The Year in Horror, 2015: Michael Gingold’s Top 10 MoviesFearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
There’s a certain chorus of hardcore fandom that says good horror isn’t being made anymore, but the evidence strongly contradicts that statement. You have to search the independent scene—sometimes, you have to look hard—but there’s been a great, diverse selection of fright films out there over the last 12 months.
As usual, my list of the top flicks encompasses movies that got commercial release in 2015, which means festival faves like THE INVITATION will have to wait till next year. It was hard narrowing this roster down to 10—in fact, I cheated a bit and made it 11—and it was such a good year that even noting another 12 runners-up doesn’t encompass everything that was good about its fear fare. My top two, tied for first place, attacked the genre from very different directions:
IT FOLLOWS: A predictable choice, perhaps, but David Robert Mitchell’s film got the hype for a reason. Digging into the sexual anxiety that fuels so much teen terror, often superficially, he came up with a truly chilling cinematic experience as relentless and inexorable as the figures that haunt and stalk its teen heroine (marvelous Maika Monroe) after she unknowingly sleeps with the wrong guy. Not everyone, apparently, responded to the movie’s mix of menace and metaphor, but to me it gets everything right, from the suburban milieu and characterizations to its many deep-down moments of terror.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: On the flip side, here’s the most screamingly funny horror/comedy in ages, which finds so many different ways to have fun with vampires while respecting their appeal. The mock-documentary format applied by writer/director/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi is the perfect venue to explore how a quartet of centuries-old bloodsuckers exist in and relate to the modern world, and their blend of slapstick, spot-on dialogue and occasional gushes of blood is perfectly timed and executed from first minute to last.
The rest, in alphabetical order:
ANGUISH: A sort of companion piece to IT FOLLOWS, also following a young girl in gloomy suburbia (a moving performance by Ryan Simpkins) as she falls under the sway of a supernatural presence. But writer/director Sonny Mallhi also elicits an understanding of what motivates this particular ghost, and as opposed to the usual no-parents-allowed standards of youth horror, he involves the mothers of both girls in ways that amplify the drama of the situation, while keeping the tension humming and the scares coming. My review
CRIMSON PEAK: Guillermo del Toro never does anything halfway, and his love of the Gothic bursts from every scene of this lavishly appointed romantic thriller. Inappropriately sold as a typical haunted-house picture, it is instead a visually intoxicating saga of decaying family ties amidst a crumbling mansion that del Toro and his team constructed for real. There’s a tactile reality to the settings, even at their most grandiose, that gives CRIMSON PEAK a leg up on the digitally created fantastica dominating the current screen scene. My review
DEATHGASM/TALES OF HALLOWEEN: Catching these at Montreal’s Fantasia festival this past summer gave me two of the best times I had at the movies all year. Both of them come from places of love: Jason Lei Howden’s salute to heavy-metal mania and an anthology from multiple talented directors exploring the many potential avenues of trick-or-treat terror. Both are chock full of energy, wicked humor, solid jolts and imaginative makeup FX, and are best seen and enjoyed with a crowd. My HALLOWEEN review
THE FINAL GIRLS: Meta horror done to a T, with a true understanding of the tropes of slasher fare and how to satirize them for maximum effect. And there’s a bonus: a genuinely moving scenario in which becoming stranded with her friends in a vintage summer-camp-massacre flick allows the heroine (Taissa Farmiga) the chance to spend more time with her mother (Malin Akerman), the film’s star. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller get the balance of pathos, horror and humor just right, providing three dimensions you don’t need glasses to enjoy.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY: A movie that benefits from repeat viewing: Knowing the story’s big twist enriches the experience of watching two young twins deal with a mother whom they believe is actually an impostor. Marshalling impressive performances by Susanne Wuest and real-life brothers Elias and Lukas Schwarz, writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala probe the tensions simmering beneath parent-child relationships, then get literally and figuratively under the skin as their interaction becomes misguidedly, hopelessly antagonistic. My review
MAGGIE: Yet another terrific turn by a young actress: Abigail Breslin as the titular farm girl, who has been bitten by one of the ghouls that have infested her world and faces a slow transformation to undeath. Arnold Schwarzenegger scores in an atypical role as her father and protector, and director Henry Hobson takes a quiet, sympathetic, quite moving approach to material that has been done to death in traditional splatterfests. My review
UNFRIENDED: Many films have appropriated modern communications/media technology to prop up generic storylines, with little clue about how they work or are employed. Here’s one, adroitly assembled by director Leo Gabriadze and his visual team, that not only understands how people use social networks and other apps to express and define themselves, but weaves that understanding into a horrific real-time on-line situation, making us riveted and terrified loggers-on to a cyberbullying-spawned nightmare. My review
WE ARE STILL HERE: As strong a year as it was for youth-driven horror, it was refreshing to see a film focus on older characters (played by a cast including welcome veterans Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden), deftly weaving themes of grief into its supernatural scenario. Writer/director Ted Geoghegan also demonstrates a sure hand with tone, building from understated spookery to full-bore gore, and a knack for incorporating homage to films past without making it the sum total of his style.
Ten more that stood out this year: BACKCOUNTRY, BONE TOMAHAWK, DER SAMURAI, THE GIFT, THE HALLOW, HE NEVER DIED, KRAMPUS, THE MIDNIGHT SWIM, SPRING and WHEN ANIMALS DREAM—and the list could go on. A special shout-out to a couple of nutty grassroots flicks I really enjoyed, BLOODY KNUCKLES and CALL GIRL OF CTHULHU.
As for the worst of the year: Well, there really is only one choice…