Month: December 2018

Favorite Things: Best of 2018

TOP 10 HORROR FILMS

10. All the Creatures Were Stirring

creatures

There are new Christmas horror films every year, and this is one of my favorite additions of the past decade. The anthology, written/directed by Rebekah and David Ian McKendry, has a little something for everyone and perfectly combines chills, laughs, and the holiday spirit. Click here for my full review.

9. Bird Box

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I had a difficult time choosing between Bird Box and A Quiet Place, but I thought this film was ever so slightly more well-put together. The film is thrilling while also pulling on the viewer’s heartstrings. What really elevates the film is the concept for the entities killing off the human race. Click here for my full review.

8. Overlord

overlord

This film definitely surprised me. It is visually beautiful, has fantastic performances, and is as exciting as it his frightening. The filmmakers perfectly blend historical events with the horror genre in a way that catches the audience’s attention. Click here for my full review.

7. The Ritual

ritual

The Ritual is dark, mysterious, and brings a depth to your typical lost in the woods subgenre of horror. The film uses gorgeous visuals to create a metaphor for grief and guilt. It also has some of the most beautiful creature design I’ve seen in a while. Click here for my full review.

6. Cam

cam

It’s not every day that sex work is portrayed in a way that is both realistic and non-negative. Cam does just that, plus it has a suspenseful horror twist that catches the viewer’s attention right up until the credits roll. Click here for my full review.

5. Suspiria (2018)

suspiria

This remake of Argento’s classic film brings audiences a new and hauntingly beautiful film. It boasts a compelling plot, outstanding performances, and some scenes of rather shocking brutality. The filmmakers definitely succeeded in honoring Argento’s film while also creating something new and unique. Click here for my full review.

4. Revenge

revenge

Revenge is a film not talked about enough this year. The rape-revenge film, directed by Coralie Fargeat, truly brings something beautiful to the sometimes controversial subgenre of horror. It is visually stunning, has amazing performances, and has one of my favorite scores of the year. Click here for my full review.

3. Mandy

mandy

This film was made for Nic Cage. It is insanity personified with amazing visuals, loads of carnage, and an amazing 80’s aesthetic. Cage shines in the role, and he delivers one of his most memorable performances to date. Click here for my full review.

2. Annihilation

annihilation

This scifi-horror genre bender is one of the most thought-provoking films of the year. It also has some of the best CGI effects of the past decade, creating an absolutely gorgeous film that is also terrifying in its own way. The female-driven film has it’s polarizing moments, but I loved every minute of it. Click here for my full review.

1. Hereditary

hereditary

Hereditary is the kind of horror film that is truly terrifying to me, and it is one of the scariest films I’ve seen in ages. It stuck with me long after the film ended. Toni Collette should win all the awards for her performance, and Alex Wolff held his own right along with her. This is the kind of film that you can watch again and again and still notice new details. Click here for my full review.

TOP 5 SHORT FILMS

  1. Wild
  2. What Metal Girls Are Into
  3. The Night Delivery
  4. Love Cuts Deep
  5. The Day Mum Became a Monster

TOP 5 TV SHOWS

  1. Channel Zero: The Dream Door
  2. Haunting of Hill House
  3. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  4. American Horror Story: Apocalypse
  5. Ash vs. Evil Dead (ended in 2018)

TOP 5 HORROR EVENTS

  1. The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs – Shudder
  2. Diners of Death with Joe Bob Briggs – Shudder
  3. A Very Joe Bob Christmas – Shudder
  4. International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival – Phoenix, AZ
  5. Into the Dark – Hulu

TOP 5 HORROR FILM SCORES

  1. Revenge – Rob
  2. Halloween (2018) – John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies
  3. Suspiria (2018) – Thom Yorke
  4. Mandy – Jóhann Jóhannsson
  5. Summer of 84 – Le Matos

Bird Box

bird

It has been five years since dangerous unseen beings arrived. One look shows the viewers their worst fears, leading to that person committing suicide. Malorie, along with two children, managed to survive this long. Now they have to make a treacherous journey completely blindfolded in order to find a new place to stay safe.

