Its floundering box office performance notwithstanding, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is a fierce horror film with art house sensibilities. A woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives an idyllic life with her writer husband, only known as Him (Javier Bardem), in the country.
Then two strangers arrive at the house, asking for a room, Mother (as Lawrence’s character is called) obliges, but when Man (one of the guests) falls ill and his family arrives–The Oldest Son and Younger Brother–violence begins to intrude on the once-quiet life of Mother. When Him finds success with his latest work and Mother finds herself expecting, a large group of fans of Him’s work arrive, and the film quickly accelerates towards a surreal, violent conclusion.
Much has been written about the meaning of mother!–is it an allegory about environmentalism? Or The Bible? Or society as a whole?–but it’s also a potent horror film with a particularly shocking and gruesome conclusion that punctuates everything that proceeds it. Although not a film with mass appeal–a mistake Paramount Pictures made when putting it into wide release–mother! is the latest film of one of the film world’s most interesting contemporary directors that’s worth watching. But keep in mind: it is a horror film first, as its content vividly reflects.
Justine goes off to veterinary school and finds something awaken inside of her. She’s initially nervous but tries to find her way in the new social scene on campus. First experimenting lightly, she eventually succumbs to her desires and dives into her dangerous new lust with abandon. We’re not talking about a sexual awakening here (or are we?) but cannibalism.
As Justine starts to unconsciously act upon her hunger for flesh and begins to slowly realize what she is, the gore begins to fill the screen and the audience is left wondering whether this is a horror film or a twisted coming-of-age story–and the answer may be both.
Raw is a unique horror film that doesn’t depend on supernatural elements or an easily explained cause for its more gruesome content. Justine (played by Garance Marillier) gives a strong performance as a young woman who’s frightened by, but unable to control, her urges. Depicting ravenous cannibalistic acts as erotic and using Justine’s horrifying predilection as symbolic of other emerging primal instincts, director Julia Ducournau creates an atmospheric and impactful horror film that’s truly unique.
While it delivers on the gore and violence that horror fans expect, Raw also delves a little deeper than most films in the genre tend to while also being a female-driven film in a genre that normally depicts women for the sole purpose of either walking dead meat or living T&A. For a cerebral horror film with more than a little bite, Raw’s one of the best of 2017 so far.
3. Get Out
Chris is a black photographer visiting his white girlfriend’s family for an extended weekend and quickly realizes that something’s very wrong with all of the other minorities he comes across in their neighborhood–particularly when a black guest at the family’s party has a seizure when Chris takes a picture of him and warns him to “get out.”
Although at first Chris tries to explain away the odd behaviors of the other black people present as him being self-conscious around this white family, he starts to suspect something much worse is going on–particularly from his girlfriend’s hypnotizing mother. Although he tries to escape, he’s captured and restrained while this family explains to him just what they’re doing with the black people they capture.
A social satire wrapped in a horror film, Get Out is written and directed by Jordan Peele and was a giant hit when it was released earlier this year, taking in $251 million on a $4.5 million budget. Smartly addressing the problematic issues between white liberalism and black culture in America, Peele creates a potent metaphor for appropriation and a cracking good horror film at the same time.
Race relations in America are often difficult to articulate on-screen, particularly if the creative team behind it aren’t of the race under discussion. But in Get Out, Peele addresses some uncomfortable truths simmering under the surface of polite American society between whites and blacks and does so with an appropriately healthy dose of horror.
2. It Comes At Night
Perhaps the scariest thing in the world is the unknown. Everyone fears an aspect of the unknown in their daily lives: of the future, the safety of their children, or just the everyday anxiety of not knowing what the next day may bring.
In It Comes At Night, the audience is aware that there is an ever-present danger out in the world–mainly, a plague that’s quickly decimating the world’s population–but the family the film centers on has already fled the world, finding some semblance of safety in the isolation of the woods. But this tentative sense of safety is shattered when an unknown person, and then his family, join them in their small cabin.
But this quiet peace is shattered when an unseen presence seems to be haunting them. As tensions rise between the members of the families and one family accuses the other of being ill with the plague. Its ending is savage and upsetting, revealing that fear of the unknown is often a way to deny the actual dangers of one’s own reality. It Comes By Night is an intense, claustrophobic film that plays on the palpable tensions and fears of its characters.
Well-shot and producing an eerie atmosphere, It Comes By Night oddly didn’t do as well as expected at the box office. Perhaps because it chose to play up unseen fears rather than showing on-screen graphic violence let down some horror fans, but this horror film is far more affecting and ultimately disturbing than most graphic murder-filled slasher films.
Instead, It Comes By Night is a slow burn of a long fuse, making the eventual final explosion that much more disturbing. It’s the best horror film so far in 2017–and if no better contenders show up at theaters by December, it may just be the best of the year.
1. It: Chapter One
It: Chapter One has blown away all box office expectations to become one of the highest-grossing films of the year and both the second highest-grossing R-rated movie and second highest-grossing horror movie of all time. Audiences flocked to the theaters and critics gushed over its quality when this first-rate adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most popular books was released in September 2017.
And it’s easy to see why: it’s a great horror film and a stellar adaptation of one of King’s most terrifying stories. Centered around a group of adolescents in Derry, Maine who call themselves The Loser’s Club over the course of one summer as they are confronted by a terrifying eldritch abomination that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise, It: Chapter One updated the time period from the late 1950s to the late 1980s and freely adapts from the source material to create its own version of the story while also retaining the spirit and tone of the book.
While an excellent horror movie, its nostalgic air, themes of the power of friendship, and loss of innocence is core to the film–but of course it’s also often a terrifying vision of one of King’s most memorable monsters.
Directed by Andy Muschietti and with top-notch cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, It: Chapter One smartly separates the “childhood” and “adulthood” structure that were interwoven in both King’s novel and the 1990 miniseries, focusing on The Losers Club and their first encounter with Pennywise to create a more suspenseful film. Here’s to hoping the sequel, It: Chapter Two can retain the charm–and terror–of one of 2017’s best horror films.
Author’s bio: Mike Gray is a writer whose work has appeared on numerous websites and maintains a TV and film site at MeLikeMovies.com.