This will be one of the more divisive titles on my list this year, I guarantee it. I’ve spoken to many people who saw this film and it’s split right down the middle. Half love it. Half hate it. I blame most of that on the complete misrepresentation of the advertising campaign. If you had a preconceived notion of what this film was going to be, based solely on the trailers that make it appear supernatural, you’d be pretty pissed. Myself, I love this film. I had no preconceived notions, so I just let myself wade into the dark waters of it all, and boy I was pulled right in. It Comes At Night is a simple enough premise. A family, led by a very commanding Joel Edgerton, has isolated themselves in a mountain cabin after a major plague of some kind has taken over the country, possibly even the world. Much is unknown, which is exactly how it would be in most cases. The family has very specific rules for survival that they adhere to almost meticulously. Yet, that all gets thrown asunder when another small family happens upon their cabin looking for help. The dynamic between these two families fighting for survival is the entire basis for this film. The psychology of the balance between trust and mistrust is the main thrust, and if you like your thrillers on more of the cerebral side, you will dig this flick. Don’t be looking for a large, supernatural affair like the trailers make it appear, but definitely be ready to be seriously uncomfortable wondering how everything is going to crash down. It’s so hopeless and desolate, yet because of the characters, I was transfixed by every seemingly menial moment. It feels like you’re watching a true reality. The authenticity of it all really makes you believe that this is what might actually happen in case of a major disaster. Tense direction and some really interesting visuals sprinkled throughout add to the whole mix. If you’re looking for something a little different than your typical horror flick, something that feels like a disturbing near-reality, give it a whirl and enjoy your psyche being severely damaged.
Yesterday I did one kind of home invasion movie that dealt with being locked in a house with a tiger (Burning Bright). That one is fun horror fluff that everyone can enjoy. Today, I’m bringing you an entirely different type of home invasion movie. This baby is hardcore, dark, visceral, and not for the squeamish. Today I bring you the French horror gut-punch, Them. Before I continue, let’s make sure you know which Them I’m talking about, because there are quite a few films with that title. This one is French, subtitled, came out in 2006, and its original title is Ils (French for Them, obviously.) Now that we know which Them I’m speaking of, let’s give this brutal beauty its due. When most people think of what helped with the resurgence of home invasion horror movies, they normally think of The Strangers. But not so fast, that film came out in 2008. Them was there in 2006. Granted there have been a long list of home invasion horror flicks over the years, but this was probably the first of the current releases to truly go for the jugular in such a tense visceral way that you can’t help but feel like you were hit over the head with a 2×4. Them is about a French couple in the countryside who’s isolated house is suddenly the subject of an attacker/attackers of some kind. There’s no explanation why, so don’t go looking for reason. It just happens. Now, to say any more than this would ruin the experience because, well, there’s a slight twist to this film. But don’t go searching online for this twist. You want to figure it all out yourself so it has the impact it’s supposed to have. Now, be prepared for what you’re about to see. This film is tension overload. Your stomach will be in twists. Once it starts, it never stops. It is relentless. You will definitely feel just as helpless as our main couple, and that is due to the amazing direction. Many of you know that French horror films are among my absolute favorite. Them definitely deserves to be right alongside the recent masterpieces of Martyrs, Inside, and Frontier(s), all films I’ve had on this list in previous years. If you want a tension-filled flick that may be light in the story department, but heavy on the atmosphere and dread, Them is absolutely perfect for you. Just be prepared for the final scenes. They’re absolutely haunting.
Okay, so right of the bat I have to admit that Burning Bright is not a perfect film by any means, but there’s a reason I’m including it here today. Sometimes when you watch a movie that has a premise so golden, and so utterly insane, that you fall in love with that film regardless of execution. That, in a nutshell, is Burning Bright. I love this premise so much it hurts. A girl and her autistic brother are sealed up in a house to wait out an approaching hurricane. Seems simple enough. Only problem is… there’s a freaking man-eating tiger loose in their house! And because of the hurricane proofing, all the doors and windows are sealed with boards, tightly screwed on from the outside! There’s no way out. Oh, and did I mention that the tiger hadn’t eaten in two weeks so it’s pissed? This is freaking Jaws, with a tiger, in your own home! How awesome is that premise? Whoever thought it up I want to hug. Yes, there are a few problems with the movie. Story-wise, using an autistic child as a story device seems a bit off at times. Aesthetically, it uses step-framing a few too many times – a technique where normal speed footage is altered into slow-motion, giving it a fragmented, staccato feel. But all in all, it’s not a horrible movie in the least. In fact, I find it damn fun. So let’s focus and talk about all the good. First of all, the sequences with the tiger have some fantastic tension. The scene in the laundry chute is reason enough to watch the entire film. The direction of it, setup and payoff, is sheer genius. Briana Evigan plays a fantastic lead and we truly feel for her character. Plus, the tiger itself is done quite well. It’s not an easy feat to try and create a realistic tiger weaving all around the house, and they nail it. Burning Bright may not be perfect, but I think it’s a damn fun, PG-13 romp, with an amazing premise and some great tension that everyone in the family can enjoy.