Before I dive into this film, I’m going to address the elephant in the room. As soon as trailers hit for Bird Box there were immediately noticeable parallels between this film and A Quiet Place. Just know, this film was adapted from a novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, which came out back in 2014. So please stop all the talk about Bird Box being a ripoff of A Quiet Place. There are similarities, but they are two distinct films.

Director Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Brothers) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, Arrival) did an excellent job adapting this story into film form. As Bird Box begins, viewers are thrown into the desolate, post-apocalyptic world five years after the beings arrived. Immediately we are introduced to the protagonist, Malorie, as a harsh survivor about to embark on a dangerous journey in the hopes of finding a safe place for herself and the children she cares for. The plot is interwoven between her current journey and her experiences from when the beings first appeared. Through this method the viewer is able to learn more about the beings as well as Malorie (and why she makes the decisions she does to survive this perilous new world). The format lends to some excellent character development not just for Malorie, but for the other survivors she encounters when the world first falls apart.

A truly fascinating aspect of this plot is the entities that bring about the end of humanity. Each person who sets eyes on these things sees something different; it can be their worst fear, their greatest regret, or something else. The brilliant thing is that we, as the viewers, never see what these entities truly look like, or even what people see just before they commit suicide. It not only makes things a bit more frightening, because it is almost impossible to know if one of the beings is near you, but it also makes sense from a financial standpoint, as there was no need for elaborate practical effects or CGI. There are some people who are effected differently when they look upon these beings, which leads to some very fascinating and intense moments. The entire concept is unique and brilliantly executed.

This film has a star-studded cast who all shine in their individual roles. Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic, Ocean’s Eight) delivers one of her most powerful performances as the star of the film, Malorie. There is a rigidness about Malorie that sometimes makes her less than likeable, but as more is revealed about the character it is easier to understand why she is the way she is. Bullock’s portrayal of Malorie perfectly shows that rigid nature, while also allowing some more tender moments to break through her hardened outer shell. Another outstanding performance comes from Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, The Predator) as Tom. This character is the polar opposite of Malorie, instead being exceptionally warm and caring. It is the perfect role for Rhodes, and the juxtaposition of his portrayal of Tom with Bullock’s portrayal of Malorie makes for great chemistry and a number of touching scenes. Other great performances can be found in John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), and Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’).

Bird Box is a tense, emotional, and even frightening film with a unique plot and deeply emotional core. Bier and Heisserer do a fantastic job bringing Malerman’s novel to life. The simple idea of an entity that traumatizes a person to the point where they commit suicide allows for great suspense. It also brings an element of mystery as the viewer never sees what the victims see. An intriguing plot and fantastic performances from the likes of Bullock and Rhodes result in a must-see film with a lot of heart. Bird Box gives the horror genre a strong end to 2018 that you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The House That Jack Built

jack

Jack is a serial killer. As he reminisces about some of the kills that stand out most in his mind, we learn more about this meticulous and highly intelligent man. He isn’t your typical serial killer, and each victim reveals something different about Jack. After twelve years and countless victims, has his reign of terror finally come to an end, or is it just the beginning?

Writer and director Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Melancholia) brings audiences a fascinating character study with The House That Jack Built. Often times, audiences don’t want to know the backstory behind the serial killer, but in von Trier’s film this is the basis of the entire plot. By examining five specific murders, the audience learns important aspects of Jack: who he is, why he kills, and his other eccentricities. The main difference between von Trier’s film and similar works is that he doesn’t teach the audience about Jack with the intent of gaining sympathy for the character. If anything, as we learn more about Jack, he becomes a continually more loathsome character. He is truly a horrible person; and yet, somehow, the more you come to hate this man the more fascinating he is to watch at work.

