Sheesh, I am so glad this year is over. While mentally and emotionally exhausting, I am fortunate to transition into a new year a much wiser person, and I look back on a year I was able to make meaningful connections and fully come to terms with the relationship I have with films as not just a fleeting hobby, but a source of great purposeful expression.
I'm not very big on lists because they often fail to encompass an experience, a theme that is vast and (yes) complicated and deserves thorough consideration. With film, I struggle with keeping things succinct. But I couldn't pass up a chance on talking about some of the stories that sparked vitriol, praise, and something in between. Instead of over thinking this effort, I worked from my gut, immersed in the moment on how I feel about some of this year's offers. Below, I think I struck a nice balance.
With such an interesting and frightening real life case to draw from, Annabelle goes into a completely different direction in an attempt to demonstrate an "original" story that feels neither original nor interesting. What we get instead are two very unremarkable Barbie/Ken characters and a white savior trope (Alfre Woodard's Evelyn) for good measure just to tie this mess of a film together. I'm not sure what bothers me more: that Evelyn provided nothing to the story but that trope or that there was no attempt to even stick to the original, obscure story of the actual doll. Spoon feeding an audience Manson Family-like cultists as responsible for the doll's possession just feels like a cop-out. Annabelle seemed removed from a tale about the random acts of supernatural evil beyond human understanding which The Conjuring implied.
*(Un-)Honorable Mention: V/H/S: Viral (2014)
What a complete waste of time. For the directors, writers, actors, additional crew, production company, and most of all: us; the fans of the two prior anthologies that although not perfect, did a lot of things right. V/H/S: Viral was probably the laziest film I've ever seen and the most disappointing film I was anticipating this year if not ever. Even some of the likeable aspects of Viral are completely overshadowed by how inconclusive a lot of the stories are and feel without any characters to actively enjoy. The enigma that is how this complete train wreck was green-lighted, I have to say, fascinates me in the most irritating of ways.
The Taking Of Deborah Logan (2014)
It's not the growing old that scares me. It is the possibility of losing memories and an awareness that I cripple at the thought of burdening my loved ones with. With Mia (Michelle Ang) heading a film project documenting the effects of Alzheimer's disease in one patient, she along with her crew, look to understand it to hopefully, find an effective treatment. Of course in a horror film, what they find is something much more sinister that's plaguing poor Deborah (played by veteran actress, Jill Larson). What follows is all very past-meets-present with the overarching theme of innocence lost that is deeply unsettling and doesn't leave you at ease at any point. I'm glad this film was recommended to me. Going in with no context and fresh eyes just made the viewing experience that much more exciting.
The First Time Viewing Throwback
The Wicker Man (1973)
This was somewhat of a different film than what I was expecting. I had some concept of what it was about, but finally sitting down to absorb the details, I was pleasantly surprised by how bold The Wicker Man is and how much conflict I found within myself to grasp the dual ideological positions within it that demonstrate a shaping of a lifestyle, people, and space. For its time period, it makes no excuse for relaying how times were changing approaching the now 21st century. What was scary is that The Wicker Man offers a safe distance from the terror, but it also states in an abstract way that a peaceful co-existence of difference will stubbornly, never be an option.
Dear White People (2014)
Aside from this film not being as meaty of a character study for a film about identity, only because of a completely understandable position to focus on four, diverse characters in a 108 minute film is the only thing that fell slightly short. But with each jump from character to character, you get snapshots of a highly self-aware, millennial constituency that are coming to terms with what it means to be authentically themselves while Black on their systematically white, prestigious, and privileged university campus. Dear White People stands out because it is the film many of us have been waiting to see. Writer/director Justin Simien's cinematic articulation is clearly influenced by the avant-garde filmmaking approach of the likes of Spike Lee, but it is clear he has a style of his own that feels a bit less insular and much more in tune to the very abstract concept of Blackness in America.
What's biting is that Dear White People challenges even the sensibilities of a 'Black community', which especially as outsiders look in, need to accept that the bottom line is, like finger prints, each Black person is unique. Shocker. Self acceptance is the biggest take away from the film and there's nothing purposefully neat about it to transmit the clearer message of a complex human condition that has tried to be simplified for centuries. Dear White People fights back for a younger generation and I'm glad it's around as a tool for this larger discussion.
The Babadook (2014)
Why The Babadook is one of the best films I've seen in a long time is that it's riddled with an anxiety that attacks every layer of your skin until it gets inside of your heart and mind. There are millions of mothers on the planet, millions of others who will become mothers, and we've all been children seeking the love we needed to survive from those in charge of our well being. One of the biggest lessons that we learn in life is that our parents and guardians are not perfect, and that the world does not center around us as we transition into adulthood and contemplate becoming parents ourselves.
The relationship between Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is a perfectly crafted depiction of my favorite theme in horror: how our emotional energies are manifested into supernatural occurrences beyond our control. The Babadook has beats that I found unbelievably terrifying and the build up was a ride I wanted to get off of but just couldn't. When Amelia shields herself in fear (of what we learn is a part of herself), so do I.
Upon second watch, there's something deeply personal I found within The Babadook I didn't think I would find. Samuel's disconnect with those around him and his stark imagination feels very close to my own childhood (sans the physical koala-like clingyness) and relationship to a single mother that didn't fully understand me. And sometimes, her impatience was evident. I've read Samuel described in reviews in ways that overlook the fact that this kid acted out in the most inconvenient of ways because his basic emotional needs were not being met. Needs that for a parent not grieving and suffering from the loss of a mate or otherwise impaired would maybe be effortless. For good measure, Amelia's position is so deeply sympathetic, her attempts genuine, that you're stoically invested in her triumph even beyond the film's run.
The Babadook is awesome because there isn't one aspect of this film, from germ to execution that doesn't hit the bullseye each time. Jennifer Kent has written a universal masterpiece that I'm happy to see showing signs of becoming timeless and memorable not just in horror film history, but the medium in general.
*Honorable mention: Here Comes The Devil (2012)
Keeping in step with themes of family spiraling out of control as favorites for me this year, Here Comes The Devil was a delightful surprise. Covering itself in symbolism involving puberty and coming of age, it also sneers at any distant comfort for audience members through implications of incest, sexual assault, and of course, very bizarre 'ish happening.
Sol (Laura Caro) shows deep concern for what really happened to her two children after taking a trip with them and her husband, thinking them lost, and their return. Back in the reality of their everyday lives, something is very off, and Sol will do anything to figure out what's going on. She doesn't like what she finds. Here Comes The Devil works well off of suspense and a fear of the unknown. It's a high recommend.