After a couple rough months where just as many disappointing films were consumed as instant classics, February proved to be quite the month-long watch party. From recent releases to long, lost classics if this month’s list shows one thing, it’s that horror films are truly a global phenomenon. (As if you didn’t know that already.)
Violation (2020 – Shudder/Hulu)
I’m not quite sure how this film flew under my radar for almost two years, (let’s blame the pandemic, shall we) but needless to say it was well worth the wait. This Canadian horror film masquerading as a drama is a volatile telling of one woman’s lust for revenge after the ultimate betrayal at the hands of her brother-in-law and younger sister. This film has literally everything that will turn off and/or turn away almost every casual viewer – depictions/descriptions of sexual assault, large amounts of amazingly realistic gore, copious male nudity, and all of that wrapped into a slow, brooding storyline that even in the most dramatic and visceral of places still seems to plod along rather than race to a conclusion. Horror movie history is littered with revenge films that care for nothing more than how much blood and boobs they can splatter across the screen, and while Violation does its absolute best to keep up (only replace the boobs with penis) the gore almost seems to take a back seat to some absolutely brilliant acting performances and a keen eye for creating beautiful cinematography. While films like Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave can be tossed aside as nothing more than revenge-porn, you simply cannot say that about this film. Directors Madeliene Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli take you to the brink but continually pull you back with a sense of humility that films of this ilk often lack. At the end of the decade I’ll probably make a list of my favorite films from the previous ten years and this one will most likely find a home there.
Rating: 9 (out of 10)
The Power (2021 – Shudder)
The Power is a British film set in 1970s London. During rolling power outages caused by a miner’s strike, a new nurse has to spend a night inside a completely darkened hospital, only to find that not only is the hospital haunted but the nurse is equally haunted by her own past. This film is not without its flaws. There’s are two interesting, albeit somewhat rehashed, backstories that get almost completely buried throughout the first two-thirds of the film. This film attempted to walk the line between real world trauma and supernatural happenings, while leaning hard into the latter. I love a good ghost story more than most but I couldn’t help but wonder if this film would have packed more of a punch if writer/director Corinna Faith had leaned heavier into the former. Still, the atmosphere and claustrophobic feel of this film were well done, and I found myself being invested enough in the characters to root for some, and root for the untimely death of others. If you’re looking for a solid haunted places type film you could certainly do a lot worse than this one.
Roh (2020 – Shudder)
When you think exceptional Asian horror you most likely immediately think of horror hot spots like Japan and South Korea, with good cause. It might be time to start including Malaysia on that list as well. Roh is a Malay-language, folk horror tale set sometime in the past and deep within the forests of Malaysia. It tells the story of a woman and her two children who find another young child wondering aimlessly through the forest. From that point forward they are beset upon by evil forces with dire consequences. Roh deftly incorporates various elements of Malay folklore to weave together a tale of desperation and loss. For a movie that was filmed on a budget that checked in at under $100,00 US dollars, I was wholly impressed with just about every aspect of this film. The cinematography is stunning, utilizing dense forests, and everything sinister it could be hiding, to create a constant sense of imminent danger. This is the type of film that is able to create a feeling of unmitigated dread with something as simple as a pattern of rocks on the ground. The twists and turns the story takes keep things interesting enough that the somewhat slower pacing never feels cumbersome. The folk horror genre has exploded over the last half decade forcing fans to dig little deeper to find the gems. This film is one worth the dig.
The Isle (2018 – Shudder)
This horror/mystery period piece tells the story of three shipwrecked sailors who wash up on a nearly deserted island containing only four inhabitants. When questions start to arise about why/how their boat sank and why/how there are only four people left on an island that once housed a more robust community, things start to take a turn for the eerie. This independent film was supposedly shot on a shoestring budget and there are times when that feels accurate. Yet for the most part what the filmmakers were able to do overall with what they had is fairly impressive. This film thrives on atmosphere and a handful of solid acting performances, while the moody isle the film is named for serves as a beautiful backdrop. Much like the aforementioned The Power, this isn’t a film that smashes boundaries, but still one worth a sitting.
Dachra (2018 – Shudder)
This Tunisian film follows three journalism students tracking a cold case about a woman in a mental institution who was found mutilated from some sort of attack twenty years prior. The trail leads them to an isolated village and before any of them knows what’s truly transpiring it’s much, much too late. This is another low-budget indie film that builds its foundation upon atmosphere and acting chops. While the script itself lacks, and some of the characters are in need of being offed even earlier in the film, the story itself is an interesting one. There’s an element of supernatural mystery intertwined with real-life demons and although the fates of our intrepid heroes seem sealed from the jump, there’s still enough meat on the bone for viewers to really dig in…
Satan’s Slave (1980 – Shudder)
For a long time this was one of those films that got talked about in horror circles but was actually hard to come by outside of its native Indonesia. (Or at least hard to come by with English subtitles.) Satan’s Slave has developed a huge cult following, especially in Asia where it’s considered a massive influence on Asian horror cinema. It’s also one of the first horror movies to substitute Christianity with Islam as the religion of choice. The story revolves around a wealthy family who have lost their faith, and after the matriarch of the family passes away their son decides to practice a little black magic, unleashing a demon and her undead minions. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything when I say that the quality of this film is exactly what you imagine a film from Indonesia in 1980 would look like, and the ending makes it feel like some sort of Islamic after school special. But there is absolutely enough kitsch and solid effects here to make this thing worth watching.
Antlers (2021 – HBO Max)
The trailer for this film first dropped at the end of 2019 and it was originally scheduled to be released in April 2020. We all know what happened next and after 18 months of delays Antlers was finally released in October of last year. I was pretty excited to finally sit down with this film, only to be wholly disappointed. I promised myself a a couple months ago I was only going to write about films I actually recommend seeing (much like I do with the music reviews on this site) because, frankly, it’s a tedious waste of time to just complain about a film or album that didn’t do it for me. However I’m dropping that pretense for this one film because I truly believe there was something good here that got annihilated in the editing room. The cinematography and acting are spot on, but the story features so many under-developed storylines that it’s mind-boggling someone thought this was ready for release. One needs to look no further than the trite usage of an indigenous character who shows up for one scene to cryptically explain the supernatural evil they are all up against only to disappear back into this film’s fog of confusion. The shortish runtime has me convinced that a director’s cut exists somewhere and when it finally sees the light of day I’ll be here for it.
If you enjoy these horror movie posts make sure you check out the new horror podcast The Fiendish Five Podcast where we invite a different guest on every episode to discuss and dissect their top five favorite horror movies.