Blumhouse films vary widely in quality but are pretty consistent when it comes to their low budgets, and that means that the best the studio has to offer typically comes from filmmakers working with a strong script and an ability to do a lot with little. Writer/director J.D. Dillard manages just that and gives genre fans one of Blumhouse’s best with this terrifically entertaining slice of survival horror that drops a terrific Kiersey Clemons onto a desolate island in the middle of the ocean. What starts as Castaway, though, shifts quickly into a suspenseful and thrilling creature feature as she realizes she’s not as alone as she first suspected. It’s a fast-moving monster movie pitting woman against beast, and in addition to a strong central performance the film also delivers one hell of a memorable creature reveal that deserves celebrating as a “perfect shot” — but don’t worry, we won’t add that into the rotation as it’s a sight best witnessed in the film itself.
Will be available on December 25th to stream on Netflix.
Takashi Miike’s Audition remains an utter masterpiece of slow-burn madness and darkly emotional terror, and while the filmmaker is a major part of that brilliance the source novel by Rya Murakami is equally deserving of credit. Director Nicolas Pesce has now turned another one of Murakami’s novels into an equally memorable film experience, but this one is both zippier and funnier. It’s a grimly humorous movie to be sure, but if you’re not giggling nervously at the young man who sets out to kill a random prostitute but instead finds a love story, of sorts, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a story about two odd people finding each other at the best possible time, or maybe it’s the worst — who’s to say really as at the end of the day it’s all about perspective (and pain).
Available for purchase on digital or physical media via Amazon.
3. Doctor Sleep
Stephen King was notoriously no fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, and when King wrote his sequel it was to his own novel and not the film. Mike Flanagan had the unenviable task of adapting it for the screen, but as a visual medium, he knew it would need to work as a follow up to both King’s original novel and Kubrick’s film. He succeeds beautifully. The story follows a grown-up Danny Torrance who’s drawn back into the supernatural fray when he gets caught up between a young girl who shares his gift and a band of psychic vampires (of sorts) who feed on that very ability. It’s a big, sprawling tale about moving forward in life, fighting addiction, and replacing pain with compassion, and in addition to a glorious child demise, the film also delivers an epic third act set back in the Overlook Hotel that sees Danny’s nightmares come full circle.
Currently in theaters.
2. Ready or Not
This ridiculously entertaining film from Radio Silence is just one of several horror/comedies to make the cut this year, but it the absolute cream of the crop. Running a tight 95 minutes, the movie is perfection as it introduces the characters, sets the story in motion, and lands with flawless execution and finale. A woman familiar with life’s hardships marries an heir to a gaming dynasty, and the night of her wedding is capped off with a silly tradition involving a game between her and the family members — unfortunately for her, it’s hide and seek, and while she’s hiding they’re seeking with guns, knives, crossbows, and more. Samara Weaving takes the lead and gives one of the year’s most charismatic and engaging performances, and the film weaves suspense, surprise, and big laughs with immensely satisfying results. This is one hell of a fun movie.
Available on Blu-ray and more via Amazon.
1. The Dead Ones
It’s not my intent to pick an undistributed film as my number one for the second year in a row, but I can only go with my gut — and this year the best new horror film I’ve seen is this low budget morality play that boldly explores an extremely sensitive subject while still delivering the horror goods. The film follows a small group of teens tasked with cleaning up their trashed high school, but the tedious chore takes a turn when four masked gunmen trap them inside and begin to hunt them through the hallways and classrooms. Ghosts, gore, and grief over lives lost take center stage beneath the specter of a school shooting that ties them all together. It’s less about an eventual reveal than it is the self-revelatory journey getting there, and while it delivers thrilling visuals, bloody beats, and horrifying imagery its power rests in its frightening look into the mindset of angry youths.
Currently on the festival circuit.
Honorable mentions: Darlin’, Eli, The Furies, Harpoon, I Trapped the Devil, Party Hard Die Young, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Us
And yes I saw: Bliss, Brightburn, Child’s Play, Climax, Daniel Isn’t Real, The Hole in the Ground, It Chapter Two, Midsommar, The Nightingale, The Perfection, Pet Sematary