Sunday, October 24, 2021

Halloween 2021 Recommendations: 21st Century Horror

The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001) [A subtle exploration of individual and collective trauma. Del Toro is a master of horror and insightful explorer of childhood explorations of the dark side of adulthood.] 

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) [I remember seeing an image of Donnie in the theater with the freaky rabbit head creature in a short review in a paper. The film disappeared quicker than I could get to see it and I was pleased to discover it when it was released on video. It quickly became a cult favorite and one of those films that you can rewatch.]

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001) [One of the great pleasures of Claire Denis' unique & powerful films is the coterie of dedicated artists that work in her films (and her ability to attract other similar one time participants). This can be seen in her work with Agnes Godard her long time cinematographer (they met while working for Wim Wenders), to Tindersticks providing the soundtracks, and through the great acting collaborators that artfully manifest as different characters in mutliple films. Denis and her collaborators seem to develop a space for fearless filmmaking that challenges the artists involved and the later audience to (re)conceive the possibilities of different ways of telling stories through films (and in the case of Trouble Every Day -- the hoary conventions of a sanitized and exhausted vampire mythos).]

Save the Green Planet (Jang Joon-Hwan, 2003) [Are you curious about the QAnon believers, this bat shit crazy Korean film is an interesting glimpse into the possible mindset of those that spiral down conspiracy rabbit holes. Great ending ;)]

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) [Shaun just wants to rescue his doomed romance, then all hell breaks loose. The start of Wright's brilliant Cornish Trilogy.]

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) [A masterpiece touchstone of 21st Century horror and brilliant exploration of the role stories play in our lives during difficult times. One of the best production design and creature creation films! The ending has led to many debates in my film classes.]

The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006) [I tell my students this is Little Miss Sunshine's family meets Godzilla.  I would take this over a million Godzilla reboots.]

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) [Long, intense discussions about this film at the end of The Kentucky Theater midnight movie screening. That night I had an intense dream about it and woke up to scribble this down  "Be Me, for Awhile" -- Ideological Becoming and Future Objectivity in Let the Right One In."  A great re-imagining of the vampire story and exploration of the monster in all of us.]

Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008) [My tagline would be: The only way to survive is to resist understanding. A great vehicle for Stephen McHattie to do what he does best :) A counter to the mindless hordes of brainless zombie films/TV.]

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro, 2008) [Even when del Toro is paying the bills he hits some great notes. Leaves me crying at the fact that his adaptation At the Mountains of Madness has not come to fruition.]

Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve, 2009) [An attempt to examine a deeply traumatic, misogynistic, mass shooting in Canada. One of the best attempts to do something like this. Unique narrative.]

The Temptation of St. Tony (Veiko Õunpuu, 2009) [This Estonian films opens with this epigraph: from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Midway upon the journey of life / I found myself within a forest dark / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” What does it mean to be a middle manager, losing all sense of morality, in a culture that has long abandoned any scraps of right/wrong.]

Jennifer's Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009) [I fully agree with the theme that crappy, pseudo-independent, boy hair bands are the devil's work ;) Great fun!]

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) [I remember during the last 20 minutes of this film I was wringing my hands so tightly I feared I would break the fingers. A great exploration of consciousness and identity. Don't read about it, see it.] 

The Silence (Baran bo Odar, 2010) [I'm not a fan of serial killers, and I wonder about the obsessive fascination of others about them, although it does seem to be the monstrous archetype for capitalistic individualism. This film really tries to explore the compulsion behind the serial killer and left me wrecked at the end.]

Stake Land (Jim Mickle, 2010) [It is an amazing experience when you watch a favorite film years later and it still has the power to thrill you. Even more frightening in its message and story after 4 years living through a pandemic in reactionary Trump'merica. Just as redemptive in the struggle and journey of the characters. Engaging, intense narrative!]

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011) [Ostensibly an exploration of the damage a small, controlling cult can wreck on the individual, but I would make the case that it is equally and importantly a parallel exploration (intentionally or unintentionally) of mainstream social strictures. Brilliant!"]

Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011) [Wheatley's 'A Field in England' sent me on a pleasurable orgy of tripping imagistic weirdness (that seemed so damn real), so I was worried if 'Kill List' could match that film... it did... intertwining the cliched hit man charcters embroiled in domestic drama into a twisted horror scenario - brilliant, deconstructive film. Combine that with the fully committed, intense, and improvisational acting of the four leads -- yes! You should go into this with as little information as possible....."]