The plot is broken up into segments, each one featuring a specific murder that was significant in Jack’s life. Some of these segments also include further flashbacks in order to add more context to Jack’s actions. While this is very interesting to watch and offers an in-depth look into the mind of a sociopathic serial killer, the part of the film that stands out the most is the fact that Jack has OCD. He is obsessively compelled to clean which can be a bit troublesome for a serial killer, especially when murders get messy. In one scene, after completing a murder and cleaning up the evidence, Jack keeps imagining he has missed a spot of blood somewhere in the crime scene. It forces him to go back inside over and over and over again to clean and make sure he didn’t miss a single spot. The scene is both humorous and entirely nerve-wracking, as the longer he stays at the scene of the crime the more likely he’ll be caught. This kind of morbidly dark humor is sprinkled throughout the plot and is usually intertwined with the most tense moments, breaking up the otherwise gloomy story with an occasional laugh.

There are two potentially controversial aspects of this fill, aside from the fact that it’s about a serial killer. First, the film is built upon several instances of brutal violence towards women. It can be triggering for people, and many audience members will likely leave the film thinking von Trier is a woman-hating monster, just like Jack. While that may or may not be true, the violence towards women also feels authentic to the plot. Serial killers tend to commit unspeakable acts, and they tend to carry out those acts on one sex more than the other; just look at the Green River Killer and Ted Bundy. It adds an authenticity to the film, but it will undoubtedly still make some people despise it. The other controversial or polarizing aspect of the film is the climax. I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but the climax takes quite a turn from the rest of the film. It moves towards a more fantastical, less realistic style that viewers will either love or hate.

The House That Jack Built is packed full of stellar performances from the entire cast. What really brings the film to an elevated state is the portrayal of the titular Jack by Matt Dillon (Wild Things, Crash). Jack is calm and collected when he isn’t experiencing one of his obsessive compulsive cleaning fits, yet he is absolutely disturbed at the same time. Dillon is entirely believable as this deranged serial killer. His performance is especially chilling when he goes from his usual stoic state to abruptly enraged and frightening when things don’t go quite the way he had planned (which happens much more than he would probably like). Other memorable performances come from the unfortunate women playing his victims including Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Men in Black, Funny Games), Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing, Flickering Lights), and Riley Keough (It Comes at Night, Mad Max: Fury Road).

One aspect of the film that adds beauty and gore to the experience is the practical effects. The effects start out relatively small, though still displaying a high level of brutality. It lends itself to the authentic feel of the murders. However, as Jack’s kills becomes more elaborate and more disturbed, so do the effects. The gore becomes more and more maniacal leading up to the shocking final act. From here the practical effects take on a strange and surreal tone, but they are still quite unsettling to look at.  The gore, the plot, and even Jack himself become more and more bizarre right up until the end.

The House That Jack Built is all at once a stunning and unhinged character study of a serial killer. The plot snowballs from a relatively simple tale into something much different by the time we see Jack’s fate. The practical effects are used in a way that moves the audience through this journey from raw and real to fantastical and absurd. Dillon’s performance is one of his strongest yet as he brings Jack to life. This film will no doubt polarize audiences for a number of reasons, including the violence towards women and the strange turn the film takes at the end. I’m even unsure of how I truly feel about the film, despite being able to appreciate its artistic attributes. Whichever side you will land on, the film is definitely worth watching at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Slay Belles

slay belles

On Christmas Eve three friends decide to explore an abandoned holiday theme park for their online adventure show. Their fun is interrupted by a large, murderous, hairy beast known as Krampus. As the three women try to hide, they come across a man who claims to be the real Santa Claus. It’s up to these friends, Santa Claus, and a park ranger to defeat Krampus to save Christmas and the world.

Slay Belles is by co-writers Jessica Luhrssen and SpookyDan Walker, with Walker also directing the film. Both have worked on films in the past in other capacities, but this is the first feature film either has headed. The duo worked to create a campy, fun, low-budget holiday horror comedy mash-up. This film will likely appeal to many horror fans and individuals who frequent conventions. Two of the three leads are women who dress up in cosplay and go on adventures for their website and fans. This is what leads them to the abandoned holiday theme park on Christmas Eve. The characters feel like real people because they fit in so well with geek culture.

Another interesting and fun aspect of the plot is the new Christmas mythology it creates. Everyone knows Santa Claus, and by now, most people (or at least most horror fans), know Krampus as well. Slay Belles gives audiences a new image of what Santa is up to in this day and age. It paints a unique picture of Santa not as the holly jolly fat old man we know and love, but instead he is a bit of an eccentric hermit who looks like he could be part of a biker gang. It gives audiences something they haven’t seen before. The updated mythology for both Santa and Krampus lead to some hilarious and bloody shenanigans. There are even a few unexpected twists sprinkled throughout.

The film has an array of performances ranging from hilarious to not so great. Luckily, the three leading ladies of Slay Belles all gives highly entertaining performances.  Kristina Klebe (Tales of Halloween) stars as Alexi. She’s the hardworking, more practical friend in the group and the only one not technically part of the “Adventure Girls.” Despite the relative cheesiness of the film, Klebe delivers a solid performance. Susan Slaughter (Ouija House), a well-known paranormal investigator, plays the sassy Dahlia. Slaughter is part of the horror culture so her portrayal of Dahlia feels very authentic. Hannah Wagner (The Devil’s Carnival) plays Sadie, who is a bit ditzy and very spunky. The fact that Wagner has experience as a YouTube personality likely helped her to play Sadie in an entertaining yet realistic way. The trio not only act well individually, but their dynamics work great together as well. Of course, what would a Christmas horror film be without Santa Clause? I want to give a very special shoutout to Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show) for giving audiences one of the most unique portrayals of Santa I’ve ever seen.

A holiday B-horror film would be nothing without some memorable effects. For the most part, the film utilizes practical effects to create Krampus (as well as some delightful blood and gore). The Krampus makeup does a great job of creating the more classic look. He’s a hairy, horned, cloven-foot beast that wants to attack all the naughty children of the world. The overall look of Krampus is very well done, although there are a couple spots where it is obviously a hairless human arm that is simply painted. The most shocking aspect of the Krampus makeup design is the giant realistic penis. I had to rewind to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. While this practical effect would be over the top in other films, it fits in well with the overall theme of Slay Belles. One artistic aspect that detracts a bit from the film is that some of the climactic night scenes are too dark. It is one of the most exciting parts of the film, but it’s very difficult to see what’s going on.

Slay Belles isn’t the best holiday horror film, but it is still a riotous good time. The film boasts one of the more fun and original Santa and Krampus mythologies I’ve seen. All three leading ladies (and Bostwick) deliver strong performances, but there are other smaller characters who aren’t quite as good. The blood, guts, and Krampus practical effects bring thrills and laughs, although at times these effects also highlight the film’s small budget. Those looking for a more “refined” holiday horror film will likely want to steer clear of this film, but fans who enjoy campy B-horror movies will be delighted by Slay Belles.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Snowflake (Schneeflöckchen)

snowflake

Two criminals come across a strange screenplay. As they read it, the pair realize the screenplay says exactly what they have said and done, and what they will say and do. They try to track down the writer of the screenplay in order to change their fate, all the while dodging attempts on their life by hitmen hired by a mysterious woman.