A few days ago when I wrote about Green Room, praising director Jeremy Saulnier, I hinted that I was going to be putting another of his movies on this list a little later. Well, here you go! I bring you the absolutely hilarious Murder Party, his very first directing effort. Now, if you’ve already watched Green Room or Blue Ruin, alter your expectations. You might be initially confused when you watch this movie compared to those beasts. While those were grippingly suspenseful and as dark and brutal as can be, this movie is silly, light, funny, and well, I guess still pretty damn dark and brutal. This is more like early Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles) than his later Lord of the Rings, King Kong stuff. Murder Party is a super micro-budgeted, bonkers, delightful treat. I have such a soft spot for this movie because it makes me laugh so hard. It’s just insane with some of the greatest moments of nonsensical levity. Murder Party is about a loner who happens upon a mysterious invitation to a Halloween “Murder Party.” He’s so lonely and has nothing else to do so he figures, what the hell, and he goes. But not before he hand-makes an epic knight costume from a cardboard box and a welcome gift of raisin pumpkin bread. Upon his arrival to the unknown address at an abandoned warehouse, well, shit gets bad. And by bad, I mean absolutely freaking hilarious. Murder Party is not to be taken seriously, and is obviously a satire of the entire art world, but holy crap is it entertaining. There isn’t a second where you are bored, and that is a difficult feat to attain sometimes on these micro-budgeted features. You can tell this baby was made for like $5, and it doesn’t matter in the least. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how much production value they end up with in the 3rd act. It builds to a much larger film than the first two acts lead you to believe. There is an insane amount of comedy, some moments of extreme gore that come out of nowhere, some epic Halloween costumes, and the best damn game of drug-induced truth or dare ever. And it may have one of my personal favorite makeup jobs ever when something really horrific and hilarious happens to one of the characters. All I will hint at is that it deals with a werewolf mask, a fire, and well, a combining of the two. Murder Party rules, and for those of you that love twisted hilarious dark comedies with a serious gore edge, you will love this film. And yet, you won’t believe it’s from the man who brought you Green Room or Blue Ruin, which is kind of what makes it awesome.
We’re at the halfway mark of the greatest month so it’s time for a 2nd half jumpstart. It’s time for one of my favorite Asian horror movies of all time. If you haven’t seen (or even heard of) A Tale of Two Sisters, you are one lucky soul. This movie is incredible. Man, where do I even start with this one? A Tale of Two Sisters is a serious mind bender. I mean seriously, prepare your brain. It’s going to squeeze it, pull it like taffy and eventually stomp on it. This is an amazing South Korean movie from Jee-Woon Kim (who is occasionally credited as Kim Jee-Woon as well.) He’s the director that brought me one of my favorite and most visceral Korean movies ever, I Saw The Devil. But before that, he brought the world A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s difficult to discuss what this movie is about because figuring out what it’s about is pretty much the point of it. But on the surface it’s about two sisters that travel back to their childhood home in the country with their father, following the death of their mother. One of the sisters had such a difficult time dealing with the death that she was sent to an asylum. Now that she’s “recovered,” they all head back and upon arrival, they meet up with their stepmother. Thus begins a battle of wits. Numerous battles of wits, actually. There’s the daughters vs. the stepmother; the father vs. the daughter vs. the stepmother vs. his own guilt/ineptitude; the Stepmother vs. seemingly everyone; and of course a little problem of a haunting, ghostly presence of some kind. Is it the dead mother? Is it someone that was in the house before they got there? Is it something else entirely? Oh man, there are so many twists and turns to this movie, just when you think you have everything figured out, another rug is pulled out from you. My advice, don’t even try. Because you may figure out a thing or two and feel very proud of yourself, then ten minutes later realize that epiphany was just the tip of the iceberg. Just go with it. It’s got some amazingly scary sequences, complete with the Asian horror trademark of the long black-haired spirits. The scene with the girl under the sink kills me every time. Anyway, just trust me on this one. It’s an incredible film that needs to have more popularity than it does. I almost don’t want to say this, but it was actually remade in the US, under a different title. But don’t seek that one out. It’s fine I guess, but to me it kind of dumbs down the entire thing, and doesn’t give the original it’s due. See the far superior A Tale of Two Sisters and forgo the remake, at least until after you see the original. If you value a bend-minding, terrifying trip of a movie, look no further and check this baby out asap.
