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 – August 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.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness was a film I just had to see. After having seen The Call of Cthulhu, which was a short, silent version of a Lovecraft classic, I knew I’d want to see anything this company (known as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) did.

In their newest film, and first feature, they tackle The Whisperer in Darkness and shifted from a silent film representation to a monster film of the 1930s approach. In both cases, the style of film that is emulated perfectly suits the work being interpreted.

I firmly believe this to be the case, regardless of your familiarity with either of these very distinct niches. If you are unfamiliar with Lovecraft this is a great introduction as it very faithfully, but also intriguingly in cinematic terms, renders the narrative. Any admirer of film, regardless of what era(s) they prefer, will recognize some of the conventions on display in this film, and as details of the narrative unfold it’ll become clear the choice is an inspired one.

Much of this is a roundabout way of saying that odds are you’ll like this if you go in with the knowledge of what the film is attempting, and you could be a fan of either or neither end of the narrative equation and walk away liking it. However, if you like both it’s rather heavenly, or should I say hellacious? Either way, it’s great stuff.

10/10

Intruders

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I can’t put it right at the top, but when all is said and done, Intruders will likely end up being one of my favorite horror films of the year. It starts almost immediately with a scene that you think will just be a great teaser but instead ends up being the first building block in a parallel storyline (in terms of both time and place). Aside from being a bi-lingual film, the film does a great job mirroring certain themes and elements in the storylines, giving elements different spins in each. The film is very tense but also cloistered in its drama and fear-inducing, which it makes it very effective indeed. To say too much more would be to start giving things away. I think that fans of the horror genre, Spanish horror in particular should see this film.

10/10

Detention

To accentuate the positive first, I cannot, nor can anyone in all likelihood, accuse Detention of being unoriginal or predictable. One of its few perks is that it does not ever make it obvious where it’s going next, and in its own insane way does manage to link everything together in the end. However, the film seems to think it’s a lot more clever and funny than I find it to be. It’s part (sub)genre-hopping horror/sci-fi and mostly comedy but the comedy portion is very forced, nearly all of it. Few and far between are the jokes that work for me and rarely did jokes strike me as genuine reflections of character. Instead the characters always seem to be in a state of limbo between being a stand-in for a horror archetype and a human vessel for a punchline.

I can see how the film has produced divisive reactions, and I always prefer a film that strives for divisiveness. When all is said and done, attempting to please everyone creates tepid cinema. Truly universal stories, at their core, come from a very personal place- so, I can easily see how this might be someone else’s cup of tea, but it’s not mine.

2/10

Lovely Molly

I tend to take my time to even send out a tweet reaction to a film most of the time. In very vague terms I’ll know walking out of a film, if I liked it or not. However, to what extent I did and what I thought of it usually takes a little time to decide. It’s the rare film that plays on my mind for a while.

Lovely Molly is one of those films. My initial tweet about it, when I did finally mention it, was slightly mis-worded: it’s not that the film is difficult to follow, it’s not; the denseness and nebulousness comes in the ‘answers’ the film gives to questions it poses. They’re not entirely clear, they invite debate, they invite you to re-view the film; but they are all chilling and surprising.

The film also features a fabulous performance by Gretchen Lodge, which makes you stand up and take notice.

This film made me realize that there are two kinds of re-viewable films ones that could get massively better and one with a definite ceiling. This film is the latter kind, but worth giving your own shot.

6/10

The Moth Diaries

It’s a bit of a shame when a film that offers a different perspective on a subgenre fails to catch lightning in a bottle. The Moth Diaries is not only subtle vampire tale set at an all girls school, but is also directed by a woman. It’s a slow-burn, which never quite catches fire all the way and it doesn’t really bend convention too much save for the casting and setting. Some of the better parts of the film are the overt allusions to the Gothic literature, from which all vampire tales draw at least some inspiration, which doesn’t bode too well for the piece at hand. The film doesn’t seem to detach itself too much from the source material, and there is an excessive amount of voice over for the story being told. Perhaps the novel is a better vehicle for this tale than the film as constructed.

5/10