Five Films That Helped Me Survive the Horrorshow of 2016
If all the world’s a stage and we are all merely players, then 2016 was a Horror movie. But don’t worry.
One year ago we pressed PLAY on an unknown film titled 2016 and quickly realized we were watching a scary movie, one that thankfully has now reached The End. It’s New Years Day 2017. We made it out of the haunted house. Barely. We locked the killer in the basement, we escaped the creature on the planet and we whispered the prayer that kept ancient demons at bay. Take a deep breath. We may be battered and exhausted, but we survived. The end credits of 2016 are here, but before they roll and we settle in for another year, let’s remember it’s just a movie. A Horror movie. And speaking of movies, let’s take a look at five of my favorites from 2016.
This film is the literal and visual translation of wrong place, wrong time. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, GREEN ROOM is a tense and violent recipe for disaster, teased with occasional comedy that takes the escape room craze to its darkest level. Take one young Punk band desperate for cash and combine machete-wielding neo-Nazi thugs. Add one surprise witness and stir together in a claustrophobic nightclub. Bake for an hour and a half in the backwoods of Oregon. Rinse blood. Repeat. It stars Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots as two of the Misfits-loving millennials and Patrick Stewart as a Nazi overseer, who coldly delivers one of the creepiest lines of 2016: “This is not a party, it’s a movement”.
Imagine the ocean is a haunted house. Or a derelict spaceship. Or an abandoned campground. And Blake Lively is trapped inside it, injured and stalked by an unstoppable and terrifying evil. The premise is so simple: trapped girl, confined space, monster. It’s misogynistic horror genius. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who gave us the godawful House of Wax in 2005, The Shallows is short, stressful and full of scares. Beautifully photographed in Australia and starring the shark from JAWS nastier, meaner cousin, you’ll find yourself stranded, scared and fetal-positioned on your own island, or couch. Dive in.
New Years Day is that one day a year we look back, at least for a year, at how we have lived. And holding up a mirror to our own Humanity is often what Horror does best. When we are forced to take a long look at what we were, what we are and what we have become, a great film can deliver truth, however terrifying. Supernatural horror is my favorite film genre and in Director Robert Eggers slow-burning 17th Century creeper, it works brilliantly. Rife with period detail and multiple thematic elements including adolescent sexuality, grief, and man versus nature, The Witch puts an ostracized Puritan family on trial and reminds us how scary single-minded religious fervor can be. Add what may or may not be a baby-snatching Brothers Grimm-era she-devil and we are delivered a cinematic nightmare.
If Green Room was an Alt-Right neo-Nazi nightmare made real, then the dinner party in Director Karyn Kusama’s escalating chiller is the Alt-Left translation. You’re right to wonder what Malibu millionaires are doing all night in this film, but I’ll give you a hint: those aren’t kale smoothies they’re drinking, it’s kool-aid. Logan Marshall-Green from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, plays Will, an ex-husband invited to his ex-wife’s dinner party in what used to be his house, but he may as well be portraying each one of us, because this is a trip we’re all on. The film does an excellent job asking the question, how well do we know those people we call Friends? Especially those we haven’t seen in years, or only connect with through the Likes and Comments of cyberspace. For me, what’s brilliant about The Invitation is it takes these internet-age unknowns and escalates them into are-they or aren’t-they paranoia, pouring all of it into a glass we’re accustomed to: a simple dinner with friends. What could go wrong? Cheers.
TRAIN TO BUSAN
2016 was an election year, rife with emotions. And like sitting in a darkened theater watching a horror film with strangers, we endured these emotions together. Some of them welled up deep inside us, their sentiment beautifully portrayed on our national flag: optimism, community, faith, patriotism. But 2016 also brought us other emotions, feelings of powerlessness, desperation, distrust and fear. And like a flag, those moods have never manifested themselves so literally and so magically than in the Zombie. Some may argue against yet another zombie film, but Train to Busan is a stylish joyride of terror with the simple story of a father and his daughter at its heartfelt center. Although a Korean film, Director Yeon Sang-ho’s portrait of panic touches on global headlines familiar to us all: income inequality, corporate irresponsibility, government collapse, immigration — it’s every angry Dad’s cable news network, but with zombies.
However desperate the situation became in 2016--or becomes in Train to Busan--the ending of the year and the ending of the film left me not only drained, but close to tears. Both deliver that one emotion we all need at the end of a Horror movie, and at the end of this year and every year: Hope.
I hope you enjoyed this list. I plan to spend the early days of 2017 catching the many other Horror films that passed me by, so should you have any suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments. In the meantime, nurse your hangover with some of my honorable mentions that shouldn’t be missed: 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Monster, Don’t Breathe, Hush, The Conjuring 2 and the Sky television series, The Enfield Haunting (2015).