A Cabin in the Woods (Drew Godard, 2011) [My favorite metacinematic film exploring the nature of horror on a societal level while providing a rip-roaring narrative. Another film you should go into completely uninformed.]

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011) [Good monster/alien invasion film. Place your bets - street kids vs alien invasion.]
You're Next (Adam Wingard, 2011) [Definite flaws, but a candidate for the final girls hall of fame.]

Kiss of the Damned (Xan Cassavettes, 2012) [My favorite 1970s arthouse erotic vampire film - four decades later!]

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012) [A fascinating, spooky homage to Italian giallo films, sound effect techniques, and analogue sound."]

American Mary (Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, 2012) [It is difficult paying for college these days! Not really contemporary horror, more like classic grand guignol (and I say that admiringly). I've heard about the Soska sisters for a couple of years and was going to watch this film during the last Directed by Women global event. I'm very intrigued by how they developed this story of the extreme measures taken by a female medical student to fund her expensive education and her reactions to the abusive patriarchy/authorities of her institution. Also an interesting and disturbing alternative society seems to be developed (Lance's comment near the end is key?) ............ but it seems equally abusive and centered around capitalist relations of money. More questions than answers. Deeply problematic film, but shows a lot of promise - I would like to see what their next film will be.....  This ranks with Abel Ferrara's The Addiction as one of the great academic horror films.]

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) [A great meditation on coming to terms with aging and ones place in the world at that time. Also a great soundtrack, I have it on vinyl (blood red, of course).]

Under the Skin (Johnathan Glazer, 2013) [The first time I watched this I was stymied by my expectations based upon an earlier reading of Faber's novel. I had picked it up during my first trip to Europe and the book entranced me with its social and political allegory told through the reflections/experiences of the protagonist. Maybe it took on an added depth of meaning due to my own feelings of alienness on that trip. My second viewing was approached with an awareness that I need to set aside those expectations and open myself to a new interpretation of the story. I was rewarded with a stunning visual masterpiece of imagistic storytelling - potent and powerful, even if a bit ambiguous.]

A Field in England (Ben Wheatley, 2013) [Mycelium horror. After a series of dreadful/banal film viewings it was a pleasure to be enveloped by Wheatley & crew (love the extras on the DVD that emphasize the collective effort that went into this film) into a strange, distant, and confusing world -- all working to provoke this viewer to ask why, how and could ... and ask those questions multiple times, but always engaged and interested.]

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) [Profoundly weird (in the classic sense) -- don't want to say anything else :)]

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014) [Amirpour made a splash with this unique take on the beautifully shot and scored vampire film.]

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 20140 [Interesting homage and reworking of the horror films of my youth (esp. John Carpenter). Great concept for the initiation of the horror.]

The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015) [Kusama returns to the heights of her first film Girlfight with this intense, highly-watchable, keep-you-guessing, slow-burn thriller. The less you know about it, the better - seriously, don't even watch the trailer, but definitely check this film out, preferably with some friends over food & drinks ;) The audience I saw it with had a great, loud time and we were literally buzzing afterward! That ending, on the cusp of 2016 - wow.]

Final Girls (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015) [A lot of fun for horror fans that like metacinematic explorations of the genre."]

The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2015)   [A horror musical? Yes. Also rescues the mermaid from Disney.]

Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) [I'm concerned by those that believe this film does not contain enough "horror"]

A Dark Song (Liam Gavin, 2016) [Painstaking attention to the details of traumatic grief, magic rituals, and ... (can't spoil it) brings this effectively written, acted and directed two-hander to life - I was riveted throughout!]

