Every year there are a few films that are exemplary and deserve special attention, but don’t quite fit into my top horror list. Because these films are not strictly horror I am creating this special mention list to highlight some of my favorite non-horror films. Some of these films are about horror, but not themselves horror. Some are horror adjacent, but not strictly horror. Some are just weird and defy genre all together.
In no uncertain terms, A GHOST STORY is not a horror film. Sure, you could argue that the mere concept of immortality is itself horrifying, but let’s drop the semantics and just appreciate this film for what it is. The film follows a ghost as he occupies a space and time. Though that is a horribly vague plot description, it is the truth. The ghost is played by Casey Affleck, standing under a sheet for nearly the entire film. After a sudden death he returns to his home to be near his girlfriend (Mara Rooney). The film is absolutely beautiful to watch, and progresses at a snail’s pace. The pacing is quite intentional, and if you are prepared to settle in to a film without any real action, it is a beautiful world to cohabitate with the dead for a short time.
Just like A GHOST STORY isn’t a ghost story it is a story with ghosts, MY FRIEND DAHMER isn’t a serial killer film it is a film with a serial killer. Based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf, Marc Meyers’s adaptation of the book is laser focused on Jeffrey Dahmer’s life as an Ohio high schooler. He has not yet become one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. He is just a slightly odd kid who wants some friends, has some troubles with his parents, and likes to keep animal bones in jars in his backyard shed. Dahmer himself is an unnerving figure (played perfectly by Ross Lynch) but there is no way that any of his classmates or teachers could have known what he would eventually become.
This one feels personal. After breaking up, or going on a break, from her boyfriend and getting let go from her writing job, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) moves back into her parents’ house. Only her parents are no longer there. And their furniture is not there. It is just Gloria. She runs into an old friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who is happy to lend and ear and open Gloria a beer. Though a series of perfectly aligned incidents Gloria very rapidly discovers that when she walks through her childhood playground at a precise moment in the early morning, a massive kaiju will simultaneously appear in Seoul, and she controls it. The very premise of the film is preposterous, but apt director Nacho Vigalondo makes this all seems plausible and, most importantly, feel real. It is rare to be sitting in a theater with no idea where the plot may go next, but COLOSSAL will give you that experience. It is exciting to be engaging with cinema on that level, and I wish more films and actors took risks like COLOSSAL.
I love a good haunted house as much as the next gal, but I am no way as ingrained in that culture as some are. Nearly any pastime or creative outlet has a small group of diehard enthusiasts, and HAUNTERS takes a close look at the folks who are passionate about haunted houses. The documentary feels more like a glimpse into the world of haunting insiders than a condescending look at a bunch of freaks. The care and affection the filmmaker clearly has for this often misjudged world comes across in the film’s various looks at certain haunts around the country. From extreme haunts to more traditional, family friendly scares, HAUNTERS lets you feel like a part of the gang. Though there are some people within that world who clearly flirt with the more sadistic side of the job, most of the actors and creators in these haunts love what they do and just want to give their visitors the best time they can.
Not an indie film or a horror film, but I could not let 2017 come and go without writing even a few words on my favorite film of the year. Guillermo del Toro is one of the best working directors today, and we are so fortunate that he is a life-long monster kid. Del Toro turns his eye toward the legacy of Universal monsters this year with his own take on the gill-man from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Rather than focusing on the monstrousness of the monster, del Toro instead gives this amphibious creature (Doug Jones) a beautiful love story and shows the darker monstrous facets of humanity. The film is visually disarming. It made me want to never leave the theater, and just bathe in the lush greens and blues of the film’s palette. Sally Hawkins’s performance as the lead character is one of the most immersive of the year. Heck, of the decade. And, though the film is problematic a teeny bit when it comes to ableism and race, I was so happy to see a female on screen who owns her own sexuality and shows no hint of embarrassment from it. Truly one of the greatest love stories I have ever seen.
This is the type of film whose plot can be easily spoiled when trying to describe it. I will say it is about a young man who is obsessed with a television show called BRIGSBY BEAR. This show is his entire world, and very early on in the film his world is shattered. Though the show itself is loosely science fiction and fantasy for children the film about the show is non-genre but downright charming. Kyle Mooney stars as James, the young man whose life is completely upended, though his dedication to Brigsby never waivers. One of the best aspects of BRIGSBY BEAR is that it is damn funny, but the humor is never mean. We laugh along with James, and not at him. It would have been very easy to make this film mean spirited, but it isn’t. It is uplifting and charming and one of the year’s best.
Don’t let the sometimes cartoonish score fool you, the world inside Dave’s Maze is a brutal one. Let me back up. Just as the title implies, Dave (Nick Thune) makes a maze. As in, this dude builds a giant cardboard fort-maze hybrid in his living room one day. The problem is, he gets lost in it. Just like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves we have a structure here that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Begrudgingly, Dave’s girlfriend and friend go in to rescue him, and together they have all sorts of adventures. The film’s sets are made entirely out of cardboard, but what they lack in raw materials they make up for in brilliant art design and ambitious storytelling. There is even a minotaur in there! Beyond the spectacle of the maze itself is a very human story of facing adulthood and really looking at who you love and how you treat them. A risky film in many regards, but DAVE MADE A MAZE is a risk that was totally worth it.