I have a vision of now-me shaking my head at Xmas 2016-me when I was saying we were glad to see the end of that year, as if to say wait until you see the garbage pile that was 2017. Not for me personally of course for despite a hiccup in the summer, my year was decent. I premiered a new short at Toronto After Dark, finally got my foot in the door at Rue Morgue and picked up a new (now my fourth) programming gig - but more on that later.
In between all that I saw some movies. Here below are the five standouts.
Canada/USA, Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Though I suppose not technically horror, this was my favourite film this year period so I'm putting it front & center. I've said it many times before, but this movie is magical. I feel this is the unabated vision that del Toro has been leading up to his entire career. And it's timely. We needed this film. In late 2001, Amelie was released right when it felt the world was fractured beyond repair. The Shape of Water possesses that kind of whimsical healing power. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but after months of being hoofed in the crotch every time I opened my social media feeds, del Toro's opus reminded me how much cinema can shine against the darkness.
USA, Dir: Jordan Peele
And speaking of important films, there is Peele's masterful debut. Get Out is one of those rare pieces that continues to reveal hidden layers upon repeated viewings, even just the small things like the separation of milk & cereal and how the protagonist literally picks cotton to save himself. The horror genre turned a corner when revolutionaries like Romero, Craven and Hooper used the forum for social commentary and this practice still continues to be as powerful as it ever was. However, it goes even deeper than that, as Peele has a true command of the visual and audio aspects of the medium, as well. This film is a triumph.
USA, Dir: Mike Flanagan
In a year that saw many Stephen King works brought to the large and small screens - with mixed results - this was the cream of the crop. Long considered unfilmable, Flanagan did the impossible by not only doing it, but doing it well. I still maintain that this is the purest King adaptation to date. Brilliantly skirting the issues that long stymied its production, Flanagan hired two of the best character actors working today (Carla Gugino & Bruce Greenwood) and let them do their thing. I think it is now safe to say that Flanagan is the most consistent journeyman working in the genre today.
USA, Dir: M. Night Shyamalan
No one is surprised more than me that M. Night made my list this year. Not only did he serve up a solid thriller with terrific performances by James McAvoy & Anya Taylor-Joy, he also managed to drop one hell of a bombshell at the eleventh hour. It's amazing to me that he was able to erase his erroneous past by just connecting Split with 2000's Unbreakable. It was like I entered an alternate universe where everything from the last act of Signs onwards never existed. Superhero cinematic universes are chock-a-block now, but it can be argued that M. Night was one of the first to attempt it.
Germany, Dir: Stefan Ruzowitzky
The best film I saw at Fantasia this year, Cold Hell was a return to form from the director of Anatomy. With DNA that is the closest thing to a giallo I've seen in quite sometime, this film is bursting with kinetic energy that had me shadow boxing afterwards. I loved the character of Özge, deftly brought to life by Violetta Schurawlow, who despite constantly being in peril never let herself be a victim.
It was a terrific year for Canadian genre film in 2017. At the top of the pile was Seth A. Smith's The Crescent with its quiet, creeping dread and experimental visual palette. I was also very entertained by the in-your-face excesses of Sebastien Landry & Laurence Morais-Lagace's Game of Death and... as I was typing this I realized that Graham Skipper's Sequence Break is not Canadian - I guess the Videodrome with arcade games angle had me thinking it was - but hell I really dug that one too.
As with 2016, there were a lot of good genre docs, as well. I saw a pair of great ones at Fantasia in King Cohen and 78/52, but my fave this year was Rob Grant's “faux” doc Fake Blood. I think frequent horror documentaries may be here to stay and that fills me with cheer.
Lastly, I just want to bang the drum for Issa López's Tigers Are Not Afraid. This is a stunning piece of work. I've seen it referred to as “the greatest film del Toro never made” and I can see that though I wager the feminine element is a large part of what makes this resonate as much as it does. After seeing The Shape of Water I thought to myself, “wow nothing is going to affect me emotionally as much as that did”. Then two months later I saw Tigers...
Now, for the chaff. I was fortunately much better at avoiding the garbage this year than I was last. However, that fucking Alien: Covenant, man... Life deserved much more praise over that, the characters were better, the effects were better and though they both had so-we-weren't-supposed-to-see-that-coming? endings, at least Life's was half as long. And it had one-hundred per cent less recorder.
Okay, that's it for features. I've decided that, since I've started seeing several hundred a year now, I'm going to do a short film wrap up so stay tuned for that tomorrow.