Being a horror movie fan follows the cycle of addiction. The more you consume, the more you are inured to the thrills of the product, making you “need” to watch more to find said thrills, with less chance of actually being thrilled. Mostly you will encounter the same predictable tropes, until you find yourself watching a never-ending stream of B or C-grade films, just to see how bad they can be, or re-watching the classics from years past. That can be fun. It has its charms.
But sometimes I find myself wanting to be surprised, or wanting a chill of real terror from a new movie. I’m here to tell you that there are fun, genre-bending scary/monster movies out there. They’re not straight horror, but they all deal with the unknown. Here are five of my favorites from the past four years or so:
Lake Mungo was distributed under the banner of the Afterdark Horrorfest, a group of films that are supposedly “too disturbing” for regular distribution. I’ve watched my fair share and have been less than disturbed. Sometimes I found myself feeling sleepy.
Lake Mungo, on the other hand, is a quiet gem of a movie that plays with the concept of being haunted; it’s also won several film festival mentions and awards. After Alice Palmer accidentally drowns at a local dam, her brother catches glimpses of her around the house (even catching some on film). The family brings in a parapsychologist to help them make sense of these appearances, and Things Get Revealed. There’s a twist in this movie but instead of the twist deflating the tension, things get creepier afterward.
A group of friends and would-be lovers are feeling the need to get their big break into Hollywood. After seeing a terrible independent film made for almost no money, they decide to travel to a cabin outside of L.A. and write their own script–starring themselves–to get their names out there. Pretty soon bitter jealousy, awkwardness, and apathy get in the way of actual scriptwriting…until one of the group stumbles outside the cabin in the wee morning hours to puke and catches a glimpse of a man with a paper bag on his head, watching the house. Was it real? Who cares–it’s a great idea for a movie! But then things get waaaaaaay more creepy.
Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass*, anointed kings of the dubious “mumblecore” designation within indie filmmaking, this movie is made more of build-up and realistic interactions between people than it is of serial-killer stalking. And it’s so much the better for it, because it gives you the feeling that you know the characters, so you’re more invested in the terror when Stuff Happens. This film has a twist, too, but even when I remembered it my second time through, I still enjoyed the movie. It’s hard to beat some silent guy in a paper bag mask standing outside the window for creepiness.
Another group of filmmakers are the protagonists of this movie, but here they are Norwegian documentarians doing a film for a university class. They think they’re on the trail of an infamous, unlicensed bear-poacher who is–of course–taciturn and ornery, and wants nothing to do with their eager questions and boom mics. So they follow him into the woods and abruptly discover that he is actually a secret government troll-hunter.
About five minutes into the film I was compelled to text a friend, “I MUST GO TO NORWAY” because the scenery was so beautiful. Luckily the special effects are just as breathtaking, and more of them than I expected were done without CGI. These are not wacky trolls. They don’t talk, and most of the humor in the script is the type that arises in truly dire situations. I’m pretty much convinced that trolls exist now.
Continuing on the mini-theme of foreign films that dissect legendary figures of childhood, we have the Finnish movie Rare Exports. What started as clever film shorts about a company that hunts and trains the Santa Clauses who run wild in the Finnish mountains– shot by Jalmari Helander for his friends and family–became a full-length movie combining the powerful forces of childhood belief, the uncanny, and by-the-skin-of-your-teeth rescue missions.
A group of scientists is excavating a mountain in Finland. But it’s not really a mountain–it’s a containment unit for a folkloric being. The main scientist is a little obssessed with his mission, and he overlooks its possible danger. Of course things go awry, and a few miles away a little boy finds a naked old man cowering in a barn, just staring into space. The boy enlists his father and their community–a group of reindeer herders–for help. They suspect the old man may be Santa Claus, or perhaps the reason why all the reindeer have been slaughtered during the migration. It just gets weirder from there. i09 called it “the most disturbingly awesome Christmas movie ever.”
The excellent tagline for Attack the Block tells you all you need to know about the plot: “Inner City vs. Outer Space.” In this case the inner city is a housing project in London, where a group of teenagers introduce themselves to the audience by mugging a young nurse on her way home from work. Straightaway afterwards a sizzling light falls from the sky into the park where they’re standing. When they investigate they find a small furry creature that’s black as night that’s just emerged from a metal pod. Their first instinct is to kill it; they follow through on that instinct, then bring the corpse to the lair of the council drug dealer for safekeeping (because they figure it can make them some money). What they don’t know is that the girl they mugged lives in the same building they do; that there are many more, much bigger versions of the creature they killed on the way; and that they have a long night ahead of them when all these paths cross.