It’s that time again!
I am a big horror fan, though alas it seems like I haven’t read any horror novels at all this year — I was too busy going through C.J. Cherryh’s entire Foreigner series. Dang, I’ll need to fix that for next year.
However, I do watch a lot of horror movies, and watch people play horror games on Youtube. I’m aware of myself enough as a big chicken to not want to play them myself, plus I have a lot of other work to do, so I spend most of my time with horror-material on as background noises. I guess I’m soothed by the sound of screams…
Anyway, some highlights of the year. As always, I list things in the year that I watch them, rather than the year they came out.
The first movie I want to highlight is Housebound. It’s a quirky horror comedy from New Zealand, following the female protagonist Kylie, who’s been sentenced to house-arrest in the home of her mother and stepfather, and through a combination of boredom and mild criminal tendencies ends up stumbling into a long-time mystery of the area. What’s a girl to do when she’s legally required to stay in a house that appears to be haunted, and is having her arrest enforced by a security guard who desperately wants to investigate it?
I enjoyed the main actress’s portrayal of her reprobate character, who though certainly sulky and rude in the initial part of the story, at least has reasons for it — she’s a restless twenty-something trapped at home with a sweet but credulous mother she’s clearly tried to escape, and falls quickly back into teenage behaviors. It’s that restlessness that first gets her off the couch and investigating the neighbors though, and after that she drags along everyone in her little circle, trying to get the situation solved, despite frequent brush-offs by authority figures who assume she’s taking drugs again. Also it’s funny!
Next is — well, let’s stick with New Zealand horror-comedy for the moment. I watched What We Do In the Shadows just a few days ago, and good lord… It’s a mockumentary about four ancient vampires sharing a flat in NZ, who have for some reason decided to let a camera crew into their lives as they go about their nightly rituals — arguing about who does the dishes, struggling to dress themselves without the use of mirrors, haranguing their personal assistant-like familiars, and trying desperately to lure in prey. When one of their victims is made into a new vampire and moves in with them, the ancient four are suddenly exposed to modern technology, better nightclub access, new people — and werewolves, and vampire-hunters, and the tribulation of the yearly supernatural-monster masquerade ball…
This movie is consistently goofy, amusingly bloody, dead-on in its parody of roommate-style reality TV, and very well anchored by the vampiric members of the cast. It’s got a down-at-the-heels aesthetic I quite enjoyed too; these vampires may be ancient conquerors, but in the modern world they’re just shabby, archaic and a bit confused. And it’s endearing.
Speaking of ancient vampires in the modern world, Only Lovers Left Alive features Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as just that. Adam and Eve (no relation) have had an on-again-off-again relationship for centuries, in that while they are married, they spend most of the time on different continents — with Eve currently in Morocco and Adam in Detroit. This movie also makes good use of that shabby, run-down, back-street aesthetic; there’s not much bustle in this world, and a sense of abandonment and decay at every turn — much like the way these vampires’ (un)lives are trending. The two of them and their friend Marlowe have spent a long time sipping from blood-banks and other illicit but non-victim food supplies; however, when Eve’s wild ‘sister’ shows up, she throws their already precarious situation into a tailspin from which it might not recover.
I’m not sure if it’s quite horror, despite the vampiric trappings. This is a slow and contemplative movie, with more musing on the ennui that comes from eternal life than anything bloodthirsty. They are parasites at the end of their tethers and they know it — yet they persist in clinging to ‘life’, even th0ugh they disdain what it has become. Also I quite liked the soundtrack.
Last, for the movies, we have Crimson Peak. Hello again, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska! This is a very recent one — still playing, I think — but one I’d been anticipating for a while, because….well….Tom. Hi Tom!
Fangirling aside, this wasn’t really about Tom’s character, and I’m fine with it. It’s also not a particularly scary movie, nor does it try to be. The ghosts aren’t afraid to show their ghastly faces; they don’t bother leaping out to jump-scare music, but straight-up stalk the halls and try to warn the frail, pallid protagonist of her impending doom. This is absolutely appropriate for the Gothic romance it really is, and the trailers that push the whole ‘what lies beneath Crimson Peak??’ angle are entirely wrong to do that. If there are monsters in Crimson Peak, they’re not underground at all.
The set design and costuming are gorgeous. Seriously. Again with the artistic decay, but oh my god. There’s a lot of somewhat dull midnight wandering, but it’s well-made up by the vicious confrontation at the end. And also there’s Jim Beaver as the protagonist’s gruff but loving father — yay! I like him. Great movie, super atmospheric and holy shit that ending.
Alas, I seem to have selected mostly brooding or amusing horror movies this year, not ones that are really scary. While I did enjoy some creepers like Oculus and The Babadook, they didn’t particularly hit me where it counts. I prefer identity-horror, like The Broken or Enemy or +1 (Plus One), and nothing I watched this year really dug into that.
Honorable mention, though, goes to As Above So Below, for being the recipient of a campaign just as misleading as Crimson Peak’s. This was billed as a kind of ‘The-Descent’-under-Paris movie, when in fact it felt more like Lara Croft having a bad day. I liked it a lot, especially since it completely explained itself if you just paid attention.
On the games front, though…
Well, I’ll just leave this here: