This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Take Two.
I had originally planned to put together a top 10 list of films; I even made a start on it, before I realised it was going to be harder than I thought. Hell, I even found myself cheating – like adding in films which came out last year… in other words – and I freely admit I’ve missed out on a couple of films which others amongst you have rated highly – 2010 was a slow year for horror films. That said, some clever, thought-provoking, well-executed films have appeared this year too – so, here are my top 5.
5) VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP AND VIDEOTAPE
A documentary rather than a straighforward movie, true, but this for me absolutely has to make the list. As I said in my full review (which you can read here), Jake West’s film strikes a balance between the ever-relevant history of the ‘video nasties’ hysteria, and the sheer exuberance of the fandom. He also keeps it fairly well-balanced: although you might have an inkling of where West’s sympathies lie if you know anything of his work, he makes a real effort to speak to and understand those who eventually implemented, or helped to implement the ban. An exhaustive resource and great fun too, this really feels to me like the last word on the debacle. But will it be the last time we feel the effects of hysterical censorship? Perhaps forewarned is forearmed, and if so, you have to own this film.
4) A SERBIAN FILM
‘Hysterical censorship’ brings me neatly to the next film on my list. To be honest, I’m half-surprised I find myself listing A Serbian Film here. I saw a screener of the film earlier in the year and I initially had a mixed response to it: actually, I still have that mixed response. However, and without including the shock and awe which the film has generated since I saw it (including being pulled from UK horror festival Frightfest and having a record amount of footage cut by the BBFC to render it fit for a release), A Serbian Film is one of the only films I have seen in a very long time which has really stayed with me – and no, not for what has come to be spoken about in hushed tones as ‘that scene’. What sticks to my bones is its overarching intensity: it has a bleakness of atmosphere I’ve only ever felt in one other film, Nacho Cerda’s Aftermath. There’s an aggression and a hopelessness in A Serbian Film which is quite like anything else.
The director, Srdjan Spasojevic, has gone on record in the press recently to explain that he considers his film to be a political allegory, for the years of warfare and their fallout in his homeland. This still feels unconvincing from my own point of view of an audience member – like a means of political explication to justify the film’s content after the fact – but obviously, it ain’t my film and I can only ever guess at this. A Serbian Film for me is an exploitation film with a whole new remit in terms of style and tone, and it even has the gall to throw in some very, very dark humour too.
3) DREAM HOME
I’ve never been much of a slasher fan, but Dream Home is such a gem of a film that it got under my radar. Perhaps this is because it is one of a new breed of slashers which just feel so much smarter than their predecessors; of course, not all slashers were mindless, but they were frequently formulaic, and Dream Home disrupts that familiar form to bring us not a mindless killing machine, but a fallible, reluctant murderess who feels driven to act as she does for a complex, long-standing and – for some – recognisable reason. I found it impossible not to empathise with her – even as she was butchering her way through the (previously) lucky few in her des-res. A neat, engaging structure holds the film together well and the lead actress Josie Ho’s performance is sterling. Hong Kong, the horror community has missed you!
Good modern horror can give to us the sort of unease and terror associated with archaic times & places, bringing the Gothic – and I definitely mean my use of the term – bang up to date. These new films can make the lightest, airiest modern spaces become horrible. F does just this with a school environment, using this familiar space as the backdrop for a story of familial and personal redemption – with actor David Schofield turning in a brilliant performance as a damaged, disillusioned, but ultimately resilient father.
The threat here initially seems to stem from a timely paranoia about feral youth, or ‘hoodies’; this is a theme which has been used in other horrors of recent years, but F doesn’t develop this in the same way that, for example, Eden Lake does. Here, they lose even the shreds of humanity which they have in Eden Lake – operating almost as supernatural entities – and this makes for a very different sort of film, one which balances the real and the unreal in an interesting, savage way. With a gutsy ending (which took some thinking on my behalf before I could accept it) and a good cast, F is a stylish, often nerve-wracking horror.
You can read my full review of F here.
1) THE LOVED ONES
Quite simply, the enthusiasm and skill which Sean Byrne and his team bring to The Loved Ones makes it the stand-out genre film of the year for me. That skill starts with the most important of basics, developing a likeable protagonist in Brent (Xavier Samuel) together with a ‘demented family’ schtick whose main character Lola (Robin McLeavy) moves easily from pitiable, to odd, to deserving of her very own place in the horror canon of scary females.
The Loved Ones happily acknowledges its influences from existing horror films – with Carrie as an obvious example, though there are more – but good writing, a real warmth and some brilliantly-handled shifts in pace do more than enough to maintain interest. But, more than all that, the skill behind this film is demonstrated by how it lays on all that nastiness and still manages to be heartwarming at the end of it all. Brent’s transformation as he goes from hating his life to fighting for it might not be (and was probably never intended to be) heavily-drawn or sentimental, but it’s there alright, and adds something interesting and worthwhile to the film as a whole. I’d say this is a cult horror of the future – and I loved this.
You can read my full review of The Loved Ones here.