8. The Divide (2011) – Xavier Gens
Plot: A nuclear explosion rips through New York and forces the residents of a tower block to take shelter in the basement. The eight survivors – including Michael Biehn as the superintendent – must then try and survive, even as inner tensions and the effects of radiation sickness threaten to consume them.
Reasons to Watch: The Divide effectively dramatises the breakdown of trust and cohesion that can occur in a group of people put in an extreme situation: in this case, a nuclear holocaust. It also shows how such a situation can bring out the worst in human nature. In The Divide, it is despair, not the radiation outside, which is the real threat.
The screenplay does have its flaws, especially in regards to character development. Solid performances from an experienced cast and confident direction from Frontier(s) director Xavier Gens more than make up for this though.
9. The Squad (2011) – Jaime Osorio Marquez
Plot: A group of soldiers are sent are sent to investigate a military base in the mountains after it ceases communications. They arrive expecting to find the remains of a guerrilla attack. Instead they discover only one body, walls scrawled with prayers, and a hysterical woman walled up in a secret room. After one of their number is killed, the squad begins to break down as the men become prey to paranoia and superstition.
Reasons to Watch: In The Squad, first-time director Jaime Osorio Marquez delivers a well paced and atmospheric chiller. The mist shrouded mountain on which the majority of the narrative takes place is a great setting and, because of its isolation, comes across as a kind of purgatory to which the men have been confined.
The cast all deliver assured performances and the characters they play are well fleshed-out. The tensions and friendships within the film’s titular unit are also effectively defined so we are never in doubt as to the characters relationships with each other.
Jamie Marquez has yet to direct another feature, yet based on the strength of this you can’t help but hope he makes another soon.
10. Resolution (2012) – Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorhead
Plot: Mike Danube is a graphic designer living in the city with his wife. One day he receives a disturbing video from his old friend Chris along with a map. When he visits the location on the map, he finds Chris living in a run down cabin and now deep in the throes of crack addiction.
After Chris refuses to go to rehab, Mike forcibly handcuffs him and says he’ll stay with him for the seven days it takes him to detox. In the week that follows, Mike discovers a series of videos, vinyls, and other media depicting a variety of tragic events seemingly tied to the area around the cabin.
Reasons to Watch: Upon its initial release, Resolution was heavily compared to The Cabin in the Woods, a film which it had the misfortune to be released at around the same time as. These comparisons are apt in the sense that both films explore the nature of cinematic narratives and how they are constructed.
Whilst The Cabin in the Woods is both an overt homage to and satire of the horror genre, however, Resolution is a film that exists very much within its own universe; there are no copious film or pop culture references to be found anywhere.
Indeed, rather than sending up a certain genre, Resolution is concerned with a more human story. Its central characters are not wink-wink nudge-nudge clichés, they are well drawn and complex people who find themselves sucked into something they can’t possibly control. This means we care about them.
Aside from its attention to characterisation, Resolution’s other key strength lies in its atmosphere. Every shot as soon as Mike arrives at the cabin is infused with a sense of unease whose source is difficult to trace. In this sense, Resolution has more in common with the work of David Lynch – especially Twin Peaks – than with other contemporary horror films.
11. Found (2012) – Scott Schirmer
Plot: Marty is a horror obsessed 12-year old who knows all his family’s secrets: his father has a stash of porno mags in the garage, his mother keeps love letters from a past boyfriend, and his brother is a racist serial killer who keeps the heads of his victims in his closet.
Combining horror and coming of age story, Found follows Marty as he attempts to reconcile his love for his brother and the discovery he’s made.
Reasons to Watch: Found is a horror film that reminds you of the importance of horror films. No other genre can penetrate into the depths of the human psyche in the same way. What Found explores specifically – and does very well – is the trauma created by finding out a person you love is a monster.
Gavin Brown and Ethan Philbeck put in good performances as Marty and his brother Steve respectively and add human weight to a story that is by its nature quite upsetting and disturbing.
Writer/Director Scott Schirmer also wisely chooses to adhere to Marty’s perspective and keeps Steve’s actions – though not the evidence of them – out of frame for the majority of the film. This makes what happens in the grim final sequence all the more shocking.
Although it received little attention outside of the horror community during its initial release, Found has developed something of a cult following. A successful Kickstarter campaign has seen Headless – a slasher film that Marty watches in one scene – being turned into a full length feature with Arthur Cullipher, special effects supervisor and associate producer on Found, as director.
12. The Sacrament (2013) – Ti West
Plot: Photographer Patrick receives a letter from his sister, a recovering drug addict, inviting him to visit her at the religious commune in which she is living. Patrick agrees to come along and brings two friends from VICE to help document life at the commune.
