2016, Abattoir, cinema, Don't Breathe, film reviews, Ghostbusters, He Never Died, horror, horror films, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, most disappointing films, Movies, Tank 432, The Conjuring 2, The Good Neighbor, The Last Heist, The Neon Demon, year in review, year-end lists
At long last, we arrive at the beginning of the end: the final breakdown for the year in horror, circa 2016. We’ll be examining the best, the worst and the ones that got away (so far) in later posts but I always like to start with the ones that coulda been contenders first. These are the films that had tons of potential (at least in my eyes), yet managed to drop the ball in some pretty crucial ways.
By this point in the year, I’ve managed to screen 179 of the 259 horror films released/scheduled for this year, meaning that I’ve seen 69% of all horror films released in 2016. Of those 179, I’ve whittled the list down to the ten most disappointing films of the year. Keep in mind that these weren’t the worst (with one exception) but they were the ones that were capable of so much more. With no further ado and in no particular order, I now present the evidence to you humble members of the online jury.
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There were a lot of routes that Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot could have taken: it could have been a straight-up nostalgia fest, full of cameos from the original duology…it could have been a sly, feminist commentary on the inanity of modern-day online fanboydom and the expectations of genre fanatics…it could have been a remake, a reboot, a realignment or any other re- that you care to add…it could have been a big, dumb, loud, CGI-heavy popcorn flick…really, the world was its oyster.
In reality, Feig’s Ghostbusters ended up being ALL of these things, which only served to dilute the final product down to the lowest common denominator. With no clear vision, the film whiplashed from snarky meta-commentary to unbelievably dumb CGI spectacle with an ease that did nothing but give me a headache. This wasn’t the worst ghostbusting-related film of 2016, by a long shot (that title belongs to the woeful Ghost Team), but it was the one that had the potential to be a neo-classic and that missed opportunity was a real bummer.
I happen to like writer/director/all-around maniac Darren Lynn Bousman quite a bit, finding his Repo: A Genetic Musical to be an unsung modern cult classic, along the lines of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and thoroughly enjoying his batshit crazy art projects like The Devil’s Carnival and Alleluia. Hell, I don’t even particularly mind his Saw films, even if that franchise is a study in diminishing returns.
In other words, I was really looking forward to his ingenious haunted house film, Abattoir, which featured the thoroughly unique concept of an evil man cobbling together the ultimate haunted house by cutting out particular rooms from various crime scenes and stitching them together into one Frankensteinian monstrosity. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a logline worth getting excited for.
The actual film, unfortunately, is a complete and total piece of shit, easily the worst “film” that Bousman has released and one of the very worst films of the entire year. Nothing works, the film manages to completely squander a fantastic cast (poor Lin Shaye!) and the whole concept is completely dropped for a swing into Mouth of Madness territory that’s so inept, it feels like parody. In a year full of surprises, both good and bad, this was easily one of the worst.
He Never Died
This tale of Henry Rollins as an immortal, cannibalistic but, ultimately, very human and flawed “hero” had so much going for it (Rollins is quite good, for one) that it kind of hurts when it devolves into stupid comedy and tedious, indie film “run and guns.” There are moments where the concept is allowed to fully breathe and, for those brief moments, He Never Died is actually kind of special. For the most part, however, this is a classic case of filmmakers coming up with a better idea than they have the ability to actually portray.
The Conjuring 2
I thoroughly enjoyed James Wan’s original The Conjuring, along with the first Insidious. Since that time, however, the Waniverse has started to look suspiciously like the same film, with slightly different clothes, akin to those old RPGs where you could tell an enemy was different because they were blue instead of red.
This has got all the typical Wan trademarks: creepy old house, lots of jump scares, lots of creepy figures popping up in the background and doing creepy things, Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga doing their best to add gravity to the silliness…if this was a checklist, it would hit all the appropriate boxes. The problem, of course, is that none of it is actually scary or even particularly interesting, by this point, lending everything a dull sheen of “been there, done that.” Not the worst big-budget horror film released in theaters, this year, but easily one of the most forgettable.
