Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013 Halloween Movie Roundup: The Middlers

As in my previous post, I'm reviewing the most notable (for good or bad reasons) horror movies I saw this year. Click here to see The Bad. Now, moving on to The Middlers! None of these movies are bad – in fact, many of them are very good! They’re just missing that special something that takes a movie from good to truly memorable.

Plus One. Two universes overlap at a party (or… something), and suddenly each of the partygoers has a doppelganger with an apparently identical life. No one knows why it happened or what it means, and the movie uses that as a jumping off point to explore how we react instinctively to the unknown (spoiler: not well). It’s not exactly horror, but it strays into horror territory; it’s not always riveting, but it stumbles onto some compelling ideas. It’s neither here nor there, I suppose, but it’s worth a look.

Maniac. This movie is an unflinching (not to mention bloody) look at a serial killer’s obsessions, as seen through his own eyes. And I mean that literally – the entire film is shot from the serial killer’s POV, designed to make the audience feel complicit in his killings. It’s a highly effective method for making the viewer uncomfortable, but it does little in the way of making the killer sympathetic or understandable. The movie is also more gory and depressing than genuinely suspenseful, which is why it’s not one of my favorites.

V/H/S 2. I seem to be in the minority, but I preferred the first V/H/S horror anthology to this one. This iteration features only four short films, as opposed to six, and only two of them are worthwhile in my opinion. Still, the two that are good are a lot of fun; one in particular really goes for it and is great in a bonkers kind of way. I definitely wouldn’t be averse to more V/H/S anthologies.

Would You Rather. The feel-bad movie of the year. A young woman enters an invitation-only “contest” thrown by a millionaire in order to win money to support her ill brother. Unsurprisingly, the contest turns out to be much more sinister than she anticipated (if you’ve ever played a cutthroat game of Would You Rather in high school, you can imagine where this is going). It’s compulsively watchable in a “what awful thing is going to happen next” way, but there’s not any more to it than that. I watched it because I like Brittany Snow, and she’s just as sympathetic as ever.

World War Z. Okay, I wholly enjoyed this movie. So why isn’t it in the middle of my list, and not the top? Well… it’s a big budget zombie movie, which is both awesome and damning. On the one hand, the set pieces are amazing. On the other, this movie is so Hollywood slick that it’s devoid of a certain amount of heart that I feel goes into lower budget horror movies. It’s hard to explain. It just feels like we spend too much time focusing on Brad Pitt’s pretty face, and not enough time on more important things, like the zombie apocalypse. It also strays too far into action movie territory at times for my taste, and it fizzles out at the end. It was a ton of fun to watch, but it didn’t stay with me long after the credits rolled.

Jug Face. This is a very unique, campfire-tale-like story that centers on a strange, insular community that lives in the woods. Every year they sacrifice one member of the town to “the pit,” a godlike entity that demands blood in return for… not killing everyone, I guess? Anyway, the sacrificial member is determined by the town potter, who channels the needs of the pit by sculpting the face of one of the townspeople onto a jug while in a trance. The “jug face” is then revealed, and the person sacrificed, usually without a fight. Until this year. This is another one that has a strong premise and a lot going for it, but ultimately the filmmakers couldn’t figure out where to go with the story.

Stoker. Ostensibly a re-imagining of Shadow of a Doubt. What I liked most about it was how atmospheric and moody the tone was, and how dreamlike certain sequences were – so much so that at times I wasn’t sure if what I was watching was happening or not. I was more into the style than the substance, however, and the story never gelled into anything more than mildly intriguing for me.

Black Rock. I love survival horror, and this one is full of tension and intensity. Three women go camping on a remote island, encounter three odd but seemingly genial men, and things go awry. Like so many others on this list, the story doesn’t have staying power – you probably won’t remember specific scenes from this movie, and none of the characters particularly stand out – but in the moment, the first time around, it’s a very intense ride. Read my full review here.

The Conjuring. It’s not often that I’m genuinely frightened by a ghost story, but this one did it for me. There are tons of effective jump scares in this movie, and some blood-curdling ghosts, but not quite enough substance for me to latch onto long term. It was loads of fun to watch once, but I doubt I’ll bother seeing it again.

Magic Magic. This might not technically be horror (well, psychological horror, I suppose), but it was such an oddball find that I had to mention it. Juno Temple (an actress I’m loving more and more) plays a young woman, Alicia, who travels to an isolated countryside house in Chile with her cousin and her cousin’s (Chilean) friends. The cousin has to depart suddenly, under mysterious circumstances, leaving Alicia with strangers who tend to speak Spanish more often than English. Alicia begins to experience insomnia, which leads to paranoia, both of which aren’t helped by Brink, one of the menacing friends played hilariously/creepily against type by Michael Cera. Dark humor bumps up against true terror in this Repulsion-esque spiral into madness.

The Purge. Though critics don’t seem to agree with me, I appreciated this futuristic twist to the home invasion movie. If only it had been a bit longer and less slight with the story, it would be one for me to love. Read my full review here.

Carrie (2013). I was surprised by how much I liked this remake. Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Portia Doubleday all gave standout performances that matched those of Brian DePalma’s characters and simultaneously made them their own. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the movie itself, which is so similar to the DePalma version that I can’t imagine the filmmakers had any reason for making it other than the dollar signs in their eyes.

Tune in next week (Halloween!) to see my favorite horror movies of the year! And feel free to tell me about your favorite movies of this year in the comments.


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