Some say that 2016 has been a lackluster year for horror, but I beg to differ. With stories about things like a vegetarian becoming a cannibal, a zombie virus outbreak that occurs within the confines of a moving vehicle, and an autopsy case that can’t be solved, it seems apparent that not only is this a rich year for the horror genre, but a very inventive and original one, as well. Some of these titles might be a bit less mainstream than others, but every film is worth taking a chance on. It’s been a great year for the genre, one just has to know where to look.
There’s been a lot of horror movies this year about major life threatening events bringing a parent and their child closer together. Maybe it’s because being a parent is the scariest thing in the world. It’s hard enough taking care of yourself, but when you’re responsible for the well being of another fragile tiny human, suddenly every little exterior threat becomes that much more menacing, because there’s only so much that a parent can control. There’s only so much they can protect their child from. That’s why when Seok Woo takes his daughter Soo-an aboard the train to Busan, and it becomes riddled with infected, flesh eating zombies, his terror overtakes his usual selfish tendency to put himself first, and he becomes the hero that his little girl has always deserved. The cinematic horror universe is so overrun with zombie movies that when news of a new one arrives, it brings about more of a groan than a shriek of joy. However, in a world of cliché copycats, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan somehow manages to make a refreshingly emotional and grounded take on the worn out sub genre.
Here’s one that snuck up on me. Admittedly, I was late to the game with Eyes of My Mother. I’d heard from friends that it was a terrific film, that it was moving and had some powerful things to say about family and death, but no one told me how twisted Nicolas Pesce’s first foray into film actually is. No one mentioned the eye gouging or the dug up corpses that would’ve enticed me to run to the nearest theater with a little more zest, or tried to see it with a little more persistence. Undoubtedly, this beautifully shot southern gothic horror story is visually stimulating enough to be worthy of your time, but the gratuitous violence and torture that becomes normalized when we see through the eyes of a traumatized little girl is what really makes this movie worth checking out.
Stuck within the confines of a war-torn Tehran during the 1980s, Shideh and her daughter Dorsa are left to fend for themselves when the man of the house is called off to join the fight. Their problems are challenging to begin with – rampant sexism, bombs going off sporadically in the streets, neighbors fleeing the city – but it’s not long before things get much, much worse. A djinn begins haunting their home with the taped up windows, speaking riddles to sweet naïve Dorsa, and playing with Shideh’s sense of sanity. Is it possible that Shideh is simply going mad with the threat of war daily pounding on the door, or is there actually an evil and all powerful entity living within the walls of their trenchlike home? And, if there really is an ancient maleficent spirit fixated on these two, can they ever truly escape it? Under the Shadow sets out to explore these questions, and does so with a confident kind of intuition that’s fairly rare in first time directors. Babak Anvari has crafted a smart and suspenseful little feature film debut, and it will be exciting to see what he churns out next.
Framed and wrongfully convicted, Adrian knows he’s been set up the minute he wakes up next to the body of his dead lover with police pounding on the door. Adrian swears there was someone else in the room with him, but is still exposed as a murderer to the world, and exposed as a cheater to his loving wife. Determined to clear his name, he hires the best lawyer in the business – but she comes at a price. In order to help him in court, Ms. Virginia Goodman needs Adrian to tell her the complete, totally honest truth about what happened to him. Things he’d never tell a soul. As the clock counts down and the secrets spill out, one thing becomes clear: Adrian may not be a vengeful murderer, but he is by no means innocent. Evocative and tension-fueled from start to finish, The Invisible Guest is a thrilling tale of deceit and redemption that’s so full of twists and turns that it keeps the viewer guessing until the bitter end. This one isn’t to be missed.
When a wandering brother and sister find sanctuary from the woes of the current post apocalyptic world inside of an old, tattered apartment complex, they find that they might have accidentally stumbled into the lair of the devil himself. Lousy with hooch, mumbling incoherently, and hell-bent on covering every inch of his place with oddly shaped cardboard boxes, the man in the apartment seems to have grown a bit mad with isolation. However, he seems to possess a strange alluring aura that reels his new friends in and easily persuades them to do his bidding. Soon, he starts to coax his new companions with intoxicating speeches, and talks them into participating in taboo activities, which only become more disturbing as the film chugs along. It’s not long before he transforms these good kids into heathens just as devious as he. Grotesque, upsetting, and shockingly provocative, We Are the Flesh is certainly memorable, but it’s also much more than that. With a surprisingly insightful commentary on the laws of right and wrong, and visually gripping aesthetics that inevitably take on a deeper metaphorical meaning, it’s a movie that everyone should be checking out – that is, of course, if they can stomach it.
