is one of the better cinematic experiences you can have. While there is a grand tradition of horror comedies, THE INTERIOR is something you have not seen before. Unlike blending horror and comedy together, like SHAUN OF THE DEAD or TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL, THE INTERIOR starts a comedy before doing a complete pivot into a serious horror film. James (Patrick McFadden) is stuck in the mundanity of his modern life. Working a bland office job, having no strong personal relationships, and bored by getting stoned all the time has left him feeling numb to the world. His sense of humor helps him through all of this, and keeps the audience laughing too, but it also furthers his emotional distance to everyone around him. After finally having enough James goes out into the woods to seek peace in solidarity. Soon he realizes that he is frightfully not alone. So often we see comedies that fail to tickle our funny bones and horror films that fail to scare, which makes THE INTERIOR such a delightful surprise. How the hell can one of the funniest films of the year and one of the most truly disturbing films of the year be the same film? It is an ambitious narrative device which, in different hands, could have been a complete belly flop, but somehow it works.
Bite: Moist. The best way to describe this gross-out body horror is moist. While on her bachelorette getaway with girlfriends, Casey (Elma Begovic) gets bitten by an unseen insect. The wedding stress, in addition to school, and drama from her future in-laws takes its toll on Casey as soon as she gets home, or so she thinks. To know one’s surprise the insect bite turns out to be the source of her physical ailments. Though the plot is predictable—a less scientific and less emotional cousin to Cronenberg’s THE FLY—the performances and gory effects push this film back into high quality territory. I am really impressed by how far Begovic was willing to take Casey’s physical transformation. It takes some time, but there is a truly gross payoff at the end for lovers of body horror. I should have known when I was handed a branded barf bag when walking in to the theater. Lesson learned.
Tag: Sion Sono’s upcoming release has one of the bloodiest and unexpected openings you will see at the theater in 2016. I almost didn’t believe my eyes, but I should have known better than to question the master Sono. The film plays much more like an anthology film or even a video game than a traditional narrative film. We begin the film following one particular student on a school trip. As the girls load into the bus and take off for their adventure a horrific incident leaves only one alive, and she is running for her life. From here the plot, and the main character herself, jumps from location to location, disarming the viewer. The film’s ambition in disrupting narrative conventions as well as the heavy handed moralizing at the climax will not be for everyone, but I had a ball watching Tag. If anyone can keep an audience on their toes it is Sono, and TAG proves that he is willing to tread into new territory, beyond the expected blood and guts that he is known for.
High Rise: Ben Wheatley steals my heart all over again with each film he directs. KILL LIST, SIGHTSEERS, and A FIELD IN ENGLAND have each made my top 10 list for their respective years, and I will be completely dumbfounded if HIGH RISE does not continue that tradition. Just as each of Wheatley’s films is a distinct genre, each skirting around horror, HIGH RISE is a similarly horrifying non-horror film. Based on J.G. Ballard novel and starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, and Sienna Miller this is the most ambitious film in terms of budget and profile that Wheatley has attempted. Taking place entirely in a high rise apartment building, the floors and people contained within represent the world as a whole. Turning up the intensity of class issues, sexism, commercial consumerism, and sexuality, the entire social experiment of communal living goes to shit. The film is provocative and hits a little close to home in its theme (but thankfully, not literally). The audience is left wincing at the mirror being held up to their faces, and it is not pretty. For those who like difficult, but elegantly executed, films, add HIGH RISE to your list for 2016.
The Invitation: When it comes to twisted dinner party films, COHERENCE will always be my favorite. A very close second is now THE INVITATION. These two films are at their core very different, but on the surface they appear to be quite similar. A group of old friends get together for a nice, congenial, dinner together, but something unexpected happens and entirely changes the night. Beyond those similarities, THE INVITATION is its own film. With a group of friends there are bound to be histories which bubble to the surface during festivities, and complicate the celebration. THE INVITATION does a great job of showing these relationships through the ensemble cast’s performances, rather than just blatantly telling us who used to sleep with whom. This superior storytelling makes the evening unfurl like a slow descent into hell. The less you know before seeing THE INVITATION, the better, so I will halt my gushing here. Just don’t miss it.
Patchwork: One of the standout films of 2015’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, PATCHWORK really surprised me. I thought I was going to be seeing a rehashing of FRANKENHOOKER, minus the professional status of the cobbled-together leading lady. Instead PATCHWORK is a funny, feminist, mish-mash that perfectly reflects the hodgepodge of the leading lady. All of the pieces should not fit together perfectly, but they actually do. We start with Jennifer (Tory Stolper). Her backstory is that she is a driven career women who is celebrating a big new client at work. The next thing Jennifer knows she is waking up on a gurney after being cut apart and sewn back together with parts from two other women. Ellie the blond (Tracey Fairaway) and Madeline the mousey brunette (Maria Blasucci) get their own backstories too as these women try to piece together (get it?) how they came to be this amalgamation of separate people and how they can exact revenge against the person who did this to them. The absurdity of the plot is not lost on the filmmakers as they ham up other elements in the plot and have a grand time doing so. There is a mad scientist and even an odd flying cat (one of the best moments in the film). So often low-budget horror either takes itself far too seriously, or has a bit too much fun, which unfortunately leads to absconding any sort of character development or actual plot building. Here you get a light, campy film that actually cares about being a good movie too
The Devil’s Candy: Demonic possession can is a big bummer. We’ve seen it tear families apart and kill many times over. THE DEVIL’S CANDY is another possession film, but it stands apart by presenting a family you actually grow to care about. Jesse (Ethan Embry), his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby), and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) all live in a small apartment in Austin. When they are able to finally afford a fixer-upper house out in the suburbs they jump at the chance. Mind you, the house is at an even greater discount because of the brutal murders that occurred there very recently. So recently, the killer is still possessed by the demon that drove him to kill and he is stalking the house still. The young family is loving and affectionate. There is a genuine respect and support for each of them, and it is easy to see how Jesse and Astrid were able to stick together through such tough times. It’s also great to see positive representations of metalheads on screen too. Jesse and Zooey bond through their shared love for metal, and neither of them are portrayed as caricatures of headbangers. Beyond the love-fest is an eerie demonic film with some significant surprises up its sleeve.