Now that 2014 has bitten the dust we are looking forward to what is shaping up to be an amazing year for horror. In 2015 we will have the typical franchise expansions (WOMAN IN BLACK 2, another PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, INSIDIOUS:CHAPTER 3, and [REC] 4) but as always there are some original horror films coming too. I have already seen every film listed below and will say that each of them should be put on your radar immediately. All of them, with the exception of HOUSEBOUND, are still on the festival circuit and will likely get released in 2015. There are plenty of upcoming horror films I can’t wait to see myself (notably COOTIES, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, and KRAMPUS) but I have never recommended a film I have not seen myself, and I’m not about to start now.
IT FOLLOWS (dir. David RobertMitchell) One of the most original story premises I have seen in quite some time the film features an unknown force that follows whoever is infected with the curse, but it is much more than that. It is rumination on the current state of sexuality in our country. It is atmospheric and damn creepy. It is smartly written and never makes the audience feel like they are incapable of following the story. Maika Monroe’s performance as the primary infected woman is subtle and evocative as she spends the film trying to outrun something that cannot be outrun. IT FOLLOWS is starting to get some hype as its official trailer was just released, and all of the attention is warranted.
GRAVY (dir. James Roday) While many films generate buzz as they work their way from festival to festival, I have not yet heard a peep about GRAVY. It’s a shame too because GRAVY had me and the rest of the audience at the Telluride Horror Show laughing uncontrollably, that is, when we were not gagging from the gore. GRAVY is a story of what happens when a bunch of cannibals hold the staff of a Mexican restaurant hostage on Halloween night. The entire film is played for jokes, but it manages to keep the action going and the blood flowing. The soundtrack is playful and the performances show that the actors were having as much fun as the audience will. Hopefully the word around GRAVY is will start churning, because audience pleasers that are really good are hard to come by.
CREEP (dir. Patrick Brice) CREEP is a bare bones film. Starring Mark Duplass and the director Brice, the cast of two take us through a terrifying and rapidly developing plot of two strangers spending the day together. The film starts with an easy premise. Brice’s Aaron is a videographer who has been hired by Duplass’s Joseph to film him for one day. Joseph has cancer and wants to create a keepsake for his wife and child. Though the film starts simple, Duplass’s manic performance carries the film to very dark corners of his psyche where there is no escape. This is one of the few found footage films I have seen that kept me guessing at every single scene. Absolutely smart and engaging, not to mention creepy as hell.
BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE (dir. Nick Szostakiwskyj) Continuing Canada’s grand tradition of leading the world in excellent horror film is BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE. Far in the north during a deep Canadian winter a group of archaeologists are in the midst of a dig. The regular characters of scruffy woodsman are all there, along with a medical doctor, and locals to work as general helpers at the dig. After the crew discovers a seemingly impossible artifact they bring in a well-known archaeologist to help then excavate this mysterious item. Much of this premise has already been told in film many times over. What sets this film apart is the innovative camera work and director Szostakiwskyj’s constant toying with the audience’s expectations. He knows that we have seen similar stories many times before, and uses this knowledge against us, rather than pandering to us.
BAG BOY LOVER BOY (dir. (dir. Andres Torres) Albert (Jon Wachter) is a simple hot dog vendor in New York City. He sees no need to look for another job- he already has one. He does not get too stressed when customers give him a hard time. He just goes with the flow. When Albert has a generous customer, Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos), offer to help get him into the “art” business, the only reason Albert takes him up on it is the promise of photography lessons. Albert has a crush on one customer and would like to impress her. Predictably, Ivan is more interested in exploiting Albert for his simple mind and odd looks than he is in growing Albert’s photography skills. All of these elements seem completely normal up to this point. However the sexually violent nature of Ivan’s photography brings out something in Albert. Albert begins to be aware of power and sexuality, but is not capable of fully realizing how they can function together without disastrous outcomes. His sexual fantasies morph from his crush kissing him all over his face to far more violent acts. BAG BOY LOVER BOY explores issues of consent, exploitation, victimization, and art with a steady hand and stunning visuals. Albert’s arc through the film changes drastically without changing who he is at his core, which may be the most terrifying thing of all. This film is beautifully shot, expertly paced, with some of the best performances of the fest, most atmospheric score, and an original story.
CUB (dir. Jonas Govaerts) Now I’m not saying I want to watch children die. What I do want to watch are films that do not shy away from the darkness they are portraying on screen. When a group of cub scouts go camping in the woods for a week we know that it cannot possibly end well. The violence in CUB—and there is plenty of it—is not gratuitous or mean, but it does not spare any victims. Far from a cabin in the wood style slasher, CUB features a unique monster who creates more questions than it answers.
SPRING (dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead) The romanticism of Europe is never lost on young wandering American men. Whether they are looking to find themselves or forget their pasts the call of Italy and France seems to grab these college kids by the short ones and drag them to the old world. When Evan heads abroad to clear his head for some time, he predictably falls in love with both Italy and an Italian lady. It is here where the predictability of SPRING ends. Evan gets more than he asks for in his Italian paradise when it becomes clear that the ancient Roman mythology of gods and monsters may have had some notes of truth to them. Benson and Moorhead impressed us with 2012’s RESOLUTION and SPRING proves that was not a fluke.
