Wednesday, 28 October 2015

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part 1

This post was originally published on February 27, 2015, but was deleted.

The 21st Century is still a pup, but fifteen years in, of course there are a number of horror films which are noteworthy. Any selection of personal recommendations is going to by subjective, so here for better or worse, are the horror films released since 2000 (and listed alphabetically) that I recommend. 

28 Days Later (Dir: Danny Boyle; 2002; UK) 
A great take on George A. Romero's first three zombie films from outbreak to military intervention, 28 Days Later owes as much to John Wyndham's classic novel The Day of the Triffids. Director Boyle manages to make the living dead scary and dangerous again, while referencing "rage" rather than "zombies". 

American Mary (Dirs: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska; 2012; Canada) 
The time was definitely ripe for the Soska Sisters' look at rape culture and body modification. Katherine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps (see below) is featured as a med student who discovers that revenge is best served through the bod mod underground. 

The Babadook (Dir: Jennifer Kent; 2014; Australia)
A great movie about dealing with grief. Terrible title. 

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Dir: Christophe Gans; 2001; France/Canada) 
This genre-blending tale puts the emphasis on horror as a killer wolf stalks the countryside in 18th Century France. Brotherhood, however, manages to get all its genres right. 

Bubba Ho-Tep (Dir: Don Coscarelli; 2004; US) 
An aged Elvis Presley and an aged, black John F. Kennedy try to stop an ancient mummy who's killing the residents of a seniors home in this black comedy from the director ofPhantasm

Calvaire (Dir: Fabrice Du Welz; 2004; Belguim) 
When the van of a traveling entertainer breaks down in the countryside, he discovers the surrealistic horrors of being a woman. 

Cloverfield (Dir: Matt Reeves; 2008; US) 
The found footage trope is given new life as a kaiju attacks New York City. The jerky-cam format works well here as it adds an immediacy and an air of reality to a genre that hasn't been given this treatment previously. The only downside is that the 20-somethings who populate the film are hard to relate to unless you're the dull offspring of socialites. 

The Descent (Dir: Neil Marshall; 2005; UK) 
Trapped spelunkers versus sightless cave dwellers as interpersonal dramas play out in this suspenseful and exciting flick. Beware the US version of the ending. 

The Devil's Backbone (Dir: Guillermo del Toro; 2001; Spain)
del Toro introduces the world to his kind of ghost - sad, bleeding visions in search of peace - in "The Devil's Backbone", the tale of boys at an orphanage/school haunted by "he who sighs" during the Spanish Civil War. At the centre of the story and the schoolyard is a terrific metaphor for dormant violence waiting to ignite - a bomb, crashed into the earth, but unexploded.     

The Devil’s Rejects (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2005; US) 
Although Zombie is one of the most divisive filmmakers in the horror genre, I got into this nasty revenge flick about the killing spree exploits of the Firefly family. Terrific performances and interesting cult favourite cameos help immeasurably. Oddly, the only part that I feel Zombie fumbled is the confusing and therefore disengaging opening gunfight. 

Final Destination 2 (Dir: David R. Ellis; 2002; US) 
Arguably the best instalment in the Final Destination franchise, Part 2 features exemplary examples of everything this series is famous for - spectacular set pieces, Rube Goldberg-style deaths, and a sense of humour. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour; 2014; US) 
It astounds me how often filmmakers have been able to find new ways to tell zombie and vampire stories, as a number of films on Parts 1 & 2 of this list will attest. Even when the notion of sitting through yet another flick featuring the living dead or the undead bores me to tears, the advance word about the rare film that breathes new live into either sub-genre will induce me to seek it out. Such was the case with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. From its evocative title to its black and white cinematography (it's great to see a contemporary horror film in Black & White), this is a film that uses its low budget to its best advantage by focusing on the loneliness of the vampire while evoking positively both Film Noir and the early Black & White films of Jim Jarmusch. 

Ginger Snaps (Dir: John Fawcett; 2000; Canada) 
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) Fitzgerald are two of the most interesting characters in new Century Horror. Not your typical teen horror movie fodder, these two morbid sisters face becoming women via a werewolf metaphor. 

Grindhouse (Dirs: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino' 2007; US) 
In its original theatrical format (big screen, short versions of both films) Grindhouse is a lot of fun as two directors who have been inspired by genre films pay official tribute to exploitation movies of the 1970's and 80's. Sure Tarantino's Death Proof has one too many conversations, but this pseudo-double bill spawned more imitators than anything Tarantino's done since Pulp Fiction

High Tension (Dir: Alexandre Aja; 2003; France) 
Praised for its retro slasher suspense, but criticized for its ending, High Tension is one of the most audacious slasher films of the 21st Century. Great performances from Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon add to this gory flick, and in my eyes, the ending only serves to add an additional kick to the proceedings (stayed tuned for a piece about this). 

The Host (Dir: Joon-ho Bong; 2007; South Korea) 
CGI is well used here to create a terrific amphibian kaiju in this, one of the best giant creature features of recent years. Though it may sometimes be difficult for Western audiences to grasp the intended humour at points, The Host is exciting, entertaining and unexpectedly sad. 

Hostel: Part II (Dir: Eli Roth; 2007; US) 
As divisive a figure in the horror community as Rob Zombie, director Eli Roth upped the ante quality wise for this sequel to his hit Hostel. Though I'm not a fan of the original, the sequel is more of a giallo than a straight horror flick with some terrific set pieces. 

The House of the Devil (Dir: Ti West; 2009; US) 
This nicely atmospheric throwback to the slasher films of the 1980's finds a babysitter unexpectedly in charge of an aged invalid. Great cameos from Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, and terrific performances from Jocelin Donahue (babysitter) and Greta Gerwig (her pal). 

House of Wax (Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; 2005; US) 
Entertaining and grisly updating of the original that is really just a remake in name only. Paris Hilton is fine as a secondary character. 

Inside (Dirs: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury; 2007; France) 
It's Béatrice Dalle versus Alysson Paradis in this outrageously bloody and suspenseful flick about a woman who wants the as yet unborn child from the belly of a very pregnant widow. Dalle makes a great (sympathetic?) villain in this disturbing debut from Bustillo & Maury; Here's hoping their two follow up films - Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014) - become available to North American audiences soon. 

Ju-on (Dir: Takashi Shimizu; 2002; Japan) 
Shimizu also directed the English language remake of Ju-on (aka The Grudge), a film that along with Ringu and its American remake The Ring, is probably most responsible for the overseas popularity of J-Horror in the early 2000's. It's a creepy and entertaining flick that updates Japan's particular brand of ghost story. 


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