7. Night Moves
Rather than being a remake, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves merely borrows its title from Arthur Penn’s massively overlooked 1975 neo-noir thriller masterpiece starring Gene Hackman. It is indeed a bold move for the writer-director to go ahead with, but the film lives up to its title’s stature as it quickly reveals itself to be an original and provocative film in its own right.
Night Moves is effectively a film of two halves; the first half efficiently showcases a trio of extreme environmentalists planning and then executing the destruction of a hydroelectric dam. Instead of dwelling on their motives, (which are only subtly touched upon) the film simply sets up the characters: the edgy and taciturn Josh (Eisenberg), the restless Dean (Fanning) and their senior assistant Harmon (Skarsgaard) who is just a little too nonchalant for the other two’s comfort.
As for the second half, Reichardt simply allows the characters she has developed to simply exist anxiously in the world they have now created for themselves after their mission botches. In this sense, the script is bold enough to allow its characters to supplant plotting making Night Moves much more than a run-of-the-mill thriller.
6. The Borderlands
This increasingly chilling British horror film is one of greatest found-footage horror films for some time and certainly one of the scariest films of the year along with The Babadook (2014).
The slow-burning plot sees an agnostic tech expert and two Vatican-sanctioned paranormal investigators who are sent to a church in a small village to, ironically, debunk the increasingly severe poltergeist activity as a hoax. Soon enough, the team realise that what is happening there is not a hoax, nor is it what one would call a ‘miracle’.
The Borderlands makes the hurdle of justifying why everybody is carrying a camera around during such horrifying circumstances which other found-footage films often fail to make. This, in turn, works wonders for the film’s immersive draw, enabling the humorous back-and-forth between the characters to seem matter-of-fact and for the horrifying finale to hit a lot harder than it would in a lesser film.
5. Cheap Thrills
Cheap Thrills is an unscrupulous and savage piece of work from first-time director, E.L. Katz which follows the recent trend of ‘recession horrors/thrillers’, films that use the recent economic crisis as a narrative springboard.
Within the film, the ‘down-and–out’ characters (specifically, the star, Pat Healy) are made to unethically humiliate and physically mutilate themselves and essentially sell their souls in hopes of keeping from dropping below the breadline at the whim of a senselessly rich couple. In essence, they are merely jumping through hoops for the entertainment of the disreputably wealthy.
The film may be a little too crass at times and will obviously not be suited to everyone’s taste, but it is not without some well-placed humour and the 88 minutes simply fly by. David Koechner also deserves specific credit for his tongue-in-cheek performance as the demented rich man of the couple.
4. Under the Skin
Under the Skin currently stands as one of the strangest and most disconcerting of the 21st century.
Its minimal premise – which was adapted from Michael Faber’s 2000 novel – features Scarlett Johansson (a drastic deviation from her recent Marvel successes) as a nameless extra-terrestrial that has adopted the physique of a seductive young woman that spends its time driving around Glasgow in a white can, luring unsuspecting males towards a truly ghastly demise.
What this film provides is a study of the physical form and modern society from an extrinsic perspective; it tackles the notion of beauty being skin deep, as well as exploring just how comfortable we are with our own bodies and minds. All of this echoes the greatest works if David Cronenberg: Rabid (1977), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988) and so on.
Under the Skin is one of the most challenging films of the last few years (let alone 2014) and it seems to be channelling the cold and clinical works of Kubrick with the often unromanticised socialism of Loach’s films into something that is transgressive and original.
3. The Guest
The Guest is quite simply the most fun you may have with a movie for a long time; it’s a rip-roaring, bullets-blazing, wise-cracking, action/mystery thriller with a fiendishly charismatic lead performance from Dan Stevens.
Stevens stars as David, a discharged soldier who arrives at the home of a recently deceased army friend with apparent orders to make sure all is well with the family. The family – who are still coping with the loss – willingly welcome David in to stay until he decides where he wants to travel to next at least.
Although charming, amiable and nothing less than a stand-up citizen on the surface, David’s sometimes awkward and volatile demeanour surely does spell something amiss with him… In a nutshell, the film very much a B-movie rendering of Stoker (2013).
The film plays like it’s been lifted straight out of the 1980s with its primarily electronic score, bands such as Sisters of Mercy and Clan of Xymox featuring on the soundtrack, a subtle subtext regarding current political and war affairs and its successful wry humour. The Guest knows what audience it’s playing to and it should wholly succeed in satisfying them, without alienating anyone else.
Suitably, The Guest has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek the whole time; it never takes itself so seriously enough to look stupid and admirably fulfils its primary function: to deliver dark thrills and slick action, but achieved in a way which contrasts itself with contemporary thrillers. How this film grossed less than $2 million worldwide is a total mystery.
2. Starry Eyes
There was a David Cronenberg film released this year called Maps to the Stars which many cinephiles will have no doubt seen. Maps to the Stars was indeed a great satirical film about the perils of Hollywood and celebrity culture, but imagine for a second if Cronenberg had made it between 1976 and 1988, during his highly influential ‘body-horror’ phase – the result would arguably be very, very similar film to Starry Eyes.
Starry Eyes is, on one hand, an unnerving but compulsive psycho-drama as its protagonist, Sarah (Alex Essoe), gives anything – including her ever-fraying sanity – to make it to the red carpet, and on the other, part a gruellingly graphic exercise in ‘body-horror’ as her old self undergoes a grisly cosmetic change to make way for her ‘new’ self after she has ostensibly sold her soul for fame.
As previously mentioned, this film approaches its central themes of Hollywood and its alluring surface with the same cynicism as Maps to the Stars does, but in a much more visceral and explicit fashion. One truly repellent sequence even pays homage to the gooey bathroom mirror/fingernail sequence in Cronenberg’s classic remake of The Fly – so, you have been warned!
To summarise, Starry Eyes is, without a doubt, one of the most unsettling and unflinching horror films of recent years. Watch with caution.
1. Cold in July
Along with The Guest (which would make a perfect double-bill with this film) Cold in July is the sort of film you wish that you could own on VHS. Jim Mickle’s and Nick Damici’s 2014 collaboration, Cold in July, continued the pair’s successful output of some of the most thrilling genre films in recent years – beginning with Mulberry Street (2006), before gaining international recognition and further acclaim with Stake Land (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013).
This southern-fried thriller focuses upon Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), a picture-framer living, perhaps discontentedly, with his wife and son in Texas. One night he (somewhat accidentally) shoots an intruder dead in his home prompting the ex-con father of the intruder (Sam Shepard) to come looking for vengeance.
From then on, the film ensued in throwing curveball after curveball so it is almost impossible to discern what may be happening ten minutes down the line, never mind during the final act.
On the surface, the film appears to be exercise in squeezing as many genres that were prominent during the 80s into a blender, as well as exploring one man’s search for his own masculinity, spurred on by finding himself in the company of two absolute pillars of machismo – the well-cast Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (who plays a larger-than-life private investigator-cum-Pig farmer).
When examined a little closer however, Cold in July is essentially a tale of fatherhood – centrally, it is Richard who is trying to prove himself as an able father by taking heed from those around him, specifically Shepard. As Nick Damici described it – it’s a “coming-of-age story for a 40-year old”.
In years to come, Cold in July may very well be looked back on as Mickle and Damici’s very best work.
Author Bio: Liam Hathaway has a lifelong passion of watching and reading about any/every sort of film which has lead him to be a Film Studies student at Sheffield Hallam University. His favourite directors at the moment are John Carpenter, Ben Wheatley, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese.