Look for a “best of 2012″ list from each of Shock’s contributing writers throughout the week!
Optimism has been renewed. Things might be looking up for horror. For the last two years or so, I always frowned at the task of creating a year-end “top 10” list. It got to a point where I felt compelled to par back and draft only a “top five.” This year, however, I break the norm and present eight films. I’m happy to say coming up with top five was all too easy and I really didn’t want to leave three titles behind, so here are my “top eight horror films of 2012.”
Over-all, the year was a mixed bag – as each year in the genre tends to be – although I’m always hopeful that we’ll soon have 12 months where the good far outweighs the bad. Speaking of “bad,” let me take a moment to fire off some of the titles that would have made a “worst of 2012” list had I created a separate article. You ready? The Devil Inside (atrocious, not to mention incomplete), House at the End of the Street (inept), The Woman in Black (generic), The Raven (predictable), Silent Hill: Revelation (boring) and Smiley (nonsensical drivel).
This year proved that the big studios still don’t know quite what to do with the genre, so we get clunky fare like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Dark Shadows, the aforementioned The Raven or The Apparition. Three of the films that made my top six this year were studio release; out of that group one was long-delayed and another was made through a smaller company yet given a wide release. This further reinforces that the studios in the Hollywood system are slightly misguided about the genre and for quality and diversity, horror fans should turn their attention towards the direct-to-DVD or VOD market.
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.