It’s that time of the year folks. The time of the year when some jack-a-ninny tells you his favorite fill-in-the-blank of the year. Rather than give a list of best films of the year, I will be focusing (selfishly) on a handful of horror and artsy movies I thought were either underrated or I never got a chance to review in 2018.
There was a lot of stuff this year that reminded me why I like movies. The “Holy Shit I’m Totally Kicking Lotsa Bad Guy Butt And It’s Surprising Me As Much As It Butt Kicked” scenes and futuristic noir from Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade kept me grinning throughout the proceedings.
The political commentary meets WTFery of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, the pitch black humor of Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer) most mainstream work The Favourite, and Melissa McCarthy’s dramatic turn as a cat loving plagiarist in Can You Ever Forgive Me? made the trips to the Terrace all the better.
Of all the films I saw on this list, there are two that I didn’t get to see in theaters. I wish I had. The slice of psychedelic trippin’ balls vengeance that is Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy killed it on the VOD platforms. Ted Geoghagen’s Mohawk and Garreth Evans’ The Apostle were prime examples of what we’re losing out on as studios stick with established properties and less with original voices. I can appreciate folks not finding gold in either of these films — one about a Native American warrior’s vengeance quest and the other about a man trying to rescue his sister from a cult — but there are other original voices, in all film genres, that are getting lost in the streaming seas thanks to major studios not putting more faith and marketing dollars behind unique voices.
Now allow me to be a complete hypocrite as I laud the remake of a horror classic.
Speaking of established properties, 2018’s Suspiria is how you do a remake: take the skeleton of the idea and work from there. Thanks in part to a hypnotic teaser trailer and reports of people leaving the film traumatized, it looked like that film, along with David Gordon Green’s awesome Halloween sequel, would make a big one-two horror punch in October. Then the bad word-of-mouth and negative reviews trickled in. It bombed hard. Suspiria is a 150 minutes filled to the brim with historical references, subtitles, long passages of dialogue, and ballet, sprinkled with moments of squirm-inducing violence. If none of this sounds appealing, that’s understandable.
Original director Dario Argento’s 1977 film about a ballet school beset by suspicious issues, was colorful, gory, over-the-top, and filled with borderline B-movie goodness, all backed up by Gonlin’s chaotic score, Luca Guidacano’s (Call Me by Your Name, I Am Love) revisit retains the original’s penchant for violent, oddball set pieces, but that’s about it. Whereas the performances in Argento’s film were more broad, the performances in the remake, particularly of Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson, have a grit to them reminiscent of its 1970s backdrop.
The ambitious remake, scored by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, was drained of color with a focus on the German autumn and the use of ballet as a form of witchery. It wasn’t flawless. There were a couple of scenes that felt unnecessary and one glaring questionable music cue. My favorite scene was simply a ballet performance that grows more intense as Thom Yorke’s score plays underneath. Hell, I may be overrating this film, but for those who don’t mind the arty qualities I dug, you may dig it as well.
Alex Garland’s film, the Twilight Zone-esque tale of five military scientists who enter a quarantined Dali-like zone of shifting landscapes and mutating organisms called “The Shimmer,” was nothing less than transfixing. I loved it. This film, like the next three, was basically flawless to me. Annihilation, like the films mentioned previously, got some shitty marketing/distribution thanks to the parent company relegating it to Netflix overseas while it played here in theaters. But almost a year after it’s release, it’s garnering a cult audience. Still, there was nothing like watching this trippy sci-fi/horror film on the big screen … particularly the film’s last 20 minutes of “whoa”-worthy scenes.
You Were Never Really Here
Oh man, I almost forgot to mention this movie! I was fortunate enough to check out Lynne Ramsay’s existential thriller about a quiet hitman (Joaquin Phoenix) in theaters and review it in advance of it’s limited theatrical release. Rather than trying to find new ways to say this melancholic film was amazing, I’ll just semi-quote some guy’s review of it: “Ramsay’s work, like its main character, communicates without speaking. The visuals say just enough. Going into the film, I only knew of the festival buzz that had surrounded it. Words like ‘mean’ and ‘thriller’ were tossed about and, yes, it earns those descriptions but it’s more. So much more.”
This will likely be the fifth article I’ve discussed how being born Catholic has had an effect on my worldview and interactions with humanity. It’s definitely colored my view. That may have played into my love of this quietly intense drama. Much like Martin Scorsese’s 2016 missionary epic, Silence, Marty’s Taxi Driver collaborator Paul Schrader released a film that was a rumination on the conflicted relationship a person shares with their chosen faith with consistent temptations to leave it all behind. In Schrader’s film, Rev. Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is wearied and crumbling under the weight of his pastoral responsibilities. His burgeoning feelings for a radical environmentalist’s pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried) and contentious interactions with the leader of a nearby megachurch (Cedric “The Entertainer” Kyles) ultimately add to the crushing pressure. First Reformed is not a happy movie but, thanks in equal measure to the cast and Schrader’s writing and direction, there is an undeniable hypnotic grace to it.
I guess this film isn’t really underrated since it made almost $80 million on a $10 million budget. I was lukewarm on the trailer until I saw the movie opening weekend. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it, it’s one of the best misleading trailers ever created. You could even say it’s a mean trailer considering the trick it plays on the audience. Ari Aster’s film may be a horror film that reaches the heights/depths of Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, but is also filled with the awkward humor and painful moments of a Todd Solondz film shaking hands with a John Cassavetes flick. Oh, and I really hope Toni Collette gets some award recognition for her work as Annie Graham, the tortured daughter/exhausted mother. She made the already good movie perfectly horrific and heartbreaking.