THE TRIBE (dir. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky) On occasion art house films are poorly disguised horror films. Though they may get all dressed up with fancy soundtracks or slow long-takes, these horror films sneak into independent cinemas and expose horror to film snobs everywhere (myself included). THE TRIBE is likely to be one of those sneaky horror films, but it is anything but typical. It is not a silent film, but it is non-subtitled with all of the dialogue in Ukrainian sign language. Once you settle in to following the story without words, which was easier than I anticipated, you quickly learn that the lack of dialogue is not what makes this film hard to watch. It is a violent and unflinching look at prostitution, drug dealing, and the poverty in Ukraine, all told through school children. The film was the only film I saw all year that actually made me sick to my stomach, and I strongly feel that everyone should see it. Though perhaps only watch it once.
HARDKOR DISKO (dir. Krzysztof Skonieczny) This is another film that I expected to hear more about heading into 2015. The Polish film is a slasher at its roots, but the action plays out like a beautiful slow-motion car crash. When the Wróblewska family first encounters Marcin they welcome him with open arms. The daughter Ola takes a quick liking to the handsome young man and they open their home to him with no reservations. As the film progresses and his involvement with the family deepens we realize that their hospitality just may be their downfall. The pacing in this film is deliberate which leads to a slow-burn of the story, but the striking visuals are satisfying enough while we are waiting for some action.
LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (dir. David Gregory) Watching LOST SOUL feels like you are sitting at a dinner table with Richard Stanley, listening to the greatest and most farfetched tall tale about Hollywood that you have ever heard. The now withdrawn director of HARDWARE tells his side of the living hell that was making the 1996 film ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, and it is a doozy. Smartly this documentary goes beyond simply retelling Stanley’s version of the story and includes other actors and crew members to get a fuller picture of what was going on at that set.
HOUSEBOUND (dir. Gerard Johnstone) By getting a little older, I am losing some of my patience with typical horror gimmicks. Filmmakers can show their sloppiness by not giving a good reason for the teenagers to run for help or why no one has a cell phone on this camping trip. In HOUSEBOUND Kylie has a really great reason for not leaving her house; she has been court ordered to home detention. In a sentence worse than prison this grown woman has been ordered to live with her doting and unbearable mother. Stuck in her own personal hell Kylie begins to notice that strange things are happening around the house. HOUSEBOUND’s plot is as unpredictable as the script is hilarious. Though Sam Raimi seems neither capable nor interested in producing killer horror comedy it is a relief to see that these films are still being made.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (dirs. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz) The film opens with twin boys trying to deal with their changed mother. Lukas and Elias are a bit freaked by their mother’s extensive facial bandages, and she too seems to be struggling a bit with her temporary appearance. The mother is a television presenter and has gotten what we can only imagine is a good amount of plastic surgery to maintain her youthful looks. The boys’ father is not around or mentioned, though mother does allude to a recent accident which has had a great effect on their family. After the secret screening at Fantastic Fest the buzz was the film was quite capable but really shined in the third act. I whole heartedly agree, in that the film gets much darker than you anticipate very close to the end of it. Even though we have seen many films featuring twins or mean parents, this film has a refreshingly unpredictable ending.
Here are some notable mentions for upcoming science fiction films. Coincidently all three are time travel films, though each deal with the device in radically different ways.
THE INFINITE MAN (dir. Hugh Sullivan) THE INFINITE MAN deserves mention as one of the best time travel films I have ever seen. It is the perfect example, along with COHERENCE, of a low budget film that uses its limited resources as a way to feature smart writing and superior performances, rather than relying on big spectacles or a fast paced plot (though I do love those films too). THE INFINITE MAN features on location, three actors, and one gimmick. Dean (Josh McConville) is an uptight romantic who goes to great lengths to plan the recreation of a perfect weekend for his anniversary with Lana (Hannah Marshall). When the motel they were to stay at turns out to be closed, and Lana’s ex-boyfriend Terry (Alex Dimitriades) shows up Dean does his best to take control of the situation. It takes him a full year, but he invents a time machine that will transport him and Lana back to the beginning of the weekend. As you can imagine, Dean’s nervous meddling nature is not the best match for traveling into the unknown through time travel and hilarity ensues. At its heart the film is a loving look at a couple that needs to work through their issues. The time travel in the film is used sparingly, and goes for more laughs than scientific explanations.
PREDESTINATION (dirs. The Spierig Brothers) Time travel films are often like a snake eating its own tail. The fact that a character in PREDESTINATION utters those words at one point goes to show how aware the Spierig Brothers were of their twisty time traversing plot. The time travel in this film does get fairly complicated, though never confuses, but first it begins with a story. A good chunk of the film’s running time is of Ethan Hawke as a friendly bartender talking to bar patron Sarah Snook. After a wager that Snook’s character can tell Hawke the best story he has ever heard, they dive into the entire tale of how Snook ended up at that bar. The story, though lengthy, is well told and necessary for the entire plot. After the story has ended both characters are swept into a world of time travel, terrorism, secret government agencies, and a slight touch of romance. The details of how the plot folds in on itself are intentional and really interesting for the audience to piece together as the story goes on. Very smart writing and editing, and a rare film to get time travel right.
THE INCIDENT (dir. Isaac Ezban) While travelling through time is a great movie plot device, it is also something that we do daily and take for granted. Each day progresses at the same rate and when we wake up a new day is created. THE INCIDENT takes this constant from our lives. The film follows two complementary locations where time has stopped dead in its tracks. For two men in a stairwell and a family on a road trip the lack of time progression is an unceasing hell. Though they do not lack food or water and each of the characters age in a linear fashion, they cannot leave and they cannot become unstuck. At first the film is interesting and quirky. Each character deals with their adjusted reality differently and either flourishes or wallows. But as the story moves along the true sadness of their lost lives sinks in.