The Neon Demon
I’ve dearly loved every single Nicolas Winding Refn film, so fully expected The Neon Demon, his first official foray into horror, to top my Best Of list for the year. As it turned out, I ended up really disliking the film, finding it to be exceptionally beautiful, visually, but completely empty and thoroughly frustrating. I’ve seen lots of year-end lists that extol the film for everything from its ultra-lush visuals to its tricky, feminist reimagining of the typical “starlet gets lost in L.A.” trope but I can’t help but feel this is another example of lauding a film for its intentions rather than its actual outcome. I can fully appreciate what Refn was trying to do and still think he’s one of the very best cinematic auteurs of our era. This doesn’t stop The Neon Demon from being a stinker, however, and one of my very biggest disappointments of the whole year.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
I love old-fashioned, austere ghost films, the more Gothic, the better. This had all the trappings, from an appropriately gauzy visual aesthetic to a supremely leisurely pace (some might call it slow but that’s easily the film’s smallest issue) but it was missing the most important aspect of any film: a genuine sense of tension, danger or any kind of stakes. More than anything, IATPTTLITH comes across as a style exercise, an attempt by a modern filmmaker to replicate an older style of genre film without really understanding what made those films work in the first place. This is too well-made to be written off as a complete loss and some of the visual effects are genuinely unsettling. For all that, however, I couldn’t help but be disappointed at what could have been, with more focus and a tighter grasp on the mechanics of the story.
Three things I love: British horror films, modern British war films and Michael Smiley. Tank 432 was supposed to feature all of these elements, all but assuring it a place on my favorites list. In reality, Tank 432 is an awful mess, predisposed on a twist that’s so obvious and silly that it thoroughly wrecks any of the preceding atmosphere or creepy elements. You wouldn’t think that a film about an army platoon who must take refuge in a broken-down tank from monstrous, unseen forces would be so dull, confusing and frustrating but you, like me, would be very wrong, indeed.
I actually enjoyed Fede Alvarez’s re-do of Sam Raimi’s classic Evil Dead, so I was curious to see what the burgeoning, young filmmaker could do with an original concept. This film, about shitty young Detroiters trying to rob a blind war veteran and getting much more than they bargained for, has a lot going for it: the film careens along like a rollercoaster, there are plenty of smart, intense setpieces and Stephen Lang is an instantly iconic “villain.” In other words, a complete classic.
Or it would have been, had the actual film not been so dumb, mean-spirited and predisposed on one eye-rolling deus ex machina after another. This is the kind of film where nothing would happen if any of the characters displayed even a modicum of common sense or desire for self-preservation, the kind of movie where you shout yourself hoarse telling the on-screen idiots to just use their goddamn brains for thirty seconds. In many ways, Don’t Breathe is this year’s It Follows: hailed by everyone and their granny as being the second-coming of horror but so far below the year’s very best as to be laughable. And let’s not even get started on the turkey baster…
The Last Heist
Mike Mendez makes big, loud, dumb and relentlessly fun genre films (his Big Ass Spider! is still one of my very favorite modern cheeseball horror films), the equivalent of PBR tallboys out of an ice-filled cooler. The Last Heist, about hapless bank robbers choosing to rip off the one financial institution that happens to be frequented by a stone-cold serial killer (Henry Rollins, being Henry Rollins), has lots of silly action but there’s never a real spark or sense of unmitigated mayhem and fun. This felt like a made-for-cable movie, with all that implies, and could never quite shake the stigma. While too good-natured and zippy to really dislike, this was also rather dull and found me frequently checking my watch, a first for any Mendez film. Not a strikeout, per se, but a supremely weak bunt to first base.
The Good Neighbor
This had a great cast (Logan Miller and Kier Gilchrist are two of the most interesting young actors currently treading the silver screen and James Caan is James fricking Caan, fer chrissakes!) and a fairly interesting concept but managed to collapse into soggy, Lifetime Channel territory by the time the lame twist reared its ugly head. This is also only marginally a horror film (very marginally), making it one of the films I screened this year that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest. As such, this was a double disappointment: very little horror and a complete squandering of James Caan. Again, not the worst of the year, by a long shot, but so dull, generic and painfully obvious as to be a real chore to sit through.