As 2017 begins to wrap up, we take a look at the very best foreign horror films that the year has had to offer!
2017 was a phenomenal year of horror, but it’s sometimes hard to stay on top of all the new releases and “mandatory” classics. If you’re a fan of horror then you no doubt made a point of seeing the heavy-hitters from this year like Get Out and IT, but what about the smaller films? What about the films that had limited releases or really have to be hunted for to watch? It’s very easy to have a blind spot towards foreign horror and while this is by no means the definitive list, here’s a good start to some picks from 2017 that are absolutely worth your time.
Directed by Can Evrenol; Turkey
Evrenol’s Housewife is an absurd fever dream of a film that simultaneously demands and refuses to be deciphered. The film touches on a number of topics like childhood abuse and repressed trauma, but its real focus is on the elevation of Holly into this deity-like figure of a cult. Evrenol’s lucid horror film embraces dream logic and nonlinear storytelling and anchors it all on Clémentine Poidatz’ alarmingly strong performance. Then on top of all of that Evrenol throws some good old-fashioned Lovecraft mythos in for good measure, too. Housewife is a fearless film for a number of reasons and even if it’s something that you don’t understand, you absolutely deserve to let its bonkers face-wearing images assault you.
Directed by Carlos Algara & Alejandro Martinez Beltran; Mexico
I’m a sucker for boiled down, single location narratives, horror or otherwise, and Veronica is a strong example of that sort of story. I’m also a huge fan of cat and mouse psychological thrillers and this film plays into those impulses in such a delicious way. If you’re a fan of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (and honestly, you should be), then you’ll dig the hell out of Veronica. The film tells the story of a psychologist who comes out of retirement to study a special case, Veronica. As the two live together, the sense of who is in control is constantly in flux. It’s fascinating to see how these two people lose track of who they are in each other. Veronica is full of surprises and nothing can be taken for face value here. It’s a suspenseful treat that contains powerful performances and some striking black-and-white cinematography to boot.
The Forest of Lost Souls
Directed by José Pedro Lopes; Portugal
The Forest of Lost Souls feels like a team-up between Fellini and Tarantino and that alone should be enough to get you on board with this film. The film presents a wildly original depiction of the afterlife while two lost souls, a young girl and an elderly man, wax on about the nature of life (and death) and what all of this is about. The film explores some creative ideas like how the afterlife is split up into different sections for people who die in different ways (such as suicide). The whole thing is also punctuated with incredible black-and-white photography, which really helps the film’s surreal visuals pop.
What’s particularly effective about The Forest of Lost Souls is that its first half is a thoughtful, methodical take on what it means to be alive, while the second half morphs into an angry revenge tale that doesn’t hold back. Both of these ideas hit their mark and culminate into something that’s truly special.
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska; Poland
This is a horror musical about murderous mermaids, so just stop reading this right now and immediately see this movie, okay? This article will still be here when you get back.
Absolute insanity, right? Productions like The Lure that tow genres are the biggest sorts of disasters when they don’t work. However, when these kind of experiments do succeed, they usually turn into cult classics that will always be a part of the horror pantheon. The Lure tells the complex story of mermaids who seek acceptance while also full of dreams and aspirations of musical stardom. If you didn’t realize how well mermaids and metal music go together, The Lure will make sure you understand this fundamental combination by the end of the film. On top of all of that, the film also doubles as a bizarre adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. The fact that Disney’s Ariel and The Lure’s Golden are based on the same character is sheer madness.
The Lure is like a haunted fairy tale that has a rawness to it that only increases its charm. It’s one of the craziest horror films of 2017, but also one of the most beautiful.
Mexico Barbaro II
Directed by Lex Ortega, Sergio Tello, Diego Cohen, Fernando Urdapilleta, Michel Garza, Carlos Melendez, Ricardo Farías, Christian Cueva, Abraham Sanchez; Mexico
Even the worst anthology horror efforts still manage to give me some degree of joy. I dig the style a ton and it often leads to some truly remarkable short films when in the right context. Mexico Barbaro II is essentially the Mexican equivalent of Creepshow. It’s a film that unabashedly celebrates Mexican horror directors and the country’s country and there’s something very appealing about that. The film boasts eight short films, none of which are misfires, but what’s so cool here is that most of these films touch on Mexican history and points of culture in a very, Paris Je T’aime sort of way. You could call this Mexico, I Want To Kill You and it wouldn’t be off base.
