7. Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead (Kiah-Roache Turner, Australia)
With zombies fast approaching pop culture saturation point not only with a seemingly endless horde of zombie movies, both mainstream and independent, being released but also the amount of zombie TV shows invading small screens worldwide, it’s quite a wonderful feeling to encounter a wonderful, wonderful new zombie movie that seemingly came out of nowhere (Australia actually).
Reportedly shot during weekends over the course of a few years, it’s simply remarkable how professional and cohesive everything looks here. A mixture of action film and the by now ubiquitous zombie survival film (or in short, Mad Max meets George Romero), director Kiah-Roache Turner shows not only an excellent facility with staging and cutting action scenes, but also a crowd pleasing sense of humor, mostly thanks to the infectious performance of Leon Burchill as comic sidekick Benny.
And how about this, even when we thought we’ve known everything there is to know about zombies, the movie even manages to introduce a few concepts that are totally new to the zombie film genre, which I won’t dream of spoiling for you. Enough of a cult success to have a sequel already announced, it’s probably only a matter of time before Hollywood comes calling for Roache Turner.
6. The Duke Of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, UK)
After paying tribute to the giallo genre with his last film Berberian Sound Studio, British filmmaker Peter Strickland now takes it upon himself to tip his hat to the very European tradition of erotic horror flicks made famous by the likes of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin with his latest film The Duke Of Burgundy.
A quite rare and gorgeous blending of arthouse and horror tropes, the film is set in a world where there’s not one male character in sight and sadomasochism seems to be the norm as evidenced by the existence of characters who don’t even bat an eyelid at the request of making a coffin-like bed as household furniture.
Cleverly using repetition to play with the audience’s perception as to the power play that go on between the central lesbian couple, The Duke Of Burgundy reveals itself to be a touching and sometimes even humorous exploration of what it takes for couples to remain in love and in a relationship. If you’ve never thought that an erotic horror flick could be an emotionally satisfying watch, then this little beauty will definitely change your mind.
5. We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, USA)
Without wanting to sound hyperbolic, the more I think about it, the more I start to believe that the closest rival that It Follows has for the title of scariest horror film of 2015 is this not so well-known and probably quite unheralded little American indie from debuting director Ted Geoghegan.
Although the plot itself clearly owes a fair bit to Lucio Fulci’s classic The House By The Cemetery, in terms of atmosphere and execution the film is quite surely Geoghegan’s tip of the hat to that classic period in the 1970s when TV movies were genuinely scary, like the original version of Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow or the BBC’s very own The Stone Tape.
Like a great many of those great 70s horror TV movies, this one’s a haunted house film, about an elderly couple who moves to a quiet countryside town after their son was killed in a car crash, only to slowly find out that the house they’ve moved into also houses a family of vengeful spirits. The film even manages to slip in the thrills of a home invasion movie as the movie draws to a close as the small town’s secrets and the reasons why the vengeful spirits are in the house gradually come to the fore.
There’s nothing fancy here and it’s practically a really old school kind of horror flick, but you don’t get to encounter something this incredibly well done every day. So forget originality, and just marvel at the rare sight of a proper scary movie.
4. What We Do In The Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
The breakout hit of 2014’s Sundance Film Festival, What We Do In The Shadows is quite simply the funniest mockumentary the world has ever seen since the heyday of Christopher Guest, and even runs a pretty close second to Rob Reiner’s immortal classic This Is Spinal Tap.
Apparently edited from almost 150 hours of improvised footage, directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi has fashioned a tight as hell narrative, with seemingly every single joke landing spectacularly as the group of pals concoct a story about a documentary being made following the daily (or rather nightly) lives of four European vampires who live in Wellington, New Zealand.
They behave like students sharing a flat, get into scrapes with local werewolves, try to get into clubs without much success (remember, they need to be invited in) and even managed to accidentally turn one human into a vampire, with the result that that human’s best friend Stu (a strong candidate for 2015’s most beloved movie character) is also now their best friend.
A new landmark in horror-comedy that will be remembered for years to come, What We Do In The Shadows is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining films of 2015.
3. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, USA)
One of the most heartwarming success stories of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, David Robert Mitchell’s surprise horror smash was such a surprise exactly because he gave no inkling whatsoever in his debut film The Myth Of The American Sleepover that he’s got genre in his blood.
Armed with an unbelievably simple concept of an ‘it’ (which looks like a normal human being, not some kind of monster) that’s passed on through sexual intercourse and which will slowly walk towards you and kill you when it manages to catch up with you, Mitchell exhibits John Carpenter-like expertise at building tension, not even needing to use any fancy effects or make up to scare the hell out of the audience.
Winning raves when it played at the Critics’ Week in Cannes, where it started to build up some really strong word-of-mouth and critical praise, there’s a feeling that It Follows might just be The Babadook of 2015, which proved to be spot on as it has so far collected US$15 in American box-office from a reported budget of just US$2 million, a quite stunning achievement for a low key horror film that doesn’t rely so much on jump scares but instead exploits the viewers’ own paranoia as we keep on spending most of our time scanning the film’s deliberately wide use of its widescreen frame for any signs of the ‘it’ of the film’s title.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, Australia/USA)
One of the best, if not THE best, reviewed films of the year, George Miller’s stunning return to action filmmaking after years of making family films misses out on the number 1 spot only by a hair’s breadth, and that’s mainly because of my personal preference for the kind of emotions and conceptual ingenuity explored by Spring.
In all other aspects, especially in terms of staging, framing and editing (the level of legibility is astonishing – it has around 2,700 shots, which comes to an average shot length of just 2.6 seconds – yet not for one second you’re ever confused about what’s going on in terms of geometry and geography), it is quite simply a marvel of filmmaking artistry.
A true celebration of old school practical stunts, only enhanced slightly by CGI for atmospheric and color purposes, the reason why Mad Max: Fury Road inspired such awe is that not only it feels real, but it’s actually very close to being real – as in, most of the things you see happening on screen did happen, for real – so the danger is real.
The only knock one can give to the film is that the story is, for all intents and purposes, very slight. But even that argument has an answer – it’s not slight, it’s just efficient. It says more with a glance, an action, a reaction, or an implication than any amount of dialogue can. Never mind one of the best genre films of the year, this is just flat out one of the best films of 2015, period.
1. Spring (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, USA)
To reiterate what I wrote about the writing and directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead a few months back in my list of 25 Emerging North American Indie Directors You Need To Know, the pair first caused rumbles of excitement amongst genre fans with their highly impressive genre-bending debut Resolution, a minimalist and low budget cabin in the woods horror flick given a sci-fi twist that showed their facility with coming up with great and eye catching ideas on a limited budget.
Against all odds, they’ve managed to top that off with a real knockout of a follow-up film, ambitiously setting it and shooting in a gorgeous small seaside Italian town (despite the clearly small budget), but making up for that luxury by more or less making it a romantic two-hander between an American guy who goes to Italy for a bit of a break, where he ends up in the aforementioned seaside town and falls in love with a mysterious young woman, who turns out to be more than just another woman.
Expertly blending the naturalistic and chatty romance of Before Sunset with the menacing and even heartbreaking elements of a tragic monster movie, Spring is a film that transcends genre, with an undeniable universal appeal for audiences across all demographics, from midnight movie fans to arthouse connoisseurs to casual US Indiewood and Hollywood observers, and for that it deserves nothing less than the number 1 spot here.
Author Bio: Aidil Rusli is a film geek who’s also the singer-songwriter of Malaysian power pop band Couple (www.facebook.com/wearecouple), and whose geekiness compels him to endlessly write about films in as many avenues and publications as he possibly can.