Monday, January 30, 2017

Best of the Year 8!

As we drive a stake through the blackened heart of 2016 (then proceed to tear out the rest of its cuts for a delectable party mix, cut off its head to use as a soccer ball, and set the rest of it on fire that we then use to make s'mores), the time has come to look back at the best offerings we found here at the Doll's House over the past blogging years.
Let's do it.

It should be said that I'm an easy mark for anything post-apocalyptic, but that shouldn't take too much away from the powerful Into the Forest. With outstanding-as-usual performances from Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, this drama/thriller finds a huge source of strength in examining its central relationship: a pair of very different sisters suddenly thrust into adulthood in world devoid of all the comforts and values they once knew.  
Like zombie flicks, slashers, and any other overdone horror subgenre, found footage has gotten a rather rotten wrap over the last few years as more and more budding filmmakers take advantage of its low cost charms. It's not an entirely unfair assessment, since let's face it: a bad handheld camera-filmed cheapie is way more insufferable than your worst dead teenager Halloween knockoff. That being said, when the style works, it can produce something incredibly effective, especially with the urgency that can come with our characters being the ones behind the camera. Matty Beckerman's Alien Abduction isn't the most original tale, but it's well-told. A family's woodsy vacation takes a turn when they come upon the apparent hunting (or abducting) grounds for an extraterrestrial race. Its clever filming gimmick (our main character is an autistic boy who uses his camera as a coping mechanism) is a great start, but the rest of the film's tension and character work is equally smart. This isn't the best of the found footage genre, but it's certainly in the high tiers. 
When two noted science fiction writers (and The Twilight Zone scribes) team up, very good things happen. A tad missold by its leering cover art and title, Burn, Witch Burn! is more supernatural drama than horror, but it's still quite a watch. An all-too-confident college professor rather chauvinistically dismisses his wife's interest in the supernatural, leading to some intense and suggestive comeuppance. The gender politics are subtle but very relevant, and the eagle-heavy finale packs a strangely effective punch nearly 60 years later.
Could the horror anthology finally be worth revisiting again? Following a series of (in my opinion) near offensive missteps (V/H/S, The ABCs of Death), Southbound assembles a team of new and young veteran filmmakers to tell a few loosely connected stories about a highway to hell. The cast is filled with familiar faces to the new horror empire, and the stories range from weirdly unsettling to genuinely scary. It's not a home run (few anthologies ever are) but it's a strong entry into an unnecessarily weak genre.
Speaking of good anthologies, the calendar-spread Holidays is even more delightful. From the truly tense Father's Day to Nicholas (The Pact) McCarthy's blackly comedic Easter, all the short films (made by eight different directors, ranging from first timers to some guy named Kevin Smith) hit their mark to varying degrees. Unlike so many anthologies that have come before (cough cough V/H/S), there's no underlying misogyny or easy targets to be found. The stories here include some truly fresh and unique spins on old tales, plus some of the coolest or most adorable monster makeup I've seen in some time.
Why isn't Pollyanna McIntosh more famous? The actress brings A+ level talent and commitment to every role she takes, whether that's the savage The Woman, corporate Exam applicant, or silent punk replicant-esque supervillain swinging a knife at Hap & Leonard. In the crappily titled Let Us Prey, McIntosh elevates her flawed material to something stunning. As the sole good cop spending a night of terror with corrupt policemen, scoundrelly inmates, and Liam Cunningham's supernatural angel of death (or something), McIntosh makes you so invested in this beautifully shot, somewhat sloppily told massacre that you'll walk away frantically checking the internet to look out for the sequel.

5. Insidious Chapter 3
Considering my disappointment with Insidious: Chapter 2, I didn't enter the third installment with high hopes. Thankfully, longtime screenwriter and first time director Leigh Whannell looked at what worked in the series and rather skillfully crafted the best installment yet. Much credit goes to unsung genre film hero Lin Shaye (and Whannell for recognizing her character's potential) who transcends the throne of scream queens to rule as a true horror empress.
Easily the most polarizing pick on my list, but damnit: I loved it. Writer/director Tara Subkoff holds nothing back in taking the worst of teenage girldom and igniting it with over-the-top visuals that remind you just how awful those years can be. I've found that more female viewers appreciated this film than male, probably because they felt Subkoff tapping in to that dark, confusing, maddening place that is the soul of a middle school girl group. I fully understand anyone who saw this film and wanted to turn it off after five minutes, but in terms of my experiences, this was a brilliantly told horror story about something rarely examined with so much pop.
3. Goodnight Mommy
Admittedly, this is a film that suffers greatly on second viewing due to some of its surprises, but that doesn't take away from the fact that on first watch, Goodnight Mommy is uniquely unsettling. After a presumed trip to a plastic surgeon, a pair of close twins begin to suspect their once loving mother has been replaced by an imposter. The film toys artfully with perception while balancing its point of view with austere visuals and sound. You won't forget it anytime soon.

2. Messiah of Evil
How did it take so long for me to discover this strange, special cult classic? A strange movie weirdly aided by its messiness, Messiah of Evil follows a young woman through a seaside European town as she looks for answers for why her artist father vanished. Along the way, we get swingers, drunken harbingers (the best kind), eerie modern art, cannibalism, and some of the tensest foot chase scenes in cinema. The low budget limitations lend a wonderfully odd flavor to the final product, and while nobody would call accuse this film of having the genre's best screenplay, all of the ingredients somehow combine to form something so oddly eerie that the final product is far more than a combination of its parts.  

Oh Karyn Kusama, what a gift you are. An indie that landed on several mainstream "best-of-the-year" lists, The Invitation is a thriller unlike anything else I can think of in terms of how it operates. The story follows an awkward dinner party attended by various college pals, exes, and possibly unstable new members of the hostess's new circle. It's a film that explores grief, trust, friendship, perspective, and so many more broad ideas in such a nuanced, edge-of-your-seat manner that no description can really do it justice. Carve out 100 minutes, sit down, pour some wine, and queue it up on Netflix Instant. It will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Ineligible Winner
I hesitate topping my list with this gonzo 1980 evil kid flick because 2016 was not my first (ice) dance  with it. But if you missed it, guys, The Visitor is everything I want in a movie: gymnastics, figure skating, birdings, lasers, ping pong, little blond sociopaths, and Shelley Winters. It's almost unreasonable for a movie to be this catered to me. 


  1. Cool list... there's a couple there I've yet to see (#Horror and Into The Woods).

    Also, have you seen The Lobster? A bunch of us watched it last night and all agreed it's quite horrific... yet hilarious, in a very dark comedy sort of way.

    1. I'm SUPER curious to hear what you think of #Horror. Probably the most divisive film I've watched all year, but I effin adored it.

      The Lobster has been on my list forever, and it just came to Amazon prime. I loved Dogtooth, so I'll definitely get to this one soon!

    2. So I went and watched #Horror... and thought it was interesting and a bit confusing... but I think I liked it, kinda. I can also see why it might put off a lot of casual horror viewers... seeing as how it messes with conventions. But I'd rather watch something like that than another "I know what you did the last week of last summer again" type retread.