Friday, November 4, 2016

Another Top Ten: New Contenders, Part Two

So, following from my previous post, here are five more films that, although having not yet met the test of time or magnitude of impression test that my top ten list demanded, are definitely strong candidates for inclusion. Sometimes it’s doing something very simple very well, sometimes it’s pushing the boundaries of what we consider horror, sometimes it’s approaching something with fresh energy and a new eye, but all of these are, at least in my humble and certainly limited estimation, worth watching.

6) Honeymoon

This is a fairly straightforward horror story - a newly-married couple is on their honeymoon out in the country, and something mysterious happens, and the new bride begins to...change. Thematically, it borrows equally from “the person I love is not who I thought they were” films like I Married A Monster From Outer Space and the tortured interpersonal disintegration of earlier entrant Antichrist. It’s far less campy than the former and less extreme in its vision than the latter, but the skillful juxtaposition of the adjustments and negotiations common to any new couple with far more Lovecraftian changes make it tragic and horrifying by turns, as we watch the already-fragile bond between these two people fall apart, sacrificed alongside humanity and life itself to something utterly unknowable.

7) Kill List

Horror films that draw from other genres are tricky - it’s tough enough to navigate one filmic language, let alone two or more - but when they pay off (as with Alien, for example), they are often thrilling, because we’re taken outside of our comfort zone - our safe assumptions about narrative are violated. The protagonists of Kill List are not hapless teenagers or flintily resilient Final Girls, they are coolly competent assassins taking one last job out of economic necessity. They’re stock characters to a degree, sure, but not from horror films, and so making them helpless in the face of horrors beyond their comprehension is somehow even worse. Of course a bunch of camp counselors are going to get mulched, but when these dudes are in trouble, that is some bad, bad shit. It’s a crime film that slowly segues into complete nightmare, and a lot of the most important bits happen in the background, in the edges, are inferred, and it lends the whole film a feeling of vague but persistent dread and menace, one which explodes into revelation in its last moments, but ends before we can really comprehend its enormity, leaving only awful silence in its wake.

8) The Loved Ones

I’ve seen people dismiss this film as torture porn, and I really hate that. I mean, I actively dislike the term torture porn in general, but I also think that some people just assume any film that uses graphic violence is torture porn, and they aren’t, not necessarily. Yes, this is a violent film, grittily so, but I’d argue that it’s also a film about violence, how we use it to seek relief from our own pain and the way that violence we commit or experience shapes us. The protagonist is a troubled young man who turns violence inward, engaging in self-harm to seek relief from the pain of loss, the antagonist turns violence outward to relieve the pain and frustration of her constant failure to achieve the idealized, romantic existence sold to her and in a desperate grab for agency (the inversion of gendered expressions of violence here is interesting). On top of that, it’s a story told in bright, gaudy colors that clash with the blood and filth, like a badly-made-up corpse before the funeral, with a pop and rock music soundtrack that is both impeccably curated and an effective narrative device. There’s nothing else like it.

9) REC/Quarantine

This is sort of unusual, first because I’m generally really picky about found-footage films (The Blair Witch Project is on my top ten, but that’s it), and second because I’m recommending both the (Spanish) original and the U.S. remake. But honestly, this is one of the rare occasions where very little is lost in the translation. There are some tweaks made to important revelations at the end, but it’s pretty clear that they’re nods to two very different cultural contexts and don’t really affect what makes the films good. In many ways, they’re damn near shot-for-shot identical, and though this, to me, makes the remake superfluous (in a way that. for example, We Are What We Are isn’t because it so radically remakes basic elements of the original), I’m also not the kind of dickhead who’s going to be all “original or nothing” about it. Check out either one. The important thing is that both films are kinetic, claustrophobic stories told in a confined space, using an increasingly bizarre threat to force escalation - both in the figurative sense that circumstances become more dire, and in the literal sense that the only hope for escape the protagonists have is to go up, which also takes them closer to the source of the threat. There really is nowhere to run, and things just keep getting worse.

10) Vinyan

The director’s previous effort, Calvaire, was a lyrical, sorrowful film about the costs of loneliness, disconnection, and isolation, the stunted and deformed shapes taken by desire long-denied. I’m all about that film too, but I feel like Vinyan is a considerable refinement of the same lyricism, applied to the costs of grief and guilt, and the way those things can drive people apart. It’s some of the same emotional territory covered by Antichrist, though in far more subdued, restrained fashion. It’s the story of two people both united and isolated by their shared loss, and how obsession with the desire to undo the loss, to unmake an unbearable tragedy, turns into a literal and metaphorical journey into darkness. The question “how far will you go?” applies in multiple senses here, and the final answer, the ultimate solution to what each person really and finally wants, is devastating.

And for all of these films, there are others that I think “well, what about this other one too?” I’ve gotten to watch a lot of surprisingly good films in the process of writing this thing, and this is sort of why I tend to resist lists - because they’re so constraining, It’s always nice to screen something that I don’t know anything about and come away from it pleasantly surprised by it (most recently, Starry Eyes), even if that means I also occasionally run across movies that I’m anticipating and by which I end up being disappointed (still looking at you, Banshee Chapter). With the availability of films from all over the world, with a bunch of different distribution options above and beyond theatrical release, with what seems like more and more filmmakers who take horror seriously instead of seeing it as camp or a series of clich├ęs intended to service an uncritical fanbase, it’s a good time for horror. I fully anticipate having an entirely separate slate of films for another feature like this in a year’s time.