7. Hounds of Love
Australian film-maker Ben Young’s disturbing drama tells the viciously intense tale of suburban serial-killers. Set in the 1980s Western Perth, the film opens from the perspective of serial-killing couples’ – John and Evelyn – perverse gaze. One night, a rebellious 17-year-old girl Vicki en route to a party meets the couple. They promise Vicki some pot and take her to their home. Later, drugged and chained to a bed, Vicki is caught between the utterly dysfunctional relationship between John and Evelyn.
Director Young mostly avoids visceral presentation of brutality to focus on the murdering couples’ psychology. In a Lynchian fashion, the visuals stress on the dichotomy: the presence of monstrosity within the ordinary. Perhaps, the best thing about Young’s direction is making us fully grasp the couples’ mental sickness without ever depicting the details of their actions. Emma Booth and Stephen Curry perfectly capture their characters’ atrociously symbiotic relationship. Ashleigh Cummings daringly takes on the role of emotionally and physically battered Vicki.
6. Creep 2
Creep 2, like its captivating predecessor, stuffs the banal horror premise with surprising ideas and pure psychological thrills. Mark Duplass reprises his role of the charming serial-killer. He now goes by the name Aaron and once again posts a unique Craigslist ad, seeking a videographer. It’s answered by Sara, an independent woman, who answers a weird Craigslist ad for her YouTube Channel. Director Patrick Brice, however, doesn’t play the usual cat and mouse game this time. Right off the bat, Aaron confesses to Sara that he is a serial killer with 39 kills. He muses that he has lost the thrill of murdering unsuspecting victims. So Aaron just wants Sara to film his confessions and wisdom. In exchange, Aaron pays her and promises not to kill her within the 24-hour mark.
Some part of Sara considers if Aaron’s confession is true, but the voyeuristic interest and the inner-sycophant assures her. Anyhow, Sara unlike the serial killer’s previous victims, seems to have the will to protect herself. Director Patrick Brice once again employs innovative ways to put the faux documentary style to good use. Furthermore, Mark Duplass’ unnerving presence perpetually embroils us in the terrifying situation.
5. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s Get Out tries to blend horror elements with sharp social commentary. Using a tinge of dark humor, Peele indicts the terrors of White liberal racism. The plot setting is a bit similar to Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Talented African-American photographer Chris goes on a weekend trip with girlfriend Rose Armitage to meet her rich parents. Rose’ parents seem to be well-mannered, rarely exhibiting the good-old racial awkwardness. Yet Chris feels a dark conspiratorial vibe, especially after the arrival of a few wealthy guests.
Director Peele finds good balance between satirical moments and unsettling horror. Get Out explores the strain of racism not often seen in films. The racism Chris encounters is tinged with flattery. From passing comments on ‘genetic makeup’ to assumed sexual prowess, the crowd treats Chris as an exotic object rather than perceive him as their equal. Apart from the damning social commentary, the director also bestows some interesting genre thrills.
Joachim Trier’s Norwegian supernatural horror/mystery may have a story line akin to Stephen King’s Carrie. But it’s directed and performed with powerful subtlety that brings to mind the works of Dreyer and Bergman. Elie Harboe plays the titular character, an anxious young girl who has arrived to study at Oslo University. She has moved away from her fiercely protective, religious parents. There she meets Anja, a beautiful co-ed with whom Thelma forges a deep-seated connection. But soon she begins to experience uncontrollable seizures and powers, unbeknownst to her, that threaten to overturn her life.
Like the recent quasi-horror features The Witch and Raw, Thelma explores the themes of female sexual awakening and isolation. Trier’s mesmerizing eye for details and atmosphere expertly infuses tension into the proceedings. While the narrative may not have much in terms of traditional scares, the overall mood creates an impeccable sense of unease. Moreover, Harboe’s acute expression of her character’s vulnerability adds right emotional temperament to the story.
French filmmaker Julia Ducournau’s chilling body horror subverts the genre conventions to impart a profound social subtext. Justine, an introverted and idealistic 16-year old girl arrives to study at the prestigious veterinary school. It’s where her parents studied and her elder sister Alexia is currently studying. Justine’s first encounter with the menacing adult world begins with an elaborate hazing ritual, perpetrated by the seniors. The near-surreal and dreadful ritual sequences sets off Justine in a strange path. She is a vegetarian, but soon develops a bizarre craving for raw meat.
Director Ducornau avoids jump scares or genre tropes, yet her impeccable film-form keeps alive the sense of fear. She brilliantly juxtaposes the beautiful and grotesque actions of the characters with elegance. Underneath the extreme horror elements, Raw acutely remarks on themes of social conformity and prevalent sexism. Garance Marillier’s bold performance as Justine is another crucial factor to the movie’s success. While, Ducornau keenly avoids flashy, needlessly provocative horror elements, Marillier elevates the narrative’s emotional quotient. Eventually, Raw goes beyond the label of ‘cannibalistic horror’ to provide an unparalleled taboo-breaking female perspective.
2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos, the prominent filmmaker of Greek New Wave, has previously made profound provocative pieces like Dogtooth and The Lobster. With The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the idiosyncratic filmmaker doubles down on weirdness and shock value.
Moving like an unpredictable nightmare, Lanthimos’ unsettling tale has its roots in biblical stories and Greek Tragedy. Lanthimos’ trademark drollness and stunning eye for composition imparts subdued intensity to the proceedings. May be this film doesn’t have the allegorical acuity of Dogtooth or the weirdness seemed more studied, unlike Lobster. Yet, the director puts us in extreme discomfort with his brilliant assemblage of imagery akin to the works of Michael Haneke and Stanley Kubrick. Sacred Deer lacks the emotional weight to work as a tragedy, but succeeds in providing a maddening film experience.
The entire narrative mostly stays close to Jennifer Lawrence’s face. The swish pans, close-ups, and behind-the-shoulder shots deftly capture the maddening frenzy around the restricted point of view. Arnofsky’s visual energy is well-matched with far ambitious thematic notions. From biblical references to metaphorizing gender roles, artistic creation to delirious fandom, etc the film-maker takes on vast number of themes. Some thrive with idiosyncratic energy, while some appear to be banal. In the end, Mother! is a pretty vicious (self) critique on the artist-muse connection or relationship. Despite the outlandishness and sheer irrationality of it, I liked the film on how it provides the space to project our own experiences onto it. It’s a perfectly disquieting roller-coaster of a horror ride.
Notable Omissions – Annabelle: Creation, Split, A Cure for Wellness, The Babysitter, Better Watch Out, and Happy Death Day.
There go the top horror movies 2017 had to offer. Which of these are your favourites? Do you have more on your list? Tell us in the comments below.
By Arun Kumar
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An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’