Of all the films you will or have watched in 2018, none will be quite as meta as Snowflake. The film was written by Arend Remmers (Unsere Zeit ist jetzt) and directed by Adolfo J. Klomerer (A Time of Vultures) with William James as guest director, this being James’s directorial debut. The film takes place in Berlin in a not-so-distant future where criminals run rampant. Between the lawlessness, the filming style, and some of the music choices, the film almost has the feel of an old Western. The plot is broken up into chapters, allowing the audience to focus on specific characters in each chapter and learn new pieces of the puzzle leading up to the final act when the various characters come together. Some of this information is given in non-sequential order. This particular method seems to help get you more in the mindset of the two criminals as we learn new information right along with them.

The meta aspect comes in the form of a screenplay within the screenplay. The two criminals find the writer of the screenplay (who is also named Arend Remmers). The man is a dentist trying his hand at his first screenplay, yet for some reason everything he writers appears to be happening in real life. It creates many layers that can be confusing at times, but by the end everything comes together rather nicely. There is the screenplay of the film audiences are watching, which is also the screenplay written by the dentist, which is happening to the characters in their real lives.

Snowflake has compelling characters from many different backgrounds. Each one is very well developed, making the audiences feel invested in their fates. The characters audiences will be especially invested in are the two criminals, the vengeful woman who wants to kill them, her friend/bodyguard, a singer who may be a guardian angel, and a cannibal hitman. The one thing virtually every character has in common is revenge. The thirst for revenge is a what drives most of the lead characters in Snowflake, and therefore it drives much of the plot. The only character who feels out of place with the film is a vigilante who wears a full-on superhero costume and uses electricity to fight criminals. This character does not fit in with the overall tone of the film, and his storyline could honestly be entirely cut from the plot. Aside from him, the rest of the characters are fascinating and dynamic.

This is a film that has a very talented cast. The most enjoyable to watch are Reza Brojerdi (Homeland) as Javid and Erkan Acar (The Key) as Tan. These two men are the criminals at the heart of Snowflake. Despite some of the more violent antics these men get up to, there is something completely endearing about them. Both Brojerdi and Acar are so enjoyable to watch, and they are able to bring humor into some of the darkest situations. Another notable performance is Xenia Assenza as (Unsere Zeit ist jetzt) as the tragic Eliana. While all the characters in this film have dual natures, showing that no one is purely good or evil, it is the most apparent with Eliana. She is a victim, but Assenza’s portrayal shows how the thirst for revenge can bring out the evil in even the best people. Honorable mention goes to other memorable performances from the likes of David Masterson (American Renegades), Alexander Schubert (Triple Ex), and Adrian Topol (Franz + Polina).

There is a certain gritty aesthetic in this film. The gorgeous cinematography and coloration create that grittiness. It allows the filmmakers to emphasize the lawless, Western feel of Snowflake. The effects are also quite important in a film where violence is such a crucial aspect of the plot. This film does a very good job of making the various wounds, injuries, and prosthetics look raw and realistic. All these artistic elements combine to immerse the audience in this crime-filled world.

Snowflake is a veritable nesting doll of revenge tales layered upon each other in a fun and meta way. The different story lines seem unrelated, but as more is revealed leading to the bloody climax, everything ties together. The only aspect of the plot that doesn’t work as well with the others is the random superhero. The structure and artistic elements of the genre-bending German film transports the audience to a unique world and leads down many paths of revenge. With multiple strong performances of fascinating characters, this is a film cinephiles will want to seek out.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Suspiria (2018)

suspiria

Susie Bannion has left her home and family in rural Ohio to pursue her dream of joining a dance academy in Berlin. She has no formal training, yet her dancing captivates Madame Blanc, the headmistress, and she is allowed to join the academy. As the dancers train for a very special performance, strange and violent things begin to happen. Dancers have gone missing, and it seems more and more likely the women running the academy are the ones behind it all.