There’s a lot on display in this film, but the “Vitriol” segment tells a stunning story about vanity, numbness, being disgusted with who you are, even if it seems like you’re beautiful to everyone else. Beauty can sometimes be a terrible curse or scar, too. As strong as it is, “Potzonalli” directed by Fernando Urdapilleta is one of the most memorable shorts I’ve seen in a long time and is reason alone to check out this anthology. Due to the high success rate here, the wide subject matter, and the creativity on display by new filmmakers, this is one of the more satisfying anthology segments that you’ll come across, especially if you go in with an open mind and humble expectations.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky; Germany
If Veronica is an ode to Repulsion and Polanski, then German horror film Cold Hell certainly feels like a love letter to Brian De Palma. Cold Hell is a stunning example of a brutal girl-power revenge story, but it impressively pairs this together with a disturbing serial killer narrative. The film’s protagonist, Ozge, is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses something that she shouldn’t have, but she spends the rest of the film running for her life. Ozge is a glorious badass of cinema who does such violent, brutal things, but you’re cheering her on so hard in spite of it all. Picture the kitchen fight in Kill Bill between the Bride and Vernita Green, but even more intense.
There’s a very De Palma vibe present right from the film’s voyeuristic, brutal opening, to the claustrophobic chase that’s set on the subway, to the film’s unreal ending. The film’s lead gets set on fire and she still keeps kicking ass and doesn’t give up. There are all sorts of moments in Cold Hell that even give Atomic Blonde a run for its money. There are plenty of impressive action set pieces in Cold Hell (including one of the best car crashes/chases I’ve ever seen), but the film also gets a lot of mileage from its creepy serial killer material, which feels like something from out of a Fincher film or episode of Hannibal mixed with the best of Giallo. Whether Cold Hell’s mystery grabs you or its protagonist wins you over, there’s no denying that this film will still manage to surprise you in some way. This is a horror film that attempts to do a lot, but it does it all well.
Directed by Denise Castro; Spain
The vampire genre has been done to death as much as the zombie genre has, but even still, on rare occasions people somehow find original ways to explore these classic areas. Salvation surely owes a lot in tone to Let The Right One In, but it does enough differently that it never feels outright derivative. The film deals with a young girl, Cris, who lives a bleak life that’s spent mostly in a hospital while she awaits a dire heart transplant. During her stay in the hospital, she encounters Victor, who tells Cris that he’s a vampire.
As this honest depiction of falling in love and learning to enjoy life is explored, Cris must make the difficult decision of turning to immortality with Cris or showing courage towards life and facing her operation head-on. Salvation is interested in how people will fight to survive in different ways and it taps into something delicate, beautiful, and terrifying all at the same time.
Danur: I Can See Ghosts
Directed by Awi Suryadi; Indonesia
Danur’s story is remarkably simple, but it’s also why this film is so effective. Danur looks at a little girl, Risa, who has busy parents and spends more time than she should by herself. Risa is lonely and on her eighth birthday, she makes a wish for a friend. Risa gets her wish in the form of a ghost. Risa gets closer and closer to her new ghost friends and it begins to form a rift between her and her mother, who becomes increasingly concerned. Danur does a lot with a little and banks on a relatable story that features a macabre, bittersweet twist.
Directed by Awi Suryadi; Indonesia
Another entry from Indonesia’s Awi Suryadi, but not without good reason. Additionally, Danur and Badoet couldn’t be more different of horror films and while Suryadi’s voice is distinguishable in both movies, they have very different styles. Danur is a thoughtful story about ghosts and loneliness while Badoet is an intensely creepy story about missing children and an evil clown. Creepy clowns are nothing new at this point and this year also saw Pennywise the Dancing Clown scaring the living hell out of everyone. Believe me when I say that Indonesia knows how to do scary clowns. They should officially be given control of the sub-genre because they just run with the disturbing nature and aren’t afraid to get dark. Badoet is so messed up that it feels like even John Wayne Gacy would get scared from this film.
Indonesia might not have that many horror directors, but Suryadi’s precision proves that he’s at least a voice to keep on your radar.
We Are The Flesh
Directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter; Mexico, France
Full disclosure, I can’t tell if I’m a fan of We Are The Flesh or if I absolutely despise. It’s a film that tries incredibly hard to feel edgy and extreme and while it technically succeeds, the end result is such an aggressive product that it’s hard to tell if it’s worth it. Think a Mexican/French version of A Serbian Film and you’ll begin to get the idea of what’s going on in this film. The horror film tells a very small-scale story, but manages to have it revolve around the apocalypse and some rather large ideas. There’s a heavy emphasis on incest and some deeply graphic visuals that may simply be too much for some. Nevertheless, it attempts to say something about the end of times and destiny.
We Are The Flesh is a disturbing, reluctant experiment, but one that I still think is worth seeing. Even if you do hate this endeavor, Minter’s style is curious and inventive and it makes for an interesting study.
These are the picks that we came up with, but what did you think of this year’s foreign selection? Are there any glaring omissions here? Sound off in the comments below!