Best Horror Films of 2013

While my total for viewed films overall was up in 2013 the new horror that I saw was down. Due to that I decided that a top 10 would be more prudent and meaningful. That does not mean, however, that these are the only horror films I liked. I have created a Letterboxd list that ranks the horror I saw from 1-38. About half that list are films I liked and would recommend viewing.

But these are the best of that faction.

10. Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies (2013, Summit Entertainment)

Making a genre-specific list can be a tough thing, especially when you deal with horror. There are a few reasons for this: first, almost everyone and anyone has their own picks that they peg as horror that are debatable. For example, a few years ago I chose Take Shelter. I stand by that and get arguments against it. Similarly, though one of my favorite films of the year, I don’t see Stoker as a horror film, but I get it.

Which brings us to Warm Bodies. Yes, it’s comedic and romantic and there are zonbies. I can even get it if you don’t want to see zombies this way at all. However, I think it does what it does in a fun and creative way. It’s not perfect, of course, and the balancing act to an extent puts a ceiling on it but I did enjoy it quite a bit, aside from the makeup work.

9. Stitches

sttiches-creepy

This is perhaps the darkest dark horse to crack my list for a few reasons. First, yes, when balancing horror and another genre things get tricky and this movie keeps the laughs and gore working hand-in-hand rather well. Moreover, it not only deals with a hard motif to sell me on, but it incorporates a folklore of the craft of clowning such that it creates a marvelous horror mythology out of it, and most definitely puts its own unique spin on the scary clown motif.

8. Maniac

Maniac (2012, IFC Midnight)

This is the latest-viewed in the year selection that I included. As noted before I didn’t get to finish viewing the original Maniac, and I don’t really mind that now. This one features a memorable score, a great use of POV with some great sleight-of-hand behind the camera and in the editing room. It’s also further testament to how a great performance can elevate a horror film and Elijah Wood is a testament to that here.

7. The Purge

The Purge (2013, Universal)

I do wish some things in The Purge, say the decision to have the antagonists in animal masks, hardly a unique one at that; had been handled differently. However, despite that pet peeve and and overly-short act one that was rather shaky. This definitely worked for me in the end. To the point of my post about it, it sets up as a film whose sequel may surpass it. I do think this is a good first step and that that film functions as a home invasion tale with an added twist.

6. Haunter

Haunter (2013, Dark Sky Films)

I wrote about this film specifically during 61 Days of Halloween and addressed the way it uniquely combines a few tropes that are old hat by now. It’s an engaging low-key horror tale that revels in slight variation, nuance of character takes its slow-burn to a near blaze by the end.

5. The Condemned

The Condemned (2012, Strand Releasing)

It’s a little surprising to even myself that this is the only horror film shot in a language other than English on this list. However, it does bear mentioning that if you limit yourself to American horror only, even with a healthy dose of indies, you’re doing yourself a disservice as you’ll find some really cool stuff globally. This one is not even coming from that far away as it was produced in Puerto Rico. Because it’s likely the least-seen of all of these here’s my review from April:

This can be a tough film to discuss without putting too fine a point on things and giving away several key elements, but like the film I will try to be subtle. There has been much talk in recent years, as it’s been more in vogue as of late than in years past, of the slow burn, particularly as it applies to the horror genre. A slow burning tale, as I’ve likely stated before, is not one that’s in and of itself problematic. Usually, the key to success for these films is either of two things: first, incremental and consistent, even if slight, escalation of stakes, and second, a sufficiently impressive and resonant pay-off to the wait.

The Condemned does not build quickly, even for a slow burn, but it excels tremendously in the pay-off department. What’s interesting is that it dabbles with many known tropes: haunting, children, secrets and the like, but with the way things play out it even toys with the very notion it even being a horror film, in a similar way to how last year’s The Hidden Face did, but ultimately remains one for all else it is.

There are subtleties throughout, things you are advised to recall though you may not think it crucial at the time. The Condemned is a wonderfully rendered tale that does sufficient visual exposition and elaboration on its turning points such that most, if not all, loose ends are tied up and the whole piece is elevated by, and not subjugated to, its trickery.

