2015: The Horror Films You Must See

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Put simply, I can’t remember a year (in my moderate time of film writing) in which an entirely alternate, albeit unrestrained, Best of List could’ve been crafted out of films set for release the following calendar year. Over the course of 2014, a great year for film entirely, I saw some really terrific horror movies at festivals, from the purely frightening to the artfully crafted to the utterly unique. By now, some have landed distributors. Some even have release dates. Others will hopefully find their way in the New Year, because they are great and they are the films you must see in 2015. 

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• Alleluia (dir. Fabrice du Welz)

The director of the wonderfully strange Calvaire and the devastating slow burn Vinyan has finally returned with what might be his most accomplished work, Alleluia. Loosely based on Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck (aka The Lonely Hearts Killers), a pair of lovers/murderers who operated in the late 1940s, du Welz’s film is savage and stunning. Lola Dueñas is incredible as Gloria, a single mother compelled to leave her life behind when she meets and falls hard for Michel, a man who sexually cons women out of money. Her devotion and desire are quickly supplanted with jealous rage and killing factors into their schemes. Alleluia is filled with artful, unsettling emotional and physical violence and at least one showstopping moment midway through. Alleluia is currently awaiting an official release from Music Box films label, Doppelganger Releasing.

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• Cub (dir. Jonas Govaerts)

Having long written off most modern slashers, Jonas Govaerts’ nasty Belgian number took me entirely by surprise. Scored by Steve Moore (Zombi, this year’s The Guest), Cub (aka Welp) blends feral kid with ferocious slasher for a tale of young scouts in danger. Ingenious contraptions, the picturesque Ardennes location and one hell of a weird mask make this a lean, mean good time. (Cub is currently awaiting distribution.)

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• Darkness by Day (dir. Martin De Salvo)

Awarded Best Director in the Horror category at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, Darkness by Day is an intimate, Gothic tale. Director De Salvo crafts the often beautiful from a delicate point-of-view, that of its Argentine vampire and not the older men hunting her. Instead, DARKNESS finds a cooped up woman, relegated to hearing stories of world-traveling friends and cousins, liberated by vampirism. (Darkness by Day is currently awaiting distribution.)

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• Felt (dir. Jason Banker)

Jason Banker made an incredible narrative debut with the raw, hallucinatory Toad Road. There, he introduced audiences to a unique blend, building fictional narrative around a real life subject. In that film, he captured a drug-heavy circle of friends, two of which become captivated by an urban legend. In Felt, he’s turned his camera on Amy Everson, an enthralling artist and (stunning) first time performer. Here’s what I’ve previously written on the film: “Fascinated by Everson’s felt art, including full costumes, baby Hitlers and fake penises, Banker’s observational aesthetic chronicles her life of inner anguish following sexual assault, the ensuing trauma and the regularly hostile attitude the world has toward women. For a male filmmaker, or male audience, the latter is inherently impossible to understand, so it is vital it’s met with empathy and belief. Banker and his camera do just that by capturing candid moments that lay bare what women are met with on a daily basis.” Felt is an intense picture of both trauma and rape culture. It knocked the wind out of audiences at Fantastic Fest and will do the same this spring. Amplify will release Felt in April 2015.

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• Final Prayer (aka The Borderlands; dir. Elliot Goldner)

Elliot Goldner’s Final Prayer (aka The Borderlands) is a truly eerie affair, standing above the current glut of POV/found footage horror with a folk sensibility and killer sound design. Two Vatican investigators visit a rural church and follow strange happenings to a horrifying end. The film finally makes its way to the U.S. via Lionsgate VOD this February 10. The DVD is out February 24th.

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• Goodnight Mommy (dir. Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz)

Produced by celebrated Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl and directed by team Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, the latter of which co-penned Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, Goodnight Mommy is completely devastating art-horror. Stunningly designed in a stunner of a modern, isolated home, this tale of familial terror is palpably paranoid from its start. A pair of twins distrust their mother, whose face is obscured by a cold mask aiding her recovery from cosmetic surgery. It all leads to possibly the most primal scream I’ve ever heard on film. Goodnight Mommy is currently awaiting a release date from Radius-TWC.

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• It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

You’ve no doubt heard of It Follows by now, that the film is a frightening revelation. This is entirely true. David Robert Mitchell recalls the same youthful authenticity of his debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, while channeling Carpenter’s fantastic sense of frame in a totally chilling, finely composed tale of a sexually transmitted urban legend. Clever, slightly surreal and mostly devoid of parents (except one, oh god), It Follows is unexpected, its horror is confrontational and its sheen-synth score from Rich Vreeland is fantastic. It is the heir to Elm Street. It Follows is out March 27th from Radius-TWC.

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• The Midnight Swim (dir. Sarah Adina Smith)

Easily one of my favorite films of 2014, Sarah Adina Smith’s debut is a tremendous one. Though filmed by one of its three sisters (there’s a witchy air, for sure), The Midnight Swim is far from any sort of generic “found footage.” The camera is instead an extension of June’s self, who together with siblings Isa and Annie, come to their childhood, lakeside home in the wake of their mother’s death. Informed by their mother’s more pagan qualities, as well as an old legend of seven sisters drowning, three confront their familial issues, as well as feel supernaturally surrounded. It is an incredibly affecting metaphysical drama, genuine in its portrait of siblings and beautiful as a whole. I love this movie. The Midnight Swim is currently awaiting distribution.

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• Shrew’s Nest (dir. Juanfer Andres & Esteban Roel)

The first feature from directing team Andres & Roel (and produced by Alex de la Iglesia), Shrew’s Nest is a richly designed, paranoid apartment horror period piece. Shades of classical melodrama and an incredible lead performance from Macarena Gomez inform its tragic nature as one overprotective, agoraphobic sister clings and obstructs the other. That is until it goes entirely nuts. Shrew’s Nest is really something. Shrew’s Nest is currently awaiting distribution.

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• Spring (dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)

The second feature from directing duo Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead is just as unusual as their metaphysical debut Resolution. The film finds orphaned Evan run off to Italy where she strikes up an intense courtship with the mysterious Louise.  Similarly existing in a world where the unnatural is accepted as just the opposite and sought with understanding and empathy, Benson & Moorhead have crafted a legit horror romance. It is not one or the other. It is both, it is tender and it is uninterested in giving over to anyone’s expectations. Drafthouse Films will release Spring in 2015.

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• What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi)

This New Zealand vampire mock doc is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. Unison Films and Paladin release What We Do in the Shadows on February 13th.

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• When Animals Dream (dir. Jonas Alexander Arnby)

Boasting a folktale-like Danish seaside location, Jonas Alexander Arnby’s coming-of-age werewolf film is undeniably beautiful. Its minimalist werewolf FX strike a perfect Universal-esque balance between monstrous and sympathetic, and its story of an evolving, changing girl, ostracized by her community, ultimately boils down to telling young women, “You do you.” When Animals Dream is currently awaiting a release date from Radius-TWC

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Weekend: Jul. 25, 2019, Jul. 28, 2019

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