5. Piercing (2018)
Any genre fan worth a lick knows the name of Japanese novelist Ryū Murakami, the transgressive taskmaster behind such brilliant, darkly comical and mad works of terror as “Almost Transparent Blue” and “Audition”, the basis for Takashi Miike’s celebrated psychological horror film from 1999. And now Nicolas Pesce, the promising writer-director behind 2016’s startling black-and-white mindfuck The Eyes of My Mother, uses Murakami’s 1994 novel “Piercing” as the source material for his latest film, a memorable mélange of artful designs, brutal murder, and cruel comic terror.
Reed (Christopher Abbott) is a young man with murder on his mind who sets out to kill a random prostitute, Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), but instead, he finds himself in a messed up love story, of sorts, about two people who find one another at the best possible time in their lives. Or maybe it’s the worst time, depending on your perspective.
Either way you slice it (pun intended), Piercing is an unpredictable, macabre mindbender, with stylistic flourish to spare, a first rate soundtrack (more a mixtape/playlist of your favorite Argento and giallo moments), and some flashy performances from leads that are too likeable considering what sickos they are.
4. Nina Forever (2015)
Written and directed by brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, Nina Forever is an oft romantic, always amusing, occasionally erotic, and outright macabre debut that showcases pronounced visual savvy and a breakout performance from Abigail Hardingham.
Holly (Hardingham) is a young paramedic student who early on is wrongly labelled “a bit vanilla” from a wannabe Lothario. Such ideas of unembellished basic-ness are soon kicked to the curb when Holly falls for bad boy Rob (Cian Barry) –– who proves to be a thoughtful lover were it not for his ex-love, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). Nina died in a grisly road accident but her blood-splattered body has no problem cockblocking Rob and Holly’s passionate lovemaking at every unfortunate turn.
Lurid subject matter makes nice with horror genre tropes, coming-of-age sexual awakenings and more in this surprising, delightful, and seductive slab of fright cinema.
3. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Director Colm McCarthy (Outcast ) and screenwriter Mike Carey (who also wrote the 2014 best-selling novel of the same name) offer up a tense, intelligent, chillingly provocative, and endlessly exciting British horror film in The Girl With All The Gifts.
The zombie film that World War Z should have been, this film takes the overdone undead genre and resuscitates it ferociously while also revamping a wealth of well-established genre tropes––apocalypse premise, creepy kids, mad scientists––tweaking them in eccentric, imaginative, and awesome new ways.
Newcomer Sennia Nanua is wonderful as the titular gifted heroine of the movie, Melanie, a second generation “hungry” who holds the key to humanity’s bleak future. The cast also includes strong turns from Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, and the always impressive Paddy Considine.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a sharp synthesis of George Romero, Children of Men and 28 Days Later with it’s own biting revelations. Definitely one of the best zombie films of recent years, don’t let this one pass you by.
2. Alleluia (2014)
Belgium provocateur Fabrice Du Welz (Calvaire ) was partially inspired by the true-crime catastrophe The Honeymoon Killers for this haunting, heady, and suggestive 2014 thriller, Alleluia. Lola Dueñas is incredible as lonesome single-mother Gloria who is affected by Michel (Laurent Lucas), a sketchy manipulator with a foot fetish and plentiful sexual prowess.
Gloria and Michel are soon pulling deadly bait-and-switch schemes on vulnerable women and Du Welz goes to artistic extremes––sequences pop with color that recalls Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977)––and zigzags into other genres; a few scenes play out like horror and then there’s a musical showstopper that is absolutely breathtaking.
Alleluia isn’t like most films, it’s an orgiastic procession of sexuality, fantasy, fears, and fucked up love. Take it from us, this surreal and sexy chiller will stay with you for days afterward.
1. Knife+Heart (2019)
Part homage, part parody, this beautiful film from Yann Gonzalez (You and the Night ) is a meticulously crafted nightmare. Set in a neon-lit Paris in 1979, the city thrums with disco and electronica (the score by M83 gets our vote for best soundtrack of 2019) as Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis), an agitated and obsessed gay porn producer pines to infuse meaning into her work, and also pines for her ex, Lois (Kate Moran). But it’s not in the cards for Anne when a masked murderer goes after her repertoire company in a very grisly fashion.
The giallo-influence saturates every frame, elegantly shot on 35mm by Simon Beaufils, this is a super-stylish and lurid celebration of both the erotic and horrific.
Cinephiles will also appreciate the nods to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), Brian De Palma classics like Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Body Double (1984), William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), and Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991). Gonzalez’s attention to detail, both visually and sonically, gives this disco-dyed, erotically-charged horror-thriller sweetmeat all it needs to make it one of 2019’s most savage standouts, and the surprisingly emotional ending will astound you as well. Superb.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.