Hey do you guys remember 2013? That sunovabitch went by fast, didn’t it? As far as horror goes, I think it was a pretty solid year. This was the first time in a few years where I didn’t have any real difficulty picking my favorites. There are only a few that would be considered 100% horror films – the others are cross-breeds and genre mutts. Some strong indie showings made the list, some big-budget flicks, as well as the return to form for a master director. Overall, 2013 was a mixed bag, but in the best way possible.
While I didn’t have trouble picking my 10 favorites, actually ranking them in order would probably give my a full on panic attack. So my list is presented in alphabetical order for my sanity’s sake.
I got to see You’re Next at its Fantastic Fest screening back in 2011. For the past two years, I kinda got sick of hearing myself hype it up to friends. It finally got released this year and was just as much of a blast the second time around. It’s a solid blend of humor and thrills with some top notch performances – particularly by badass heroine Sharni Vinson. It’s also got smarts to spare, making it a refreshing take on the home invasion genre that transcends the trappings of the genre. You’re Next also proved that there’s a place for indie horror in wide release.
I knew back in early 2013 that Stoker would crack my best of list for the year. It’s a cold, exceptionally constructed film that’s also sexy as hell. Chan Wook Park is a master craftsman and it shows in every shot. There’s not one scene in Stoker that’s not brimming with details and subtleties. There are inspired moments of violence and sexual awakening, all wrapped around a genuinely compelling family drama. Mia Wasikowski’s portrayal of a darkly quirky girl coming of age is fantastic. By coming of age I mean she cums thinking about her uncle snapping someone’s neck. Good stuff!
Watch the dubstep montages of hulking frat boys waving red Solo cups into the camera and tell me this isn’t a horror movie. Watch the destruction of Selena Gomez’s innocence at the bejeweled hands of James Franco and tell me this isn’t a horror movie. Watch Gucci Mane stone-cold threaten Alien in a darkened strip club and tell me this isn’t a horror movie. Harmony Korine is hit or miss with me, but homeboy can pack his backs after this one for all I care. He made his masterpiece in 2013. Spring Breakers is a barrage of unsettling neon decadence featuring 2013’s best performance: James Franco as the unnerving Florida rapper Alien. It’s either a poignant commentary on our Dionysian culture and the commercialization of it or a celebration of it. Either way, Spring Breakers is a downright terrifying and beautiful film.
Brad sent me a lot of online screeners during the tail end of 2013. I didn’t get to them all (a guy’s gotta watch Full House reruns sometime!), but holy shit am I glad I took on Savaged. It’s a lean, mean take on the rape/revenge and Native American revenge genres that’s as over the top in its brutality as it is effective in its catharsis. Writer/director Michael S. Ojeda also manages to deftly incorporate a potent love story alongside the vicious revenge plot. The Native American elements of the film are treated with a lot of respect as well – something you don’t typically see in genre films. Across the board, Savaged was packing heat. Here’s hoping this kick ass hybrid can scalp the masses in 2014.
Despite the star power of Wolverine, Prisoners didn’t make a lot of noise when it was released in 2013. It’s a wicked bleak movie – one that isn’t so much about the crime as it is the consequences of vigilantism. The film takes a realistic look at the effect of a child abduction on a family, which doesn’t make for a pretty picture. At the heart of the film is the character study of two men: Jackman’s patriarch Keller Dover and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki. Dover is a blue-collar warrior – the embodiment of a Springsteen song – driven to vengeance. He’s great, but Gyllenhaal is something outta this world. After James Franco’s Alien in Spring Breakers, Gyllenhaal delivered my second favorite performance of the year. Loki is a consumed, stalwart character made up of equal parts tragedy and nobility. He’s so compelling and sad and handsome…so handsome…I could watch him forever. Also, Paul Dano plays a terrifically sympathetic scumbag who looks like he smells really bad.
Brian De Palma took a few years off after The Black Dahlia – that lazy shrug of a film. In 2013 the master craftsman came out swinging with Passion – his best film since 1992’s Raising Cain. He didn’t break any new ground with Passion or reinvent himself – instead he did what he does best: present a sexy as hell Hitchcockian thriller with style out the ass. Honestly, De Palma hasn’t seemed this confident since the ’80s.Passion is basically his thesis film containing all of the elements that have made him one of the best thriller directors of our time. Pretty much 100 percent of the marketing revolved around the Rachel McAdams/Noomi Rapace lesbian stuff, but that makes up such small part of the film. The rest is classic De Palma: style, sex, doppelgangers, and stylish sexy doppelgangers. The final scene is devilishly comforting for what it is. It’s so great to know De Palma is still out there doing his thing.
Certain movies can really get under your skin. In 2013 one humble little indie submerged beneath my entire psyche and had its way with me: Lawrie Brewster’s Lord of Tears. The entire film feels out of time. It feels like a throwback without biting any other films. Lord of Tears is a true chiller drenched in gothic atmosphere and a solid mystery that left me genuinely shook. The indie market presented only a handful of triumphs in 2013 and Lord of Tears is certainly one of them.
Veteran Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To simply knows how to do the crime genre right. With the masterful Drug War, he presented one of his most badass and sincere films – one that understands the humanity of narcs, drug lords, and informants. A lot of critics compared it to The Wire because it comments on all sides of the “war on drugs.” In place of Omar are two deaf brothers who manage to be as badass as everyone’s favorite shotgun-toting gay man. Their riotous gunfight against dozens of cops is goddamn glorious. It’s also a very smart film – one that respects its audience’s intelligence. Drug War is simply a perfect entry into the crime genre.
I dunno, man. While The Conjuring didn’t knock me on my ass like I hoped it would, there’s something I find infinitely watchable about the film. It has its weak jump scares like every other contemporary horror film, but it makes up for those moments with its strong setting. A lot of the film’s success has to do with Vera Farmiga (who is a goddess walking the earth), but even more is owed to James Wan’s passion for the craft. The scares are cheap at times, but overall The Conjuring employs its thick atmosphere and sincere belief in the supernatural to provide its chills. Also, the time spent establishing the geography of the house earns a strong payoff. Most contemporary genre directors don’t give a shit about stuff like that. Despite The Conjuring‘s cheap jump scares, with this film and Insidious 2, I think Wan is taking the mainstream in a positive direction.
Cheap Thrills is 2013’s perfect party movie. It’s a total blast. Sadly, it’s also one of 2013’s most depressingly relevant ones. The plot concerning desperate men performing progressively more offensive dares for money rings true alongside America’s bullshit society. We live in some tough economic times and the prospect of earning money for being an immoral asshole is equal parts tempting and loathsome. It’s an angry and bloody film really well acted by Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, and its true madman, David Koechner. At its best, horror reflects contemporary society – Cheap Thrills certainly holds an ugly and complex mirror up to our current shitty class war.
Here’s some 2013 films outside of the horror genre I’d like to show some love to. With The Wolf of Wall Street, 71 yr. old Scorsese made younger filmmakers look like chicken shit fossils. Also, Leo is a physical comedy wizard. Jeff Nichol’s Mud is a brilliant and beuatiful coming of age film featuring that hunky weirdo Matthew McConaughey. Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is a funny, interesting look at the dawn of the computer age through the eyes of obsessive programmers. I’m a sucker for David Gordon Green, so it was nice to see him return to his offbeat, poetic roots with Prince Avalanche. The Place Beyond the Pines made for one helluva depressing and beautiful ride. And lastly, I’d like to recommend the Jason Statham thriller Redemption, which is easily the best film of his career. It’s not your typical Statham fare (there are only like two fight scenes) and his fans might be surprised at the range he shows in this one. Dig it.