The Neon Demon (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2016) [I drove to see The Neon Demon and stopped into the corporate faux-British pub for a bite/drink beforehand. Made conversation with a stunning bartender in a tartan skirt. In the spirit of the high-fashion, excesses I expected from the film, I asked to try a dram of a high end bourbon (which I had not tried before) and she laughingly told me she would have to get on a ladder to get a new bottle and then proceeded to do so right in front of me. A bit stunned and exhilarated, as little was left to the imagination (this was not me gawking - the tartan skirt was barely covering her), I was for a moment a bit speechless. A few minutes later we struck up a conversation and she discussed her sideline of schilling alcohol samples at regional venues - she asked me if I knew Jay-Z and his new line of 'healthier' alcohol brands (she works for them). She was interesting and engaging, but it was clear her 'beauty' was the skill she used to make a living. I left wondering/wandering about the vagaries of beauty (of those that have it and those that want to use it) and the ways in which society defines it, distributes it, defiles it and discards it. Needless to say I was primed for the film ........... As I left the film - the first song I heard on my car radio was Meghan Trainor's 'Me Too' (a singer and song I was unaware of - the line "If I was you I would want to be me too" was what stuck) and when I changed the channel, almost immediately, Monty Python's Money Programme came on. Obviously this doesn't describe the film - I recommend you see it. Tagline: "Beauty is vicious"]

Train to Busan (Yean Sang-ho, 2016)  [Nice to see a film(maker) rise to the challenge of making something new in the very overworked Zombie sub-genre. An action, thrill ride!]

Raw (Julia Ducourau, 2016) [I decided to watch this during a 24 hr fast - good decision ;)]

31 (Rob Zombie, 2016) [This film... what the fuck, such a mess (the script), but rescued by other aspects of the film, and at times a bit of brilliance.]

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017) [A perfect social horror film to cap the Obama era's liberal self-patting.]

The Endless (Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson, 2017) [Both a great cult and cosmic horror film that keeps one engaged throughout without losing an essential ambiguity that allows your mind to fill the open spaces.]

Tigers are Not Afraid (Issa Lopez, 2017) [The setting for this realistic narrative of orphans on the streets is scary enough, then there is the interjection of magical realism which gives it an otherworldly sensibility.]

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018) [Remake of Dario Argento's 1977 film. I know this will bother fans of the original, but I think this is the superior film and I was riveted throughout. Great dance scenes, a mindbending ending, and great female cast headed by Tilda Swinton.]

Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) [One of the best cosmic horror films. Maybe mycelium horror, depending on your interpretation. Stellar female ensemble playing scientists and soldiers. Visually intense and beautiful.]

Cam (Daniel Goldhaber, 2018) [What could be more frightening to a social media influencer than to have their online, branded identity, hijacked by unknown forces... and they may be even better at it than you in your tireless efforts. Could have been so bad, instead it rises to be a prime film examining our online obsessions about our performative identities.]

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) [Unique, highly effective, even some well-earned jump scares - had me squirming at times.]

Tales From the Hood 2 (Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff, 2018) [Hanging with a friend she chose this film and I had very low expectations. It was better than I expected and had me chuckling and shocked at times.]

Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2018) [I hated the excruciatingly painful Hereditary (maybe that means it was effective?), so I avoided this second film for awhile, then I was in the early days of the pandemic and gave it a try. I thought it was a fascinating exploration of fraught relationships, insular communities, cultural arrogance, predatory academics, masculine posturing, and ... I don't want to give it away. I thought it was brilliant.]

Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, 2018) [What an impossible task, making a sequel based upon two twin masterpieces, Stephen King's novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's adaptation. To make matters worse, King hated Kubrick's adaptation, which by many is considered to be a masterpiece of horror filmmaking and might have superseded the original novel. Flanagan engages both versions, while creating his own unique vision. I have much admiration for how this turned out and can see myself revisiting it soon. A classic of psychic vampires and evil places!]

Us (Jordan Peele, 2018) [In two years Peele released two great and successful horror films. I had to watch this a second time to fully grasp the intricacies, mostly because I was distracted the first time, and I was fascinated by the social horror of individuals trapped in a social situation definitely not of their making and the blase comfort of those that, knowingly or unknowingly, benefit from their Omelas-like oppression. Everyone is good in this, but Lupita Nyong'o is stellar! That ending ;)] 

In the Earth (Ben Wheatley, 2021) [Mycelium/cosmic horror - understated, cerebral and trippy (kind of like Wheatley's A Field in England). Martin seemed like a wimp from the beginning, but the man held up through some seriously messed up shit. Made during the intense phase of the COVID-19 pandemic - impressive!]

Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond, 2021) [A rigid, moralistic censor during the heyday of the British video nasties censorship period, sees a film that dislodges painful memories and ... don't want to reveal that ;)]

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