It seems like a blur, but another year has passed. Quite a few horror films made their mark in 2017; some were out of the gate hits while others were divisive. All of them created a buzz and garnered a bit more respect for our beloved horror genre. Here are my top picks from the past year.
Being a programmer for Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, I have a soft spot for indie film. There were a few that I saw at Toronto After Dark and BITS that I must mention for their unique subject matter and execution despite low budgets.
Toronto After Dark Film Festival
Lowlife drew me into the multiple narratives leading up to an insane climax. The charm of this film is its heart and filmmaker Ryan Prows made sure there was plenty to go around. The well written left-field characters amidst the constantly botched criminal antics will make you root for them ten times over. It’s definitely a sleeper hit in my eyes. Read my review on Cinema Axis here.
A total left-fielder at TADFF for me was Beyond Skyline. This sequel came out of the shadow of its lukewarm and not well received predecessor Skyline to blast it out of the water. Where the first film followed people in a condo as the world falls under an alien attack, Beyond Skyline picks up from Skyline’s cliffhanger ending. The unlikely redemption lies with Frank Grillo’s action star swagger, a genuinely funny script, great aliens combined with practical and CGI effects, and some kick ass action from The Raid’s Iko Uwais.
Two more After Dark films that still resonate for me are Rabbit and The Endless. Following a twin’s quest to find her missing and thought dead sister leads her into a world of madness, science and an undeniable connection to her sibling. With breathtaking cinematography and scoring that will chill you to the bone, director Luke Shanahan’s Rabbit is visceral and confounding. I reviewed it here.
The Endless also takes you on a journey, one that brings two brothers back to a cult they escaped years ago. Each one recalls a different experience of the commune they once called home, and things become more intoxicating and confusing as realities and perceptions blur. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson come back after their indie hits Resolution and Spring with a strong effort that left fans wanting more from this mind-bending film.
Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival
My programming rights give me access to incredible indie gems, the filmmakers and cast, and I’m privileged help put on a film festival that gives genre film fans a chance to see some great Canadian talent. This year was one of Blood in the Snow’s best, taking place at the gorgeous Royal Cinema, and all the titles left audiences talking well after the festival was over. You can find the 2017 lineup at bloodinthesnow.ca and check out the feature film award winners for BITS 6th year:
Darken, a dystopian fantasy with strong female leads was our closing night film and won for Best Poster, Best Cinematography, Best Music Score and the lovely Audrey Cummings took home the Best Director prize.
The winner for Best Feature film and Best Screenplay was Buckout Road directed by Matthew Currie Holmes. Based on a notoriously haunted road in New York state, this film was a fun blend of urban legends with great star power including Canadian acting vets Colm Feore, Henry Czerny and Hollywood mainstay Danny Glover.
Fake Blood, a documentary style feature follows two filmmakers who want to explore the effects of violence in film on audiences, eventually coming face to face with some real danger when they flirt with the criminal element. Rob Grant and Mike Kovacs took home the award for Best Editing. It’s a truly disturbing film that kept the audience wondering what was real long after the screening.
Best Actor went to Jeff Sinasac, a long-time actor in the GTA who revealed more of his talents by not only starring in but also directing his film Red Spring, a tense post-apocalyptic vampire survivalist film; while the acclaimed Suzanne Clément took home the Best Actress for The Child Remains, a chilling tale directed by Michael Melski based on the horrific true story of the Butterbox Babies.
Best Special FX went to Kill Order (Meza) and followed a young man who must deal with his superhuman powers, a sinister plot and plenty of danger. A martial arts spectacle filmed right here in Toronto, director James Mark created a real crowd pleaser with tons of stunts and action.
Best Acting Ensemble went to Ryan M. Andrews’ The Art of Obsession. This film, starring our Vanguard winner Ry Barrett, went deep into the mind of a writer and his process; haunted by his muse and his work. It’s a departure from the usual psychological horror and one that will resonate with those who are passionate about what they create.
Pleasant Surprises, The Grotesque, and a Timely Game Changer
There were two films that surprised me by how much I liked them. The first was Rue Morgue’s presentation of The Evil Within. Directed by the late Andrew Getty, a member of one of the richest families in America, the film took a long time to finish due to his untimely death. Frederick Koehler stars as Dennis, a mentally challenged young man who is gifted a mirror he’s seen in his nightmares. It holds a powerful evil and manifests itself as sinister and smarter reflection of himself, taunting Dennis and putting those around him in danger. Koehler outdoes himself playing the two roles, and the mixture of nightmare scenes and long-time horror actor Michael Berryman as the mirror’s evil demon makes this film a one of a kind gem. Thanks to the determination of those involved with the production despite the loss of the director, the film finally got it’s release last year. Rue Morgue issue #177 delves into the trials and tribulations of the film’s journey and is well worth the read.
The second film that surprised me was Darren Aronofsky’s’ mother! It screened at TIFF 2017 and I was prepared to find something to dislike about it since it was so polarizing and a lot of my film critic cronies hated it. While I respect their opinions, I ended up loving it and sat through it another time at home, only to love it even more (and not because Mr. Stephen McHattie is in it…well ok, there’s that, but it’s now one of my favorite films to date). Once again, my full review can be found here.
My only other TIFF 2017 selection that made the list was The Crescent. Hailing from the east coast, this hypnotic psychological thriller about a young mother coming to terms with her grief and the safety of her son in a strange town, in my eyes, didn’t get enough love. The use of art and the scoring by the film’s director Seth A. Smith created a brilliantly eerie atmosphere highlighting isolation and tension. Read my review here.
Shudder Canada has continually impressed me with the unique content they offer horror fans who want to escape the mainstream. One of their films that had a limited screening in Toronto was Kuso. After an earthquake befuddles L.A., several characters and their stories intersect as they try to navigate through their afflicted city. There are a ton of vile moments, along with scathing social commentary and bleak humor. It’s a trying yet exhilarating film filled with music, art and the grotesque by first time director Flying Lotus aka Steven Ellison, better know for his musical and D.J. talents. Be forewarned that it’s not the usual gore and not for the squeamish, and it is most likely not for everyone, but a must-see anyway. Read my full review here.
My favourite film of 2017 is Get Out for so many reasons. I’m going off on a tangent for a moment. In my research for pieces that will be included in an upcoming book on racism in American film, I learned African-Americans were underestimated for their love of westerns. When producers and movie house owners learned that African-Americans did indeed enjoy stories of life on the open range (in fact there is a long history of African-Americans working as cowboys), saving a damsel in distress and immortalizing cowboy action in song, they capitalized on that desire and made Black westerns. While short-lived (spanning from the 1920s-40s), it showed that demand ruled and the creators of media listened. Fast forward to modern-day, where actor and comedian Jordan Peele wrote and directed his first horror film starring a Black actor about the Black experience. It was clever, scathing, and always on point. And the masses, both Black and white (for the most part) loved it. Once again, African-Americans proved that they loved and wanted content in genre films. Instead of leaving it up to the powers that be, Peele took it into his own hands and created that content, opening doors for more people of colour to join in the wave of genre filmmakers. We owe so much to Peele and Get Out, and while there is still so much room for improvement and inclusivity within the film industry, I honestly hope the momentum continues. Read my thoughts on this game changing film here.
For 2018, I hope horror continues to create conversations and include fans of all genders and colours. All the best to you in this shiny new year!