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Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

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Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

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I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

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Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

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Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

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Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

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I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

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Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

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A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

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Film Review: THE INVITATION

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

There is a fine line between the thriller and horror genres, which film fans have been debating for decades. My personal definition has to do with mathematics – a thriller will follow a clear path of reason and logic, no matter how muddled it gets; while horror is the destruction of logic. Every once in a while, a film will come along that inhabits both genres ingeniously. One such film is Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION.

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Kusama is perhaps best-known for her direction of “Jennifer’s Body,” a film people love to hate. This latest effort displays all of the talent that might have been lost with Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. “The Invitation” has a deliciously simple setup: a group of friends are reunited for a dinner party by a woman they haven’t seen in two years. Our main character used to be married to this woman, before an unspoken tragedy drove them apart. As the dinner progresses he notices strange things, subtle things, that point to a drastic change – and sinister intentions – in his host.

Beginning with a bang as our character has to mercy-kill a coyote, this thriller does not let its audience breathe. Kusama directs her actors – including the incredible John Carroll Lynch – through unbearably tense scenes that escalate from amusing to bizarre. She infuses the film with a surreal style that jumps back in time, makes us doubt, especially as the main character begins to suspect his guests of malevolent deeds. And she manages to keep the secret for most of the running time.

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This film follows the same rule of tension-building that we saw in “Goodnight Mommy” last year, and was outlined by Alfred Hitchcock. Place a bomb under the table, allow it to tick for five minutes, but don’t let it go off. This keeps the audience aware of danger but does not give them the satisfaction of seeing it play out. There are no jump-scares, no sudden outbursts; everyone is well-behaved and accepting, somehow, of the strange goings-ons. This also makes the film feel horribly authentic. In reality, that is how people would react. In fiction it becomes agonizing to watch – in the best way possible.

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We spend our time in a decadent house, with a crew of intelligent yuppies, ranging in race and orientation – a refreshing thing to see when much of film is so white-washed. They are normal people encountering abnormal things. The brand of weirdness that we see is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, who knows better than anyone how to set up an average domestic scene and infuse it with uncanny tension. Nothing overt happens – no dead bodies in the closet, Satanic symbols in the bathroom – but we feel in danger regardless. Kusama is cruel but brilliant for keeping us in suspense until the last possible moment. The final revelation is not original, but it feels earned. I will say no more than that.

In the end, the film winds up feeling human in the most heartbreaking way. What struck me so deeply was this sense of emotional reality – while I was frightened and thrilled, I also felt a sense of tragedy. So many genre films forgo that sensibility in favor of a hard-boiled and ‘brutal’ exoskeleton – but what is more brutal than human sadness? Kusama understands this, and uses its effect to the fullest extent.

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While it may too slow for some viewers, and the ‘twist’ ending might not shock you like you want, “The Invitation” is undeniably a massive display of talent. It is horrific in the most human way. I am thrilled that Kusama could show her chops in this manner, and cannot wait to see what she does next. (Her upcoming project is a segment in a female-directed horror anthology.) To see the folly, the brutality, and the tragedy of normal behavior, see this film – but be warned.