My film experiences this year have been the most diverse they've ever been. A reasonable amount of time was spent in the theatres: free screenings, alone, as a pair, in groups, weekend marathons with friends, random Netflix picks, Amazon rentals, holiday challenges, and whatever's on cable by bedtime. Aside from throwing a player hater's ball in reaction to those who experienced Fantastic Fest 2015 and the like, I divorced my fervent anticipation for 2016 releases with the 2015 buffet in front of me. While I initially wasn't sure I had much to say about the last 365 days as a horror fan, it took a bit of Letterboxd perusing to remember that this year leaves me with much to ruminate.
The Really Good
Unfriended | Released April 2015
Back in the 1990's, I went to a friend's birthday gathering at her home. Once our bellies were sugar filled and she opened her modest amount of gifts, a very teen-aged discussion naturally evolved into personal encounters with the supernatural. The birthday girl recounted a time when her television circuited into a much more eerie, Shocker-esque vision of a crying girl on her screen unlike anything you'd see on a program. It felt real. There were no remote control glitches that could explain such a frightening and surreal experience. It was the first time that I imagined that our evolving technology could somehow operate as some kind of conduit for dimensions unseen. I've been a horror fan all my life, so crazy ideas such as this one was not out of my wheelhouse.
Although it seemed as if Unfriended was exclusively marketed towards the teenage populace of today, those with an endless need for a wi-fi connection span a very wide age range. One of the things that make this film so clever is your ability to feel absolutely no sympathy for any of the characters. And that's genius here. For us crotchety 30-somethings on upwards, there likely isn't much we can relate to amongst the five, hormonal loudmouths we see on screen, but because the internet is such a big part of many of our livelihoods, watching it used as a weapon with sinister repercussions (all on one girl's computer screen no less) is on par with the way people felt about mobile phones after Scream.
Unfriended does an entertaining job of being reflective commentary about the ways in which the world wide web can just plain suck sometimes. And in this universe, it bites back.
*For more, read Matt Barone's article, "Horror's Newest Haunted House Is Your Social Media Feed"
Other Memorable Prizes: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Krampus, A Christmas Horror Story, Tales Of Halloween, Cooties, Kristy, The Guest, Final Girl, The Atticus Institute, The Nightmare, Last Shift
The Pretty Awful
Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus | Released January 2015
If there's one thing I really hate, it's when people are spooked by the fact that the work attached to their name could be considered genre. And doubly insulting is the dishonoring of heavily used source material that crushes the spirit of that source, opting to otherwise bash an audience in the head with overt, sociopolitical messages as if we're not intelligent enough to understand nuance. Spike Lee's failed re-interpretation of Bill Gunn's esoteric speculative work, Ganja & Hess (1973) packaged as Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus was a souless mess of a film from that of which has always struggled to gain the appreciation I think it richly deserves.
I honestly feel bad for those who donated to this Kickstarter campaign. It is because of Lee's late 80's/early 90's masterpieces (Bamboozled included as one of the later gems) that there's faith in what the filmmaker can produce. There seems to be a disconnect in telling a story that doesn't rely so exhaustively on news headlines or characters that are reminiscent of a Family Guy segue. I'm not 100% against remakes. This would've been a perfect opportunity to expand on the essence of Ganja & Hess and really embrace some genre and the mark of this film's most finest subtleties.
*Check out Tarik Davis' outstanding essay, "Is Respectability Politics Killing Black Horror?"
The Overdue, First-Time Watch
The Last Broadcast (1998)
I'm extremely open minded about found footage horror films. The Last Broadcast was the first of its kind, much overshadowed during the time by The Blair Witch Project, which relied on a successful marketing concept that sensationalized a simple supernatural story and impacted the state of independent filmmaking in ways we see today. The gritty, low budget atmosphere that immerses, if not drowns you in what feels like a real life x-file was eerily terrifying.
The movie plays out like a true crime mystery documentary about a pair of cable access hosts who travel deep into the woods in able to uncover the truth about a local urban legend with national recognition. Their disappearance is the focus of the story which does the most with unpacking every, possible clue as to their current whereabouts. If you cringe whenever you hear the Unsolved Mysteries theme, you can imagine The Last Broadcast is one, long spin-off of it.
More Check List Picks: The Mist, Society, I Saw The Devil, The Skeleton Key, Death Spa, Phenomena, Tales From The Crypt