Its surely for horror fans, and I’d say art house fans too as it is an intelligent, well-acted and crafted film that does linger. It seems like the horror crop of 2013 may be a brainier bunch than ones in the past few years.

4. The Awakening

The Awakening (Universal Home Video, 2011)

This is another one that inspired me to write a piece. Not quite a review but it was the very strong performances in this well-crafted old school ghost story that re-emphasized in my mind the foundation of drama in all other genres, especially horror. Because the performances are so good, the characters so well-drawn and story so conducive to building them the scares (fairly fundamentally employed though they may be) really work.

3. Byzantium

Byzantium (2013, IFC Films)

Yes, this is a vampire love story. This was a dismissed film on Peter Travers summer “skip list” based on vampires alone. But this is Neil Jordan, this is not run of the mill, and most definitely not twilight. And make no mistake this film unlike Warm Bodies definitely emphasizes the horror aspect. It also tells a tale in two time periods, and has the narrative intertwine, has great production design and cinematography and is well worth looking for if you want an escape from the ordinary.

2. The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013, New Line Cinema)

Welcome to the top of the list or as you could call in 2013 James Wan country. Even though I was a huge Insidious fan, and I saw trailers for The Conjuring coming, I didn’t realize ahead of time that he’d have two horror releases so close to one another. Much less did I realize that Wan would throw down the gauntlet before at least taking a hiatus from the genre. The fascinating thing, and I will expound on this below, is that when all is said and down there were really two somewhat different approaches to the genre taken. Many would’ve expected his two films to be two-sides of the same coin, but they’re really not. Not quite.

The Conjuring is old-school scary that gets huge near its finale for better or worse all the chips go to the middle of the table. And notably, publicity stunt or not, genre-necessity for a studio or not, its R-rating can only be intellectually argued based on how effectively made it is, and not based on any MPAA guideline it violates.

1. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, FilmDistrict)

Landing in the top ten, especially up at number one, is ostensibly about two things in most cases: doing something a little bit different and doing it very well. Yes, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a sequel. However, its status as such gives it even more leeway; heck, it’s almost expected to be a variation on the original. As a testament to Leigh Whannell, James Wan and Blumhouse, they did not play it safe. They took a chance and took this second installment where pretty much no one else expected, and I for one loved it.

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61 Days of Halloween: Haunter (2013)

Introduction

For the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Haunter (2013)

The synopsis of Haunter gives you facts that lead you quite a bit of the way into the story:

The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.

Given that as a starting point one would hope that there are layers to this tale, and those who share that hope will not walk away from this film disappointed. For while the comparisons that Haunter has drawn to both The Sixth Sense and Groundhog Day are not unwarranted, there is more at play here and a very intriguing myth being built after all.

The film’s cinematography has great panache and sets the tone throughout, the camera wanders through the world of the story and takes different vantage points on its early-stage déjà vu scenes.

For each of the characters within the story, be they live or be they dead, there is a moment of discovery. Our protagonist Lisa (Extremely well portrayed by Abigail Breslin) is the first to have such a discovery, and, as such, it is through her eyes that we experience this film and start to uncoil the mysteries therein.

One such mystery is what the exact nature of The Pale Man (Chillingly rendered by Stephen McHattie) be he natural or supernatural. As the myth starts to build and the pieces start to fall in place there are surprises in store and there are very intricately transgressed borders between the states of being. The way this handled allows there to continue to be a sense of mystery to the film.

While there is a slight leaden quality to pace towards the tale end of Act II, the conclusion is ultimately quite satisfying as the investment we as an audience have been asked to make in these characters is a fruitful one. Their fates are something that become a concern, and as those who have passed come to the realization that they are past more details fall into place.

Furthermore, the family dynamics, the fulcrum of the dramatic element of the tale changes and we see why. These moderations, these tones and notes would not hit home as well without contributions from the whole cast be it Peter Outerbridge, who has to be a source of empathy and fear, grief-stricken and terrifying; Sarah Manninen whom runs the gamut from TV playing a role to scared victim to knowing realist; or Peter Da Cunha (whose specific echo is one of the key indicators of the film) who plays a soft-spoken, sunny child who is resigned to a cautious fear, and also ultimately terrified.

