The Best Horror Films of 2012

I was better at tracking my views, and it was a better cinematic year overall in my estimation, so this list has expanded to 15 selections this year.

15. Absentia

Absentia (2011, Constellation, Phase 4)

This is a case of faith rewarded. The beginning is a little rocky but I saw something in it that made me stick with it and I was rewarded several fold. The film really picks up in all aspects of production as the details of the narrative start to fall into place. It’s most certainly worth a look.

14. The Hidden Face

The Hidden Face (2011, Fox International Productions)

Fans of cinematic frames should rejoice at this film, which I will grant will likely grow from a revisit. It’s a very well orchestrated and constructed, twisted tale.

13. Cold Sweat

Cold Sweat (2010, Dark Sky Films)

Bring out the skeletons from your collective sociopolitical closets and great horror can be found. Cold Sweat really takes that premise and expound on it moreso than many other Argentine horror films I saw in a row this year. It’s expounding takes some suspension of disbelief but is quite effective.

12. Silent Night

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

This film has tremendous fun with its premise. Evil Santas of all shapes, sizes and styles should be on the comeback trail because there really is a tremendous amount of latitude there if you’re willing to trek it. Steven C. Miller makes his first of two appearances on this list and having seen two of his films I’ll be on the lookout for more. This film features some great supporting turns. It was also filmed in Manitoba, who seems to be positioning itself as a new hotbed of production in the Great White North, and I can see why based on the locales used here.

11. Excision

Excision (2012,  Anchor Bay Films)

Excision, moreso than any other film on this list, has a possibility to have its reputation blossom over the years to come. This film very much inhabits the mind of its protagonist. This film does not fear exposing the the delusions of its main character opaquely, slowly revealing a plan of action that unfolds with precise and exacting horror. The film also features a number of great performances and very well-cast players including AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Jeremy Sumpter. It is definitely the one film on the list that warrants warning the faint of heart or stomach not to apply.

10. Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, HPLHS)

While I can’t say this is as successful as The Call of the Cthulhu in transcending it period-mimicking trappings; it does again choose the right time period and cinematic style for its Lovecraft adaptation. If the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society continues blending old-style cinematic ethos with mythos they’ll have hits for years to come.

9. The Monitor

The Monitor (2012, Grindstone Entertainment Group)

Here’s one you could pigeonhole as psychological horror. It features two very strong lead performances by Noomi Rapace and Kristoffer Joner. It hints at a rather big twist early and delivers on more to follow to keep things intriguing. Mind-play, particularly in the horror genre, is under-utilized and can be highly effective and is used quite well here.

8. The Aggression Scale

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

You can call it a crime thriller if you like, and I’ll spend minimal time on this point, but I will address why I consider it horror. I don’t feel it’s a stretch. Any film that deals with home invasion can be considered horror if it plays towards that realm. Home Alone, which I compare this film to, never allows itself to be taken too seriously, this film ups the stakes, maims and kills people and is serious in tone, so: horror. Just because the villains are unmasked, in organized crime and have clear motives doesn’t make it less horrific.

The Aggression Scale also functions in large part due to the fact that it builds its character, in fact, quite a bit more than its situation at first. When things start coming to a head the two converge and the escalation of narrative intensity is quite great.

7. The Possession

The Possession (2012, Lionsgate)

I had better tracking of films and more horror watched this year, so the likelihood of another possession tale ending up on the list was actually lessened unless it was little better handled than last year’s pick. The Possession most certainly is. The Possession concerns itself less with differentiating details though Judaism, Dybbuk boxes and the like are new, as it does with character development, and that’s what makes it effective.

6. ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012, Focus Features)

In some ways, I can’t help but feel that this film’s balance keeps it lower here than it should be. ParaNorman splits time between doing a lot of things, and it does so in a horror milieu but isn’t always a traditional horror film. However, since it’s excellent at whatever it does it belongs. ParaNorman not only tackles feeling like an outsider, a child coming to grips with death himself, and in essence that tired phrase coming-of-age, but in horror terms it also more effectively draws a distinct parallel between protagonist and antagonist by having him experience the anguish and isolation of the victimizer when they were victimized. However, especially since it’s ostensibly designed for kids, ParaNorman never sugarcoats the wrongdoing of its antagonist; it explains, it even empathizes but never forgives it – it states the obvious: you’re not getting out of it what you think you are. The zombies feeling persecuted and being persecutors is also a great touch such that reversals are near-constant.

I had yet to write about it so I could further discuss what ParaNorman does in other regards, but that’s about as succinctly as I can cover the horror angle.

5. [REC] 3

[REC] 3 (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Yes, [REC] 3 went somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to either, but I rather enjoy it nonetheless. In this film there are thematic expansions and new veins of thought explored if not literally picking up pre-exisiting narrative threads, which is all fine by me. It all comes down to how it’s done.

4. Intruders

Parallel narratives can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen this film twice and it really works in both viewings in one I was naively accepting and offering no guesswork, in the second I knew it all and enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time. It’s a bilingual tale with a sensibility many horror fans will be familiar, one that’s uniquely Spanish even in the English portions of the film. It’s a different kind of approach to apparitions that I enjoyed.

3. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

You’ll note that this is the only title on this list in which any footage is even found, not that I’d consider this film a found footage approach per se. What Sinister does is take the concept of malevolent celluloid a step further than most and build a story around the film and not strap it diegesis or camerawork to a narrator-cum-camera. Sinister also interestingly works again with a male protagonist, oft times alone who is very expressive and his fear allows us to fear. Silence or gasping is scarier than incessant screaming. That’s just one thing Sinister understands so much better than many other films.

2. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

There’s just something about Gothic horror tale done well that will affect me like few others do. There’s a primal hearkening to the sensitivities ingrained in us. The pitfall of the subgenre is that its been done to death and knowing tropes and protocols makes it hard for a style so old hat to work. However, there are some tweaks, techniques and approaches that dress up this old favorite and make it more effective than most.

1. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

It’s one thing to deconstruct a genre, however, it’s another entirely to reconstruct it following said evisceration and build a beautifully grotesque new prometheus in its stead. It’s the second half of its master plan that put The Cabin in the Woods over the top.

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Mini-Review Round-Up: July 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Theatre Bizarre

Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few horror anthologies. Part of the reason behind that is just to familiarize myself with a few more of them and the voices involved in creating them. The second reason, to be perfectly honest, is that due to their episodic nature they are conducive to fractured viewing, which makes them easier to schedule. However, I did see The Theatre Bizarre all the way through in one sitting.

This one, like many horror anthologies, is a bit inconsistent in its quality, which is to be expected when different directors handle each segment. In my estimation, the highs are rather high and the lows are rather low. There are some interesting and at times daring attempts. It’s always hard to gauge them as a whole because this see-sawing in quality is not unusual at all. However, for fans of the genre I do think it’s one worth checking out, your feelings on the whole piece or a particular segment may be greatly different than my own. In the end, I really liked more of the installments than I disliked so it’s worth a watch.

6/10

Cold Sweat

One thing I thought was particularly interesting an effective about Cold Sweat was the implementation of antagonists who just could not let go of the past in a very villainous way. At the start of Cold Sweat there is archival footage that gives you a brief overview of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary factions at play in Argentina in the 1970s, then you get a very specific incident chronicled. You know this will all come back into play, you just don’t know how. Now, using overt political symbols in horror has been done, most commonly with Nazis in all likelihood. However, the circumstances and players of each countries political past (and seedy underbelly) are all somewhat different, and the refracted ideologies, and reverberations thereof, can still be felt at current, in one way or another. So it is rather fascinating to find this angle in this film because it lends a specificity to the film and a voice; a stamp of a national cinema. Coincidentally, I saw another Argentinian (co-produced with Spain) horror film soon after this one that implemented many similar threads. The horror setpieces and manipulation of given tropes in this film is quite effective, but it its this backdrop of sociopolitical commentary, past and present, combined with the narrative that makes this such an intriguing film.

8/10

Hiding

Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions and we don’t necessary have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.

4/10

Goon

For my thoughts on this film please go here.
10/10

Absentia

As per usual, and as I say quite frequently, I went into Absentia knowing very little and that’s the way I prefer it. I knew it was was a low-budget horror film and what the basic synopsis was from Netflix. That’s about it. Only later on did I learn more details like the budget was purportedly $70,000 and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.

All that stuff is great to know after the fact. Knowing it before you see something can be a double-edged sword. Essentially, either the movie works or it doesn’t. What the budget is, whether exorbitantly high or incredibly low, does not make it immune from, or more deserving of, criticism.

As for the film I really enjoyed it a great deal. It tells a tight-knit simple horror story that gives you just enough information to keep things going but never gets ahead of itself, and the idea is a low-concept production of a rather high-concept idea at the bottom of it. However, the curtain is only barely raised on the horrors being uncovered by these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was shot rather in continuity because it certainly was doable and the performances across the board got much stronger as the film progressed, and even rather impressive at times. The score is really good and there are good twists to it. This is definitely a Netflix gamble worth taking.

8/10

Exit Humanity

Exit Humanity is a horror film that has a rather interesting take on the zombie subgenre. With the proliferation of such a genre one must contend with both fatigue and differentiating one’s own story from the crowd. In these aspects is where the film is most successful, and that’s without including the fact that this is an alternate history tale of the postbellum south. The story is an introspective one that is more concerned about those left behind after a plague of zombieism, and isn’t so concerned with making the walking dead of this tale a metaphor. Yes, there is a somewhat different spin to the cause and the history, but that ends up being more a narrative necessity than a focus.

With a fairly original take the film is setup to succeed and does, but only barely. Where the film struggles most is in terms of balance. The score is really good but at times only in isolation, at times it’s too intrusive and too intense. There is some wonderfully florid voice-over, but at times it’s too much, and at other times the scene would’ve been better demonstrated visually than through monologue. The film does have its twists and turns that are rather surprising, but after some of those unusual decisions some quickening of pace is needed so that it doesn’t feel aimless.

The film never really lost me as a viewer, however, it had me reeled in at times and let go just a little bit due to some of these inconsistencies. I don’t want to over-accentuate them because I do still like the film, but feel it easily could’ve been something truly special had certain edits been made. It’s worth watching for fans of the genre for sure. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if some professed greater admiration for it than I do, especially considering some of the touches it employs such as animation, colored shots and top notch make-up effects.

7/10