There’s a storm brewing outside, and it’s getting stronger by the hour. Inside, Father and son coroners Tommy and Austin Tilden are hard at work in the mortuary trying their hardest to uncover the secrets hidden within their latest cadaver, but no matter how many organs they exhume or how many physical details they make note of in their recording, they just can’t seem to figure out how their Jane Doe died. Burned on the inside but relatively unscathed on the outside, buried in the ground for days but possessing glossy eyes that suggest a fairly recent departure from the land of the living – the more this dynamic duo uncovers, the more confused they become. And all the while, the storm outside rages on, growing nastier and more fervent with the reveal of each odd clue. Directed by the same man who brought us the surprisingly well made found footage feat Trollhunter, Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a delightfully suspenseful an inherently wicked little descent into the eyes of the storm, both literally and metaphorically. Emile Hirsche and Brian Cox are terrific together as the father and son team, and honestly, after so much time spent dropping in briefly to bit roles on television, it’s just nice to see Cox in a leading role worthy of his time again.
A coming-of-age story with a cannibalistic twist, Raw is a delightfully warped Canadian teen horror movie about a young vegetarian girl who comes to love the taste of human flesh. It all starts when top of her class student and adamant veggie eater Justine enrolls in her first year at veterinarian school. After participating in a blood-drenched hazing ritual, she begins to notice changes brewing within her. Aside from an engorged lust for sexual conquests and gritty violence, Justine is developing an appetite for her peers. Soon, she’ll devour everyone in sight. The feature debut from promising director Julia Docournau, this little independent movie is so unsettling that it even managed to make grown men faint when it made its world premiere at TIFF.
It’s been a little over ten years since Lucille Hadzihalilovic made her feature debut with Innocence, and fans have been waiting with baited breath ever since. Luckily, her return to the cinematic world is just as engrossing as everyone had hoped. Visually stunning, her new film Evolution tells the story of a little boy named Nicolas who is told repeatedly by his mother that he is sick. Despite the fact that he and every other little boy in this isolated village by the sea look perfectly healthy, they are soon carted off to the nearest hospital, one by one, and given treatments. However, when the medical practices performed by these strange nurses begin to resemble experiments more than typical family medicine, it becomes clear that something sinister is at play.
It all started when that old man showed up. At first, this quaint little village in South Korea was relatively quiet, and policeman Jong-Goo’s biggest concern was bringing home enough money to take care of his loving wife and beautiful daughter. However, when a strange elderly Japanese man moves into the neighborhood, a mysterious illness begins spreading through the community and blood-streaked murder begins to run rampant. Victims of the disease first are stricken with a bout of body coating rashes, then start to display odd, out-of-character behavior, until they eventually go mad and kill everyone in sight – even their own family members. It’s terrifying enough when Jong-Goo has to witness the aftermath of these brutal events while he’s on the clock, but when he inadvertently brings his demons back home with him, his life takes a tragic turn as his very own daughter becomes afflicted. Now, it’s up to him and his friends to snuff out the sinister magic that has corrupted their town, and put an end to the hysteria once and for all – before the Japanese man and his inexplicable powers burn this place to the ground. Pulse-pounding and completely unnerving, The Wailing is a special film that doesn’t give up all of its secrets to the viewer, but keeps them on the edge of their seats for the entire runtime regardless.
This movie was made by a man, but it’s hard to tell. By taking the usual scenario of a sweet young girl moving to Hollywood to chase dreams and flipping it on its head, Nicolas Winding Refn somehow manages to tap into the female psyche, and create something truly special. Normally, the naïve little model-in-training is inevitably taken advantage of by the very people who claimed they wanted to help her, and is therefore made the victim. However, in Refn’s movie, it is she who takes advantage of them. Once the girl starts to notice the effect that her beauty has on people, she begins using it to get what she wants – all while playing the fool, just the same. Aesthetically gorgeous and emotionally invigorating, The Neon Demon is a refreshing take on a tired subject. Instead of implying that women should be ashamed of their narcissism, Refn embraces it, and explores the subject in a positive way. The result is a film that is as hypnotizing as it is terrifying, as it exposes the depths to which some people will sink to attain youth and glamour, while simultaneously suggesting that being proud of the way you look is something to be celebrated, not frowned upon. It might just be his greatest film to date.