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There used to be this stigma that “direct-to-DVD” meant “crap,” however, strides are being made and risks are being taken. Companies like Magnet, IFC, Anchor Bay, Image, Dark Sky, XLrator et al., while not releasing consistently great titles, are giving promising filmmakers venues to showcase their equally promising work with “VOD first” releases that are usually given limited theatrical runs. The distribution landscape is changing for the better and I'm excited; unfortunately, you still have to wade through countless “tie ‘em to a chair and torture ‘em!” horror titles that plague the genre.
All of that said...on to my top eight for the year!
Citadel isn't perfect, but it's definitely worth a look. There's a pervasive sense of dread and helplessness and it certainly doesn't pull any punches. For a first-time feature filmmaker, Ciaron Foy has crafted an impressive - moreover personal - piece of work. Drawing from his own experience in which he was attacked by a group of hooded strangers, he truly sells the paranoia, fear and loss Citadel's protagonist Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) experiences. Visually, the film is depressing and ominous, but nonetheless competent and its threat - feral, emaciated, hooded figures - is genuinely creepy.
Roll your eyes all you want, but I thought this was a highly-effective spin on the possession/exorcism genre. What it lacked in originality it more than made up for in good performances, solid direction, driving score, tight editing and occasional creepiness. I liked, and believed in, the family dynamic that was presented, moreover, I felt for the characters. I actually wanted to see them overcome the trouble they face. Although Sam Raimi didn't direct the film, it had his fingerprints all over it - which is more than I can say for some of the other horror films he produced - giving the film a rollercoaster-like feel. The Possession was much better than I anticipated it to be.
If you've followed my writing over the last 12 years, then you know I'm an anthology horror film junkie. I think the art of the short horror film is incredibly pure and challenging, forcing a filmmaker to get down to the basics to deliver big scares. And, thankfully, V/H/S is one of the good anthologies to come along. It's a mixed bag and I think half of it works, but you often know going in to a viewing of an anthology film that you have to take the good with the bad. Highlights: Radio Silence steals the show with their haunted house opus and Joe Swanberg made me jump out of my seat (tough to do these days, so kudos) with his story which is told entirely through a Skype conversation. And while the wraparound segment didn't deliver any kind of pay-off, V/H/S proved to be a solid effort worth commending.
Don't go in expecting a normal narrative. Instead, see Excision as both a remarkable showcase for actress AnnaLynne McCord's talents and as a portrait of a misfit, akin to something like May, for example. McCord's transformation is mesmerizing as the ugly duckling named Pauline - an awkward, oddball teen fascinated by surgery and whose dreams/fantasies are both perverse and gory. Excision finds Pauline careening through life confused and screwing up - or at least confounding - the lives of those around her until she reaches a tragic, bloody pinnacle (at least, that's the word I suspect she'd use). It's refreshing, bold, smart and sometimes hilarious.