Screenwriter David Kajganich (The Terror) and director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) have taken the basic premise and characters created by Dario Argento (Suspiria 1977) and Daria Nicolodi (Suspiria 1977) and constructed something absolutely breathtaking. At it’s core, the film is about a dance school run by witches. This is really all the two films have in common. The story created by Kajganich and Guadagnino’s filming style diverge greatly from the original, so I will do my best not to constantly compare the two films.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Suspiria (2018) is how the filmmakers built upon the with mythology. The rules, the dynamics, the magic, and the history is meticulously created in a way that is familiar, yet there is a complexity that adds a sense of mystery to the film. Often times, the intrigue comes from the division among the witches. These witches have a long history that sprang from three witches known as the “mothers.” There is the group who believes Madame Blanc should be in charge, and there is a group who believes the unseen Helena Markos should continue her rule. The witches are using the dancers to work towards a specific goal, and they need Susie to reach that goal. Between some of the dancers putting the pieces together and the division between the witches, there is immediate suspense and tension that carries throughout the film.

The way dance is incorporated into the film is stunning. Suspiria (2018) focuses on contemporary/interpretive dance rather than ballet. It is a wise decision because it allows the filmmakers to bring new meaning into the dance being performed. It isn’t simply a performance the dancers are training for, it is a bigger end-game for the witches. All of the dancers move beautifully through the rehearsals and the final routine.

While the cast holds a couple actresses I have not been a fan of in the past, every single person shines in their own way. Probably the most surprising performance in the film is Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) as Susie Bannion. While her acting is fine, it’s her dancing that truly blew me away. The filmmakers took a risk hiring an actress over a dancer in such a dance-heavy role, but luckily it payed off. Johnson portrays Susie with a sort of naive grace that develops into something much more powerful, and it is amazing to watch. The standout performance comes from Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) playing not one, not two, but three characters! While Swinton is amazing in each role, making them each distinctly unique characters even as she acts through layers of makeup and prosthetics, she is truly amazing as Madame Blanc. Similar to the portrayal of Susie, Madame Blanc has a graceful way about her, yet Blanc’s grace has much more power and authority to it. Swinton proves once again that she can play virtually any role and she is able to entirely transform into any character. The on-screen chemistry between Swinton and Johnson is electric, and their dynamics with the rest of the supporting cast is hypnotizing.

It is difficult to live up to Argento’s visuals, so Guadagnino made the wise decision to go in a different direction. Suspiria (2018) has a very stark palette lacking vibrant colors, which fits in well with the 1977 Berlin setting. The bright colors are instead replaced with bold patterns. The patterns can be found everywhere from the floors to the walls to the clothing. It creates striking and iconic imagery where the meticulous patterns feel reminiscent of the ritualistic choreography of the dances.

The bleak look of the film also goes well with the practical effects. These effects are used in a number of ways. The most prominent use is to turn Swinton into different characters, one of them an elderly man. Old age makeup alone is incredibly difficult to do well. Not only is the old age makeup in this film near-perfect, but it also transforms Swinton into a man. The effects are also used to produce some realistic and disturbing wounds, injuries, and gore. I was quite surprised by the brutality in certain scenes, and the practical effects in those scenes are sublime.

The film is only elevated by the astounding score by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The score is soft, mysterious, and often times includes sounds from the film itself. One piece, titled “Hooks,” is most notable for incorporating sounds from the film such as sighs, breathing, and the whoosh of hooks through the air (which will make sense if/when you see the film). Yorke also includes a couple songs in which he sings. These songs are especially haunting, and are used at integral scenes where the songs are the perfect accompaniment to the events taking place. I would imagine, after this success, that we will be hearing more of Yorke’s work as a composer of film scores.

Suspiria (2018) is a haunting and ethereal tale of witchcraft, mutilation, and death. Guadagnino and Kajganich were inspired by Suspiria (1977), but they were able to create something new and thrilling with this film. The expanded mythology lends itself to an intriguing plot that will keep audiences guessing. The entire cast of performers deliver stunning acting and dancing skills that mesmerize. Add to that the brilliant visual artistry, including the practical effects, and Yorke’s gorgeous score and the result is a disturbing and beautiful film. This is one you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10