Five Horror Films I Saw and Loved in 2016
Hey readers! Happy 2017!
Hope your new year is off to a great start. As for me? Well, I've been sick, and at one point I had no heat for 5 days (...In the midwest! During one of the coldest weeks so far this winter!). So yeah, on a personal level, so far it's been less than stellar.
Despite the rough start to my year, if there's one thing I'm still cheering about, it's 2016's commitment to the horror genre. Overall we had a fairly good year (*high five*)! Naturally, we still had some clunkers (I'm side eyeing you Ouija 2), but there were also a number of outstanding releases. So even though this list is focused on films that I saw - regardless of release year - that were favorites, I have to admit that there are a fair number of current/recent releases on the list.
Let's get started...
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Of all the films I saw this year, this one packed the most emotional punch. I literally CRIED. This is something to make note of because 1) I'm a pretty hardened horror film fan, and don't tend to get all up in my feels while watching movies, and 2) a HORROR film that makes viewers cry is one of those rare things that doesn't come around very often. It's actually a really tough thing to pull off earnestly, and this Korean zombie flick does a beautiful job of balancing horror, comedy and sweetness in a way that's so incredibly refreshing, I recommend every horror fan check it out even if it seems like it's not your thing.
The film follows a high-level, divorced businessman and his daughter as they make a train journey from Seoul to Busan, in order for the daughter to celebrate her upcoming birthday with her mom. Just as the train is departing the station, a girl with a mysterious wound flings herself onto the train and begins to exhibit strange behavior. And as I've sure you've already guessed - she's been bitten by a zombie, and quickly begins spreading the infection to others.
On a macro level, Train to Busan concerns itself with issues of class and (my interpretation) how capitalism has the destructive potential to alienate people from one another, reducing others into competition rather than people with families, hopes, dreams, and desire all their own. Into this, the film weaves a beautiful narrative about a father and daughter who are, on a micro level, experiencing the same distance in their personal relationship, and how they attempt to correct course during a time of crisis. A beautiful film that'll make you ugly cry.
Excision was a film that totally surprised me. I didn't know much about it before watching, and I was prepared to see something that I would neither hate nor love. But Excision is another film about human connection (are you sensing a theme here???), this time between a teenager and her demanding mother, and I loved it!
The movie tells the story of Pauline, a super awkward, surgery-obsessed (yup) teen going through a sexual awakening of sorts - through various dream sequences we're introduced to her disturbing delusions, which include having others and herself mutilated while doing the nasty. Yeah, Pauline's a real, genuine creep. She lives at home with her demanding mother, her rather passive father, and a younger sister who has cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant.
While it's easy to focus on all the kinky weirdness in the film, I found Excision to really be about the chasm between a mother and daughter - a chasm that's seemingly impossible for either one to cross. As Pauline begins her downward spiral, she commits a final, grim act of love and horror, hoping that the outcome will be the emotional connection with her mother that she so desperately wants and needs. It's utterly chilling.
THE NEON DEMON (2016)
I have to say, if there's one film this year that left me a bit speechless at the end, it was this one. It's completely bizarre, fairly taboo and may not have any meaning deeper than its glossy, perfect exterior.
Elle Fanning plays a 16 year-old girl who moves to L.A to pursue a modeling career. She's immediately swept up into the industry, and is touted as the next "hot thing" in fashion booking runway shows, photo shoots, and the like without any background or experience in the biz. Her quick ascent not only earns her recognition, but enemies who "want to be her." And just like Narcissus, her hubris ends up being her downfall.
I wish I could tell you that you'll enjoy this one, but I can't. It's actually a fairly unlikeable film because - I would argue - its tone, subject matter and slick aesthetic is designed specifically to taunt and alienate viewers. But of any of the films I watched this year, this was the one that took the most risks and did something completely different than I'd ever seen before. It's stuck with me ever since.
THE WITCH (2015/2016)
The Witch is probably an obvious inclusion on this list since, as with many other horror fans and critics, this was a big favorite of mine this year. Yes, it was slow. Yes, the language used throughout could be difficult to penetrate at times. Yes, it lacked the jump scares and typical tropes one finds in the horror genre. But if you know me at all, you'll know that I consider all of these points a plus! It's the ideal Overthinker type of movie, and this is why I found it wonderfully fascinating.
A teenaged girl named Thomasin moves with her family to the edge of a woods after they are excommunicated from their Puritan settlement. After the baby of the family mysteriously disappears, a dangerous combination of religion, paranoia, strange occurrences, and isolation lead to a horrific end.
What makes The Witch so terrifying, and had me on the edge of my seat, is the notion that ideology can lead those we once loved and knew to turn against us, and vice versa. Though the film is supposed to take place during the 17th century, it's a perfect allegory for today's contentious political atmosphere. When viewed through this lens, The Witch isn't as asynchronous as it first appears.
TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001)
I really enjoyed this one despite its slow pace, the dull acting of Vincent Gallo, and some massively uncomfortable scenes. I fully understand why this film was so controversial when it was first released. The basic premise: a newlywed couple travels to Paris for their honeymoon. Unbeknownst to the bride, however, they are traveling to Paris for another reason as well - to find a scientist who may hold the cure for her husband's disease, which gives him the insatiable desire to devour his partners during sex.
This film isn't for the squeamish or those with an aversion to lots of blood and violence. In fact, this is probably one of the more graphically violent films I've reviewed on this site, not necessarily because of the level of depravity per se, but because of the intimate way in which that violence is depicted. It's truly chilling.
That being said, Trouble Every Day was one of the few films I watched that STILL lingers in my mind. It made me think, among other things, about the nature of love, the boundaries between lust and violence, how sexual intimacy informs our ability to emotionally connect with our partners, and what role biology plays in these emotions. It's a very bold, thought-provoking film that wanders into unique territory that I don't think has been visited since.
What movies did you see and love last year? Tell me in the comments!