Despite whatever superficial similarities this film bears to other more famous works, and I thought of a few others myself, the narrative fabric this film weaves is wholly its one and a great one to look at and get lost in. This is a fantastic horror film that melds a few different subgrenre approaches and should be one you look out for whenever you need another horror fix.

8/10

2013 BAM Award Considerations – October

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

The Book of Manning
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Metallica: Through the Never
The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
Captain Phillips
Big Shot
No Más
Free Spirits
Gravity
The Stream
Carrie
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Jug Face
Haunter
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Stitches
Mother, I Love You
This is What They Want
Enough Said

Best Picture

The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
The Counselor

Best Foreign Film

The Almost Man
Mother, I Love You

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

The Book of Manning
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
Big Shot

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Machete Kills
The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
Mother, I Love You

Best Director

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Romeo and Juliet
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You

Best Actress

Solvei Grimen Fosse The Almost Man
Hailee Steinfeld Romeo and Juliet
Amber Heard Machete Kills
Sandra Bullock Gravity
Maria Hofstätter Paradise: Faith
Lauren Ashley Carter Jug Face
Vita Varpina Mother, I Love You
Julia Louis- Dreyfus Enough Said

Best Actor

Dane DeHaan Metallica: Through the Never
Henrik Rafaelsen The Almost Man
Douglas Booth Romeo and Juliet
Tom Hanks Captain Phillips
Danny Trejo Machete Kills
George Clooney Gravity
Nabil Saleh Paradise: Faith
Michael Fassbender The Counselor
Ross Noble Stitches
James Gandolfini Enough Said

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Morante Romeo and Juliet
Sofia Vergara Machete Kills
Julianne Moore Carrie
Natalya Baranova Paradise: Faith
Penelope Cruz The Counselor
Cameron Diaz The Counselor
Toni Collette Enough Said
Catherine Keener Enough Said

Best Supporting Actor

Thomas Arana Romeo and Juliet
Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
Demian Bichir Machete Kills
Mel Gibson Machete Kills
Paul Giamatti Romeo and Juliet
Rene Rupnik Paradise: Faith
Steohen McHattie Haunter
David Hewlett Haunter
Javier Bardem The Counselor
Tommy Knight Stitches
Thommas Kane Byrnes Stitches
Ben Falcone Enough Said

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Hailee Steinfeld Romeo and Juliet
Noura Jost The Stream
Chloë Grace Moretz Carrie
Abigail Breslin Haunter

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Jacob M. Williams The Stream
Kristofers Konovalovs Mother, I Love You

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Eleanor Zichy Haunter
Kelianne Coughlan Stitches

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Kodi Smit-McPhee Romeo and Juliet
CJ Diehl The Stream
Michael Capperella The Stream
Alex Maizus Jug Face
Peter DaCunha Haunter
David Knoll Haunter
Jackson Nicholl Bad Grandpa
Matis Livcans Mother, I Love You
Ryan Burke Stitches

Best Cast

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Romeo and Juliet
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches
Enough Said

Best Youth Ensemble

Romeo and Juliet
The Stream
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Original Screenplay

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Stitches
Enough Said

Best Adapted Screenplay

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Romeo and Juliet
Haunter
The Counselor

Best Score

Romeo and Juliet
Captain Phillips
Machete Kills
Gravity
The Stream
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
This is What They Want

Best Editing

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Romeo and Juliet
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Escape Plan
Jug Face
Haunter
The Counselor
This is What They Want
Stitches

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

Captain Phillips
Gravity
Jug Face
Haunter
This is What They Want
Stitches

Best Cinematography

Romeo and Juliet
Gravity
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Art Direction

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Costume Design

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Haunter
The Counselor
Stitches

Best Makeup

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Stitches

Best Visual Effects

Machete Kills
Gravity
Haunter

Best (Original) Song

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Metallica: Through the Never
The Almost Man
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Enough Said