January is without a doubt the most depressing month of the year. The weather sucks, Christmas has been and gone, and New Year’s resolutions have long been forgotten. It might seem a little late for another 2011 list (we’re supposed to be looking ahead not back) but the last twelve months have provided us with some truly remarkable films, and this list is dedicated to the hidden gems you may have missed out on. For some reason I went with twelve, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it also means I had to emit some notable exceptions.
This list focuses on lesser known movies which means the exquisite Troll Hunter is out, but I’d also like to mention Faye Jackson’s quirky Romanian vampire movie Stigroi, Dick Mass’ festive slasher Sint, and Karl Golden’s tragic drama Pelican Blood - not the only film I’ll be mentioning with a bird watching theme. Last but not least (that’s debatable), best film title of the year went to Stonehenge Apocalypse, Paul Ziller’s cataclysmic ‘action thriller’. Could it be so bad its good? Why not check it out for yourself and let me know. Anyhoo, here are the twelve ‘lesser’ movies that really made an impact on me last year, be sure to check them out in 2012.
12/ The Silent House
What sets The Silent House apart from its rivals is the fact that it was filmed in one continuous shot, which gives you 78 minutes of unadulterated terror, filmed in real time. It’s been billed as the first ever single-take horror film, which is all well and good if you’re talking about technical achievements (an achievement that remains under dispute by the way), but The Silent House should be judged on one thing and one thing alone. Does it scare the bejesus out of you? Things sure start slow, but a gentle drip feed of dread should keep your cushion occupied throughout. It’s not perfect, but any qualms over inconsistencies are soon forgotten as the exemplary execution and efficient scares kick in. The Silent House emerges as a horror movie worth shouting about, so catch it now before the Hollywood remake darkens our door.
11/ Wake Wood
After the critical and commercial success of horror remake Let Me In, Hammer Films would appear to be making a welcome comeback, especially if you take into account the quality of David Keating’s latest oddity - call it a resurrection if you will. Two spectacular lead turns help, as does a solid script that manipulates at just the right moments. What the film lacks in originality it makes up for in menace, and dare I say it, moving sentiment. It’s unusual for a horror movie to be so affecting, in this regard Hammer’s latest shares a lot in common with its vampire sibling. Wake Wood fails to break new ground then, but David Keating’s horror debut is a memorable movie in its own right, and a killer ending seals the coffin on a delectably deadly night in.
Ink’s birth was anything but typical. None of the big studios picked up the film for theatrical and home distribution in the US, so Double Edge Films pitched the movie directly to independent cinemas, DVD, shiny Blu and online distribution by themselves. It was a move that worked, with Ink becoming one of the most downloaded movies on file sharing torrent sites and exposing itself to a much larger audience. It tells a tale that everybody can relate to, even if you do have to overlook the more fantastical forays from time to time – we are still in the realm of science fiction after all. If you can overlook the limitations you’re in for a spellbinding journey that demands to be seen time and time again. It’s not always an easy watch, but at the end of the day, the world of Ink comes together like the words on a page. Ambitious, dreamlike and never less than compulsive, Ink writes its name at the very top of Independent filmmaking. Never heard of the film? You have now.
09/ The Hide
An absorbing thriller set against the backdrop of the Suffolk countryside, not exactly words we’re used to hearing but there you have it. How about the words ‘bird watching’ and ‘sociable plover’ combined with the phrases ‘must see movie’ and ‘macabre gem’? Thought not. Marek Losey has an uphill battle on his hands with The Hide, and even though success seems more unlikely than the sighting of that elusive bird, the movie itself remains a riveting drama that deserves your full attention. The tension that builds is undeniable, and the macabre humour that swims beneath the surface is expertly sold. A two-man character piece set inside a Suffolk bird hide might not sound like the most thrilling of propositions, but looks can be deceiving. With strong performances and tension you can chew on, Marek Losey’s The Hide shouldn’t stay hidden for long.
08/ 5150 Elms Way
A French language Canadian horror movie set at the end of a quiet street in a small town - a street that just so happens to have the word ‘Elm’ in the title. Alarm bells should be ringing already for Yannick (Marc-André Grondin), an intelligent teenager who stumbles upon the Beaulieu residence after a biking accident. Jacques (Normand D’Amour) insists that Yannick has knocked at the wrong house, but nothing can prepare him for the terror that waits behind door 5150. Slow burning, dark and disturbing, with a wickedly sinister final act, 5150 Elms Way deserves to find a wider audience on these shores. Horror movies rarely put character first, but Eric Tessier knows that true terror comes from within, and you’re sure to have problems forgetting Jacques Beaulieu as the final piece is placed. Checkmate indeed.
07/ Hobo with a Shotgun
“You can’t solve all the worlds problems with a shotgun.” Whether or not that is true, one thing’s for sure, this particular hobo is going to die trying - delivering justice one shell at a time. Rutger Hauer has long been deserving of a comeback, and a homeless vigilante with vengeance in mind could be just the ticket, we’ll call him Hobo for now. With its 80’s vibe and glamorised violence, there’s no mistaking Hauer’s resurrection for an award-winning masterpiece, even if his performance digs far deeper than you might expect. Eisener’s love of trashy, cult cinema flows from every frame though, with Hobo taking a lone idea and running wild with it, leaving a trail of death, destruction and headless corpses in its wake. “When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades.” That’s Hobo with a Shotgun to a tee - loud, proud and well-endowed - delivering anarchic entertainment one frame at a time.
