Here we are at the finish line of a year that if you're like me probably glad to see the ass-end of. So many shitty things in the news that it's hard to comprehend them all. I wish things had been better because for me personally, it was a pretty good year. My second short film Lively scored Canadian distribution and I produced two more that will hopefully see the light of day in 2017. I finished my long-gestating feature script and joined the programming teams of three different film festivals. Not too shabby. But we're here to talk movies...
It has been an up-and-down year and if I'm honest, a lot of the most resonant pieces of genre I've ingested have been outside of film (Limetown, Life Is Strange, Inside, Black Mirror, Channel Zero), but that's not to say there weren't some fantastic horror movies released. I would normally offer up five titles, but since I put The Witch on 2015's list, I can only nominate four that went above and beyond.
France, Dir: Julia Ducournau
Bold and veracious, this deserved every bit of praise it received at this year's Midnight Madness. Putting aside the circus of the premiere's “medical emergencies” its importance to the genre should not be overlooked. Using the platform of a coming-of-age film, Raw is every bit as evocative as modern classics Let The Right One In and Ginger Snaps.
Under The Shadow
Iranian/UK, Dir: Babak Anvari
This Persian powerhouse really took me by surprise when I saw it back in April. The comparisons to Jennifer Kent's The Babadook are valid, but I would propose that Anvari's film is even better pound-for-pound as it relies less on its production design to deliver the creeps. As if the backdrop of war-torn Iran wasn't unsettling enough, the addition of a supernatural element leads to almost unbearable amounts of tension. This is a terrific piece of horror filmmaking.
USA, Dir: Karyn Kusama
I adore this movie and have not seen suspense this well utilized in a long time. This movie took something as benign as a dinner party and through sharp writing and pace managed to keep me on the edge of my seat. I knew the what, but my anticipation of the when, why and how kept me razor focused. I'm so impressed by how well this movie is put together, as even something as small as where someone stood during a scene caused me so much anxiety.
Train To Busan
South Korea, Dir: Yeon Sang-ho
Let's all admit it. We're all a little bored of zombies now that they've passed their saturation point. Yet even despite this, Train To Busan still manages to be all kinds of awesome. There's an energy to this movie that you can feel when you watch it with a crowd. While it's true that the unique location provides some freshness, it's also the colourful characters (and there are a lot of them) that really give life to this movie. I think you may be as surprised as I was by how much heart it has -- where did all these feels come from???
If you had said to me a year ago, “Hey Jay, your best of list next year is going to include a Polish musical adaptation of The Little Mermaid” I'd have asked what you were smoking and if I could have some. However, that is absolutely the case. Agnieszka Smoczynska's The Lure is tremendous. Even on a second viewing I was amazed by how much confidence and swagger Smoczynska shows in her debut! The Lure is an absolute joy!
This year, I finally got to see The Void. It was thankfully exactly what I was hoping for. It rose beyond homage to actually exist as one of those crazy creature fests we grew up watching in the eighties. I'm extremely proud of Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie for what they accomplished here.
I was glad to lay my eyeballs on some cool indies this year, most notably Perry Blackshear's They Look Like People and Billy O'Brien's I Am Not A Serial Killer. Both were able to portray mental illness in a tangible and non-sensationalized way while weaving some fine storytelling.
I was also really impressed with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Dan Trachtenberg directed the shit out of this movie. His three leads (John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. - what a year for that guy with Hush and The Belko Experiment also on his 2016 resume) put in some of the best performances this year in my opinion. Say what you want about where the movie eventually goes, but this was a super taut thriller.
Lastly, I just wanted to bring up what a solid year it was for genre-related documentaries. In addition to the uber-creepy Beware the Slenderman, we also had a pair of great docs about the medium itself in The Frankenstein Complex and 24 x 36.
Moving onto the negative side of things, I am afraid I saw an unusually large number of things I didn't care for this year like the mind-numbingly dumb Yoga Hosers, the mind-numbingly gross The Greasy Strangler and that unconvincing not-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is bore Safe Neighbourhood. For the latter, I'm not usually in the minority when it comes to these things, but now I get the mindset of those people who sat in the corner and rolled their eyes at the praise heaped on Cabin In The Woods and You're Next. Except those two movies were awesome. Safe 'Hood can ess a dee.
However, nothing came close to my dislike for Mickey Keating's Darling. It is a mess in concept, in tone and almost everything else. It has been a while since I've seen something so unapologetically pretentious and I'm not having any of it.
So, that's another three-sixty-five down. Have a great New Year and I'll see you back here next week to rundown all the horror goodies coming up in 2017.