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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Best Films of 2012: 20-16

I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.

20. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011, Fox Searchlight)

Here’s a film that vaults onto this list after a personal recommendation. It’s a condemnation of trailers, a triumph of narrative and ensemble film acting. It’s a well-balanced tale of parallel narratives that hearkens back to Love Actually for me, however, has more varied and universal themes, and also some contemporary global commentary.

19. Goon

Goon (2011,  Magnet Releasing)

I wrote a lot about Goon after I first saw it, and it hurts even more to do so now seeing as how the NHL is well on its way to losing a full season for the second time in my adult life. It’s no coincidence that I write this with a teutonic team’s hat resting upon my head. Psychological baggage aside, this is a film that develops its characters, humor and story very well; and it celebrates, understands and embraces the sport its about better than most.

18. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

I love horror films so I typically will make a genre-related list to highlight those titles, but that won’t stop me from including genre titles here so Sinister takes this spot and is the first of a few that will appear on this list. It takes a popular current trope uses it better than most, expands upon it, builds suspense, a lot of character, has a fantastic score, occasional needed comic relief; and a hell of a lot of impact. It’s one of those movies that affected my real life, as I know have a flashlight app on my iPhone.

17. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

On my horror list I discuss my general feelings on Gothic horror, they are positive but it’s a hard subgenre to tackle because it’s so classical and commonplace. For this film to do what it does, as well as it does, in this day and age, is triumphant indeed.

16. In the Family

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

This is a film that has had quite an adventurous, long and winding release pattern. It is a film that actually appeared on Slant’s best of 2011 list and has flown under the radar for most. However, for many of those who happen upon it, it’s made quite an impact. I was fortunate not only to have it play near me, but also that I decided to go as I nearly didn’t. It is a well-told, interestingly constructed, dramatically rendered and universal telling of what could seem like a niche tale of custody battle between surviving family members and a same-sex domestic partner.

Review- The Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black (Hammer Films)

Perhaps what’s most noticeable about The Woman in Black is that it is Gothic Horror. It un-apologetically so and it is a fine and darn near pitch perfect example of it too. One often hears the word atmosphere associated with movies, if you’ve ever wondered what people mean by that watch this movie.

I have frequently written about the teaser scene in a horror film, the quick scare at the very beginning to give the audience a jolt before building the story and characters. Not only does this one tie-in very closely, which is important but it’s very memorable, brilliantly shot and staged.

The drama of this tale despite its shocks is rather subsumed. It isolates its protagonist effectively and allows him the time to feel the place, find information and get intimations about what this place is really like. His story is also well and clearly defined early on and adds an element of necessity to the story which is key as the question of “Why don’t they just leave?” is one horror films frequently have to contend with.

The film uses practically every element at its disposal to add to the tension. It has the unwanted outsider aspect without overdoing it, the location plays a role as does the set design. The isolation of the character allows all the jump scares to more or less work because he’s usually spooked and there’s nothing done aimed solely at the viewer. Everything becomes a chore and an obstacle that makes the coming events have even more impact and the stakes rise consistently throughout.

The film is further supported by tremendous ensemble work. Horror films typically get the short shrift acting-wise. With such a tale as this the actors really need to sell it and work well with one another as interactions are at a premium. The cast is lead by Daniel Radcliffe whose growth as a performer has been something to watch. This may not be the character or project one would’ve expected to start the next phase of his career but that’s the genius of it. It’s a character and it’s a subdued work not a tentpole, regardless he sells it. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer also shine in disparate but crucial supporting roles. Not to be overlooked are the ensemble of children in this film who almost always play in crucial scenes and are a big factor.

When I spoke of jump scares earlier there is an implied allusion to sound design there which I will address here. Now I typically take issue with scares based mostly on the sheer volume of the accompanying sound effect but this film seems to have a progressive plan. Not only are these jolts always accompanied by a creepy visual but they also go down decibel-wise as the film moves on, indicating a decided plan, which works. Once the movie has you it needn’t try as hard.

There are few things that can match a well-made Gothic horror film, an excellently crafted one is nearly untouchable. This film is the former, a truly special and brilliant horror film.

10/10