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Despite the shatteringly good, brilliant THE CABIN IN THE
WOODS and the fact that I have happily found more than ten titles to wholly
endorse as genre films worth seeking out, I can’t escape the sentiment that
2012 was in fact, a weak year. Is it the aimlessness of horror at the moment?
My 2012 list is varied in every possible way, the prominent
link being an earnest attitude in the filmmaking. While I’m in no way
interested in seeing an overall trend guide the genre as a whole, I would love
to see something transgressive lead the pack
from here on out. Is CABIN that film? It doesn’t feel easily imitated in
the way something like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is. And what does an imitation of
CABIN entail? Will most unsuccessfully hone in on its meta-comedy, rather its
serious reverence to storytelling as culturally significant?
There are two films I’ve left off this year as they’re
slated for release at different points in 2013, and both feel in the right
direction. Both AMERICAN MARY and HERE COMES THE DEVIL push. AMERICAN MARY is a
tonal balance titan, and feels like a film that will be important to many
teenagers on the cusp of weirder interests; a film that will push many
adolescents over the edge into full blown genre fans. It could be a touchstone.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL is strange, indulgent and like my 2011 top pick, KILL
LIST—a film I kind of cheated with as it was officially a very early 2012
release—did what horror should, made me uncomfortable.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
If ever a film dropped the mic.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is exhilarating on every level. A
sharp, brilliant look at horror storytelling and
why we do it, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s tale of five friends and their
weekend in the woods adeptly manages major tonal shifts and heady genre
examination. It takes its characters and their deaths seriously, while humor,
genuine affection and boldness spreads until the incredible final moment. It elicits
rewatch after rewatch, and hour after hour of conversation. Both subtle and
outspoken, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is no deconstruction. It’s reaffirmation.
Disregarding those who would confuse CABIN’s meta qualities
for snark, that film’s biggest impact could be its role in a New Sincerity. I
mentioned earnestness previously, and much of the films on this list are good
stories, well told. SLEEP TIGHT, Jaume Balagueró’s elegantly crafted,
shuddering Hitchcockian chronicle of a frightening building porter is
strikingly old-fashioned in its construction, but not a throwback. It’s simply
a modern tale of serious suspense with one of the most fantastic opening
sequences you’re likely to see in 2012. (My review)
Severely underseen, and only recently distributed via iTunes
in the U.S., Danish director Christoffer Boe has made a perplexing, gorgeous,
frustrating movie in BEAST. Taking a great deal from Zulawksi and his towering
mad masterpiece POSSESSION, BEAST deals in the horrors of divorce. There’s
disconnection and communication breakdown marred by aggression, jealousy,
territoriality and something inhuman growing inside its lead Bruno (Nicolas
Bro). BEAST is chilly and often surreal, and maybe needlessly opaque, but it
remains haunting. (My review)
PARANORMAN is charming. Hand crafted, genuinely affectionate
toward its world and influences and features absolutely engrossing visuals.
There’s nowhere more I want to spend this winter more than Bar Gento.
[REC] 3: GENESIS
Most unexpected was that the latest [REC] movie didn’t find
the series stale. It cast a new light as an ultra gory, and incredibly sweet
odyssey of the initial supernatural outbreak and placing its demon/possession
angle in one of the holiest of sacraments. Clara and Koldo’s wedding is
violently interrupted and I’m hard pressed to think of two characters I rooted
more for this year; maybe Sam and Suzy in MOONRISE KINGDOM. In a solo outing,
Paco Plaza (whose [REC] co-director Jaume Balagueró also found his way on to
this list) plays with the [REC] aesthetic, eventually giving away to a
classical narrative. He’s not taking it too seriously this time out, and the
playfulness kept a fairly traditional story fresh. (My review)
One of the biggest international delights, RABIES is a
slasher with no, well, slasher. Darkly comedic, the film follows the folly of
youth as posh vacationing teenagers tango with themselves and some severe
distrust of authority. Most everyone gets dead and we get brand new Israeli
filmmakers in Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado to keep an eye on.
It’s nothing short of fantastic to see Eduardo Sanchez, of
BLAIR WITCH fame, to hit hard again. His latest, LOVELY MOLLY, is a somber,
adult tale that toes the line between psychotic break and supernatural assault,
with one of the most powerful final images I saw in 2012. That’s not to mention
Gretchen Lodge’s gripping, intense carrying of the film.
THE GREY not only managed to remain haunting since its
January bow, it also improves on rewatch. Taken on its own terms, and not the
wolf punch powerhouse many were expecting, Joe Carnahan’s film is gruff as hell. It’s straightforward survival, with an incredible threat (kept eerily in
the frosty shadows by Carnahan) that also manages to wind up wholly,
emotionally affecting. Snowy nights and strong drink have a fine new companion.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Pure cinema! Panos Cosmatos’ sci-fi storm of stellar visuals
and mind melting experiments is experience. It drones, spirals, splatters and
expands your head with a story of mantra madness and new age intention gone
horribly, horribly wrong in a retro futuristic vision of the 80s, informed by
the 60s. Not for everyone, but if you’re on its wavelength, it’s a treat. (My review)
Along the lines of LOVELY MOLLY, Mike Flanagan’s chronicle
of the sudden resurgence of a missing husband is grown up, sober and often
proper scary. Its seams show a bit, but where it succeeds far outweighs and the
potential of a strong new talent in Mike Flanagan is immense.
Honorary Title: THE AMERICAN SCREAM is a
documentary about Halloween Haunters and while not specifically a horror film,
is the one of the best moviegoing experiences I’ve had. If you read my review,
you’ll know I fell hard from the beginning. Michael Stephenson uses narrow
focus to create universal understanding about passion and serious DIY ethics.
THE AMERICAN SCREAM is so human, and I suspect will speak aplenty to genre
Outside of the top ten, Joseph Kahn’s DETENTION is
hyperactive, hyperaware and fairly genius throughout. It seems to have a hard
time reaching a wider audience, but like BLACK RAINBOW, if you’re on its level,
it’s a wonderful look at today’s youth, their constant energy and information
flow and the ever transforming nature of our lives, framed through (as many of
us do) the movies and pop culture we’re surrounded by. The best segments of
V/H/S were as good as anything this year and while any anthology is a mixed
bag—and the movie managed to push plenty of buttons with its general
rawness—David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” is both traditionally anthology-esque
and pushes hard to look at what infantile men expect from a night out.
Bookending the film with Bruckner, collective Radio Silence burst into our
general awareness with V/H/S’ raucous , spook-a-blast finale. It was
impressive, bombastic and one of the most purely energetic pieces of genre this
year. Meanwhile, BEDEVILLED and EXCISION
were both wildly different and flawed portraits of women on the edge, but when
they’re on, my god. Yeong Hie-seo and Annalynne McCord deserve serious praise
for their work in both pictures. Hie-seo, in particular, is towering in
BEDEVILLED. That film’s epilogue (which kind of chickens out on the rest of the
movie’s complexities) is the only reason it isn’t much higher up.
Thanks for looking back on another year with Fango and
myself. What were your tops, both genre and no (MOONRISE KINGDOM and DJANGO UNCHAINED are basically neck
and neck with CABIN as my favorites of the year, period)? Did you enjoy LOOPER and THE
RAID as much as I did? And what’s got you jazzed on ’13?
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