When they arrive, they discover the supposedly pacifist community is guarded by heavily armed men and led by a charismatic preacher known as ‘Father.’ As the journalists begin to dig deeper, they find dark and horrifying secrets lying just below the surface of the seemingly idyllic utopia.
Reasons to Watch: Ti West’s (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) fifth feature film is probably his most brutal and upsetting. In its depiction of a group of people falling into the abyss at the behest of a charismatic leader, it takes liberally – for some critics too liberally – from the events of the Jonestown massacre. The knowledge that events like those in the film have happened in real life, ensure that it has more of an impact than many other horror films being made at the moment.
The Sacrament’s found-footage style only adds to the realism of the piece. Unlike many similar films, this style is also justified since two of the characters are meant to be investigative journalists.
Other plus points include some solid performances, most especially from Gene Jones as ‘Father.’ He captures our attention from the very first scene he appears in, and as he talks about the injustices of the world and his reasons for wanting to isolate his followers from society, it becomes hard, even for the viewer, not to be pulled in by his words.
Although the film is far from flawless – it would be nice if Ti West applied more creative license – it still serves as a vivid expose of the dangers of fanaticism.
13. ABCs of Death 2 (2014) – Various
Plot: In an anthology of 26 short films – with titles derived from letters of the alphabet – different directors from across the globe attempt to weave their own tales of horror.
Reasons to Watch: Like all anthology films, ABCs of Death 2 has its strong segments and its weak ones. The former outnumber the latter, however, and even the weak ones have interesting ideas.
There are stand outs: the surreal, stop-motion animated ‘D for Deloused’ will leave you intrigued as much as horrified while ‘O for Ochlocracy (mob rule)’ puts an interesting spin on the zombie film. The darkly comedic final segment ‘Z for Zygote’ also adds another issue to the many already faced by pregnant women and is probably best avoided by those seeking to have a child.
If you’re looking to check out some recent horror anthologies put this at the top of your list.
14. Honeymoon (2014) – Leigh Janiak
Plot: Newly married couple Bea and Paul go to a woodland cabin for their honeymoon. Everything seems fine until one night Bea disappears into the surrounding woods. When Paul eventually finds her she is naked and confused but claims to have merely been sleepwalking.
In the days that follow, Bea’s behaviour becomes more and more bizarre. She also begins to display worrisome physical symptoms such as the appearance of strange marks on her legs. Could all this be connected with the strange lights appearing at night and Bea’s mysterious relationship with a man from her past?
Reasons to Watch: Honeymoon is one of those films that show you only need two things to make a really great movie: a good script and good actors. The former gives us a convincing and often harrowing depiction of the breakdown of a relationship. The latter, Rose Leslie and Harry Treadway, bring it to life with raw emotionality and energy. Do not be fooled into thinking Honeymoon is merely a melodrama masquerading as a horror, however.
After using the first half of the film to ensure we become emotionally invested in the central characters, director Leigh Janiak takes the second into pure body horror territory. A certain scene in the couple’s bedroom might even make David Cronenberg blush.
Honeymoon had the misfortune of being released at around the same time as other critically acclaimed fare such as The Babadook. Although it may not pack the same emotional wallop as that film, it still knows how to mix horror with a real human story.
15. Starry Eyes (2014) – Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Plot: Many people go to Hollywood with dreams of stardom. Few, however, actually achieve it. Starry Eyes takes the ambition that drives people to seek fame and puts it under a microscope. What it finds isn’t pretty.
The film tells the story of Sarah, a young woman who works as a waitress but who has dreams of being an actress. One day she gets called to audition for a film called The Silver Scream, which is being produced by the prestigious Astraeus Pictures.
After being put through a less than conventional audition, to put it lightly, Sarah is called back for more, with each one putting her through progressively greater physical and psychological extremes. Will it all be worth it in the end? Or can it only lead to the loss of her identity and the destruction of her friendships?
Reasons to Watch: Essentially Starry Eyes is a fairytale: it has a beautiful and talented protagonist, an ugly step sister in the form of Sarah’s acquaintance Erin, and preternatural forces capable of giving Sarah everything she’s ever dreamed of.
It’s a fairytale by way of two David’s though: Cronenberg and Lynch; the intense sequences of body horror in the film show the influence of the former whilst the gloomy depiction of LA and the tale of an innocent’s destruction evoke Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. In many ways though, the film is its own unique beast.
Sarah is not simply an unwitting victim, like many of Lynch’s protagonists, rather she has a dark side and won’t stop when it comes to getting what she wants. It’s this vivid exploration of the destructive effects of one person’s desire and ambition that makes Starry Eyes a uniquely and intensely disturbing watch.
Author Bio: Joshua is a Film Studies graduate residing in Cambridge, England. He dabbles in screenwriting and regularly writes review of recent releases for his blog: http://thatsyouropinionman.blogspot.co.uk/.