I dont look back on 2011 with as much disdain as I did 2010. In fact, my view of the last twelve months in horror is rather positive. The VOD and foreign film output broadened the canvas of films to choose from and presented a welcome (often much-needed) alternative to the usual steady stream of studio remakes, sequels and overall “bad decisions.” (Priest? Blech.)
The list inside represents my top five of the year. And it was tough to narrow the selection down, however, these five best represent films that I enjoyed the most, that I think are incredibly strong and will stand up over time. Far too often I think “best of” lists are riddled with – yes, terrific movies – but their staying power dissipates.
Before we start, I wanted to fire off a few titles that didnt make the cut but deserve a mention.
La Casa Muda (aka The Silent House), a foreign film hailing from Uruguay, is engaging from minute one with its storytelling in a single shot gimmick and it makes the most of its haunted house-like thrills, but the sloppy ending ruins your buzz. Trollhunter was a genuine, unexpected gem that, I felt, showed us a world we had never seen before. Good effects, too. The Innkeepers is a real treat funny, ominous and revealing a side of Sara Paxton I had never seen before. The girls got some comedic chops. I also howled my way through Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, a satirical look at crazed hillbilly films that packs a lot of heart, smarts, laughs and bloodshed. The Last Circus is my number one “film you probably havent heard of but MUST SEE.” Sleep Tight opened in Spain, but not in the U.S., and that set me on the edge of my seat on several occasions. And, last but not least, The Skin I Live In. Pedro Almodovars film blindsided me and brings class and ingenuity to a sub-genre of horror that everyone is very familiar of. Id rather not reveal what that sub-genre is because it might be too much of a spoiler.
Again, those almost made the list. There were several films I saw this year that do not come out until 2012 – and will likely make my “best of” list – but I’ll save those for a year from now.
Now, here are my top five of 2011 (films released in the U.S. this year). Im going to run them down from top to bottom based on replay value.
Attack the Block: Sharp and unrelenting, this creature feature really doesnt give you a moment to catch your breath. Its a modern-day Monster Squad/Goonies pulsing with attitude. It drops the cutesy façade surrounding the heroes of those two 80s cult classics and challenges you to root for a pack of hardened teens. In less capable hands, youd probably be waiting for these little assholes to get mauled at the jaws of Attack the Blocks vicious, pitch-black intergalactic critters, yet Joe Cornishs taut direction and smart writing lets the audience see these punks in a different light. I think that is the films greatest achievement, in addition to having a terrific story that’s not afraid to pull any punches.
Insidious: Talk about a rebound for the Saw team James Wan and Leigh Whannell. While I did like Death Sentence quite a bit, I think we all wanted to see if the duo could pull off something decent in the horror genre again. Insidious proved yes, they could. The story is a bit old hat, having been explored once before in The Twilight Zone and Poltergeist, however, they put their own stamp on it, introducing a bit of their own mythology with astral projection and a few other twists and turns. Most of all, it has a lot of creepy stuff that works very well. I think they succeeded at pulling off better old school frights than they set out to do with Dead Silence. And that image of an imp dancing in front of a record player continues to haunt me. Get out of the living room in my head, you dancing weirdo! And take the Tiny Tim record with you.
Dream Home: For the better part of the year, I thoroughly enjoyed recommending this brutal film to people only to have them say, Ew, that movie with Daniel Craig? No. That was Dream House. This is Dream Home, a slasher film masked as a character study and commentary on the declining economy, moreover, the housing crisis. This Hong Kong thriller introduces a female maniac, for a change, who is out to get the condominium shes always yearned for. Through a series of well-placed, engaging flashbacks, we come to understand why this building means so much to her. Very clever and very bloody, Dream Home was a huge surprise for me and Id love to see director Pang Ho-Cheung tackle a slasher film on U.S. soil.
Black Death: Seriously, when is UK director Chris Smith going to get an American gig? Throw him a Thor movie. Game of Thrones. A terrific horror film. Anything! If Creep, Severance and Triangle didnt inspire an exec to woo Smith to U.S. shores, surely Black Death would have. As I stated in a previous review I’ve often described it as Witchfinder General Year Zero meets elements of The Wicker Man with The Magnificent Seven. Smith, once again, switches genre gears and invokes a muscular, mature period piece that explores faith, mystery and revenge. At times rousing, at times heartbreaking, the film features terrific performances from a memorable cast of characters. Smith’s future is bright.
I Saw the Devil: Filled with bad-assery. A bit long, but ferocious stuff that, from minute one, made my stomach churn as you witness the demise of a young woman and the disposal of her mutilated body. But that immediately puts you on the side of secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon who is out to catch serial killer Kyung-chul who is responsible for his fiancées death. Besides being gory as f**k and masterful in direction, the story is laden with the type of tension that gets your palms sweaty. Soo-hyeon has a wealth of skills at his fingertips in which to terrorize Kyung-chul – which escalate’s the excitement and desire to see this asshole pay for his crimes. And Kyung-chuls journey unexpectedly introduces you to a surreal landscape of seedy killers. Excessive and grim, this one packs a punch to the throat.
And, just for kicks, here are some of the non-horror offerings I really dug this year: Drive, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: First Class, Warrior, Limitless.