06/ Red White & Blue
Don’t expect a happy ever after on this one. Despite being blessed with a convoluted role, Amanda Fuller brings heart and compassion to an unworthy character. Erica is a pitiless soul, with few redeeming qualities and very little self-respect, but Fuller’s performance evokes sympathy all the same. It’s dangerous ground we walk on in Rumley’s world, one that’s sure to divide audiences the world over whilst providing plenty of uneasy talking points, but his remorseless direction should never be faulted. Red White & Blue is an unnerving, uncompromising revenge thriller that revels in a morally ambiguous tone, and a deeply disturbing finish that cuts loose with the (un)pleasantries to fulfil every slasher fans dream. Cruel, captivating and utterly compelling, Red White & Blue is a startling little thriller that wallows in shades of grey. Where nothing is black and white, and yet come the films sickening denouement, seems all too happy to bring on the red stuff.
05/ Stake Land
Hailed by some critics as "the American horror film of the year", the highly acclaimed Stake Land has a lot to live up to. Stake Land takes us on a bleak journey, think The Walking Dead with vampires, but the vampires that flood Stake Land feel fresh and invigorating. Michael Cerveris is way ahead of the chasing pack on this one, bringing genuine menace to the role of Jebedia Loven. Not only does Mickle handle the horror elements well, he also knows how to deliver an effective set piece, and there are plenty of standout moments to choose from. Having tested the water with rampaging zombie flick Mulberry Street, Mickle and Damici turn their attention to post-apocalyptic vampirism. It’s rare that you’ll find me clambering for a sequel, but it’s a bleak world we’re living in and Stake Land is one of the smartest horror movies to emerge in years. Not a lot of fun then, but a rare beast that comes with emotion, intelligence, action and heart.
04/ Rare Exports – A Christmas Tale
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a 2010 fantasy film directed by Jalmari Helander, which focuses on a small group of people that live near the Korvatunturi mountain. It’s here that they stumble upon an incredible treasure hidden deep beneath the surface, a discovery that might just reveal the secret of Santa Claus. The set up, the twists, the offbeat ending, they all come together perfectly. Onni Tommila is a fantastic young actor and Peeter Jakobi provides a terrifying performance from start to finish, both fleeting and ferocious, but one that should keep you from breaking out the festive cheer. He’s so good in fact; it’s easy to forgive the filmmakers for the ‘big reveal’ that never quite materialises. It’s slightly disappointing at first, but the final moments are in keeping with the overall tone and upon reflection, add a level of mystery that should bare fruit with repeat viewing. Dark and disturbing, original and heart warming, Rare Exports is an undiscovered gem waiting to be found. Not only is it one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the greatest Christmas tales ever told.
03/ Attack the Block
Attack the Block is the first stab at feature films by The Adam & Joe’s Show’s Joe Cornish, following small roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Being a comedy writer, you might expect his directorial debut to be a laugh riot from start to finish, chock full of witty one-liners and casual asides. Attack the Block takes a comical central premise - a gang of hoodies defend their neighbourhood against an alien invasion - but tones down the laughs in favour of exhilarating action and genuine thrills. The gorilla/wolf cross breads are a masterstroke, instantly memorable and genuinely unsettling. With luminous teeth and jet-black fur, they make their presence felt in every scene, despite a meagre budget that could’ve derailed the movie. Joe takes to action like a duck to water though, delivering a series of high paced chase sequences that never fail to impress. With a believable young cast, quotable dialogue, gripping action and tension you can chew on, Joe Cornish has delivered one of the best monster mashes of the last twenty years. Better believe it bruv, this movie is sick.
02/ The Woman
You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. You can however - if writer-director Lucky McKee is to be believed - kidnap them, chain them up in your cellar and domesticate them. Quality time is given a whole new meaning when Chris takes home the ‘next family project’. The Woman is unconventional in a conventional way, favouring a final twist that has become synonymous with horror movies in general. Good job it’s a great one then, feeding off a truculent turn from Pollyanna McIntosh, with The Woman ending on a downbeat high note. In failing to add depth to an impressive cast of characters, McKee has perhaps missed a trick or two, but the story he weaves is a solid one. With little to no humanity between them, it’s fair to assume that things wont end well for most of the characters. So you’ll be pleased to learn that they don’t, and if it’s brutality and bloodshed for all the family you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. The Woman isn’t always an easy watch, but it’s a captivating one none the less, and the final scenes are almost breathtaking.
01/ Tucker & Dale Vs Evil
A group of college kids venture out into the woods for a camping vacation, only for one of them to get kidnapped by a pair of murderous hillbillies intent on killing everything in their path. So far so unoriginal. Unless of course, the hillbillies in question are Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). Seriously gory and seriously funny, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil gets you right from its ingenious opening and never lets up. Labine is the star here, but his friendship with Tudyk is so engaging it's like watching Dumb and Dumber (1994) for the very first time. Word of the day – inventive, even after all the horror clichés are deliciously butchered, while single-handedly destroying the sub-genre it parodies (you'll never be able to watch Wrong Turn again, which is a blessing). This short and so very sweet offering from director Eli Craig certainly demands some kind of sequel, its not like Bill and Ted didn’t get away with it. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil was the biggest surprise of the year for me so make sure you check it out. AW