Here’s another recent flick that took the horror world by storm this past year. Now, I would personally argue that this movie is less horror, and more sci-fi thriller. But as I’ve said many times before in this blog, horror comes in all shapes and sizes. And in this case, colors. Get Out is a perfect example of a socially conscious horror thriller. If I were much younger than I am, I’d call it a “woke” horror flick. This movie is a perfect example of a scary movie that everyone can see. Usually when I tell people what I do, their first comment is, “I don’t really watch horror movies.” But lately this past year, their first comment is, “Oh, I saw Get Out!” It seems this is the scary movie that people who hate scary movies will still watch. And there’s good reason. It’s not too scary. It’s really smart. It has a unique sensibility about it. It’s showcasing a new voice from a beloved comedian (beloved by me, at least, I worship Jordan Peele.) But most importantly, it says something. I know many of you have already seen this, but for those who haven’t, Get Out is about an interracial relationship – she’s white, he’s black – about to journey into the deep woods to introduce their relationship to her family for the first time. Their family is quite wealthy and have a lengthy history to them… what that history is, is part of the mystery. As they get there, things begin to go awry. As they always do, or else it wouldn’t be a scary movie, now would it? I was lucky to see the world premiere of this at Sundance this past year where it was a surprise screening. It wasn’t even announced until 5 minutes before the movie started (although I did have an inside scoop earlier, hehe.) Regardless, seeing it in this way, with zero fanfare, and letting the movie play out without spoilers or expectations was perfect. That’s how you want to see it too. Don’t listen to anyone and just watch it as blind as you can. It’s fun. It’s inventive. It’s accessible to everyone, even people who don’t like scary movies. And in the end, much like Saturday Morning Cartoons, you just may learn a little something. And can we talk a monute about Bradley Whitford’s movie choices? This guy is gold. Just between Cabin in the Woods and Get Out alone, he already receives a Jeff Dixon Lifetime Achievment Award. Get Out is great fun and Jordan Peele deserves all the kudos he’s receiving right now.
The last few years have been good to those of us horror movie nerds who love documentaries about either the effects of horror movies, the making of horror movies, or quite simply just horror movies in general. Each year they seem to get more and more specific in their scope. Well, this current one might be the absolute most specific of the bunch. It’s not just about one film; it’s about one scene. I’m talking about one of the most famous scenes in film history – the shower scene from Psycho. The film 78/52, which translates into the 78 seconds and 52 shots that compose the sequence, is the absolute definition of a deep dive. I was lucky enough to see this at Sundance this past year, and I enjoyed it to bits. Now you’re probably thinking, “How do they make an entire movies about one sequence in one film?” Well, the answer is kind of a cheat. The answer is, they don’t. Yes, most of this film is filled with an insane amount of details and interesting tidbits about the sequence itself. You will learn things you never even thought you needed to know. But the movie also fills the gaps with various Alfred Hitchcock anecdotes as well. Let’s be honest. This film is for movie nerds only. It’s mostly a talking head doc. And if you’re not into the material, it will more than likely bore you to tears. But since this is my wheelhouse, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Even the moments that were a little info-heavy and dry, the film-junky part of me was enthralled. I had the good fortune to work closely with Jamie Lee Curtis on a TV project years ago, and I would pick her brain about her mom and this movie, so it’s fun to see her on screen here too. On an additional side note, as a bonus for me, at Sundance the actress Marli Renfro attended the screening for a Q&A along with the director. Marli was Janet Leigh’s body double for the shower scene (it was mostly her you saw), and boy oh boy did she have some stories. Anyway, this is a specific horror doc for a specific crowd of people. But if you’re part of that crowd, you’re in for a treat.