This week’s Criterion Review wanders into the realm of science fiction with Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, Stalker. It is a gorgeous, sprawling film that meditates on nuclear war, finding one’s purpose in life, and even religion. Despite covering such a wide variety of themes, Stalker is a film that will take your breath away with each drop of water.
Horror is a powerful tool for discussing social issues and reflecting societal fears. Often discussions about the politics of horror focus on gender and the body, but rarely do those conversations attempt to address race in the genre. Yes, we know the tropes where there is only one token black character that usually dies first or the black character who tries to be the voice of reason to the rest of the (all white) group. But what we don’t discuss in the deep history of blackness in horror that exists even in the apparent lack of black characters on screen. Shudder’s first documentary, Horror Noire, remedies this problem, devoting an entire film to the history of black horror films through the lens of black history within the United States.
Last year, Panos Cosmatos’ acid-trip-from-hell Mandy seized the horror world by storm. Fans demanded more theater screenings across the country, Cheddar Goblin became a horror icon, and Nicolas Cage solidified his batshit-crazy persona. It is a film that is the definition of style over substance, and yet it gained a cult following. Mitzi Peirone’s Braid deserves this same treatment. From its unhinged protagonists to jarring visuals, it showcases the talent and creativity of women directors, whose work is just like, if not better, than their male counterparts.
At its core, Braid is a film about female friendship and its strange forms. It begins with Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hays), two friends-turned-drug-dealers who are desperate for cash. Their solution is to head to the dilapidated mansion of their friend, Daphne (Madeline Brewer), who lives in a fantasy world and plays a game of House with three simple rules: Everybody plays, No outsiders, and No one leaves. Petula and Tilda believe that if they can play her game long enough, they’ll find a safe full of cash and all of their problems will disappear. But, Daphne has other plans. Her game descends into madness, a Lewis-Carroll-esque rabbit hole of bright colors, strange horrors, and plenty of cups of tea.
February marks the beginning of Women In Horror Month, an event created to celebrate the amazing women working in the genre, from directors and producer to the iconic scream queens. Despite what certain horror producers may think, there are a plethora of talented and demented women creating diabolically poignant pieces of horror cinema. In a genre that is so often described as misogynistic and exploitative, it can seem easy to dismiss it and not address its long history of interrogating societal fears. But, women have been working against, and sometimes with, those conventions just as long as any man.
To help you celebrate all month long, we’ve compiled a list of 10 horror films directed by women to put on your watch list. But don’t confine your honoring of women in horror to just February; they deserve your attention and support all year long.
American Psycho, dir. Mary Harron
Everything superficial about American Psycho appeals to the kind of masculine, wide-eyed, dorm room energy of boys of a certain age—its sleek quotability, retro aesthetic, sardonic wit, and extreme violence are all, well, pure Bret Easton Ellis, literature’s resident teenage boy. And while Ellis may have crafted his tale of a absurd Wall Street serial killer with his own anger and transgressive style in mind, director Mary Harron grants her film adaptation of the novel with a entirely different, yet no less fascinating lens through which to view the world of Patrick Bateman. And who better to craft a killer of women than a woman herself?
American Psycho might be funny—scratch that, it’s hilarious—but the horror grows with each passing frame, building in Bateman’s victims on screen, building in us, and building in the character himself as reality starts to slip away. The film’s germane, eerie satire of American capitalism and wealth only deepen some truly terrifying sequences of murder and mutilation that speak to the horrors of misogyny and power. Yet so much of that depth owes itself to Harron’s camera, which doesn’t linger on these women’s bodies and ask us to revel in their destruction, but rather remains tight on Christian Bale’s face, clothes, hands—the apathetic instruments of a society that values nothing but money.
Okay, this is starting to sound like more dorm room analysis, but it only takes one good watch to enthralled by this movie for a lifetime. Come for the controversy, stay for the cultural commentary, and return time after time for “I have to return some video tapes.”
Adaptations of graphic novels can either extremely hit or extremely miss. It’s difficult to capture their larger-than-life style, acts of violence, and over-the-top characters that are confined to the panels on the page. With Jonas Åkerlund adaptation of Victor Santos’ Polar for Netflix, he proves it is possible to translate a graphic novel’s gore and violence onto the screen with even more stylistic flair than its source material. Åkerlund took Santos’ minimalist illustrations and made something bright, oversaturated, and delicious.
Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen plays Duncan Vizla, or the Black Kaiser, who is days from retirement from his life as an assassin. He starts to settle into retired life in a small town in Montana, shopping at the local grocery store, frequenting the town’s diner, and striking up a quiet friendship with his neighbor, Camille, played by Vanessa Hudgens. But, just a few hundred miles for his snowy, idyllic set up, a hit is put on his head so his employer, the Damocles Corporation, won’t have to pay him his $8 million pension. So, a group of younger, showier, and somehow more violent hitmen set out to kill the Black Kaiser. What follows is a trail of blood, revenge, and Mads Mikkelsen’s beautiful bare ass.
Greek life is a quintessential part of the American college experience. Fraternities and sororities are known for their cult-like behavior, wild parties, and questionable hazing rituals. But rather than questioning this strange societal obsession, it has been widely accepted, and even encouraged because these groups encourage close friendships and offer the promise of potential professional connections. Fraternities are central to teen comedies, from Animal House to Neighbors— they are familiar sight and are the epitome of being a cool guy. But behind closed frat house doors, horrors can unfold. David Robbins’ Pledge captures those horrors, taking what is seen as a normal part of growing up, and pushes it to its gory, terrifying extreme — toxic masculinity is on the chopping block in Pledge. Bordering on torture porn, it questions the forms of masculinity we covet and what that means for anyone that does not fall into that very specific category.
Pledge begins with three awkward college freshmen who, in varying degrees, want nothing more than to rush a fraternity. Rushing means they will be accepted into a sacred brotherhood of booze and hot women. But unfortunately, these boys don’t fit the typical fraternity bill. They aren’t tall or muscular with perfectly-gelled blonde hair, their jokes fall flat, they have no rhythm, and they can’t stomach shots of liquor in rapid succession. They are mercilessly mocked and kicked out of every frat house they enter. Just when they are about to give up hope and resign themselves to a lonely college experience, they’re invited to another kind of rush party. It’s for a social club, which is believed to be much more elite. This all sounds like a setup in a Judd Apatow movie, where the boys will run into a series of hilarious sexual exploits. But then, the sinister undertones start rolling in.
2018 has finally come to an end. Despite the political hellfire it raged for its 365-day duration, 2018 brought us films like Shoplifters, Roma, Cold War, The Rider, and Revenge (you can check out all of our favorites of 2018 here). It was a year for badass women on screen. It was a year for horses. But, it was also a year that brought us disappointments and tragedies, such as Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody, who both won Golden Globes.
Despite that tragedy, 2019 still holds a treasure trove of cinema, from Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Star Wars: Episode IX to High Life and Jojo Rabbit. Jordan Peele is releasing another horror movie, Edward Cullen is going to space, Isabelle Huppert is going to try and kidnap Chloe Grace Moretz. That’s just a taste of what this year will bring to the big (and sometimes small) screens.
Without further ado, here are our most anticipated films of 2019.