At long last, I present the fifth and final week of the 31 Days of Halloween. Enjoy and look for a final wrap-up on the month coming soon, along with information and an update on the ongoing 2016 Horror Project. As the curtain closes on this season, I present the final five films of October.
For a while, David Blair and Adam Pitman’s The Sighting (with Pitman also starring) is a pretty average, indie Sasquatch attack film: we have a couple of friends on a road-trip to Canada who take an ill-advised detour and end up attacked by a group of angry Sasquatch. The acting is okay (with a tendency towards the unbelievable), the dialogue is a bit clunky and there’s a little too much split-screen, slo-mo and the like for my tastes. It’s not terrible, mind you, but it is terribly familiar and rather meh.
At a certain point, however, the filmmakers did two things that not only hooked me but managed to elevate the film from “meh” to “decent.” First, there was a thoroughly unique and interesting explaination for the Sasquatch (complete with chalk-line animation) that was actually one of the more original inventions I’ve seen in a genre film, of any budget, in some time: bravo. Second, the filmmakers introduced a genuinely intriguing twist and then managed to develop it intelligently, while still leaving enough room for doubt by the final credits. In a year where too many films proceeded from A to B to C in as safe a way as possible, it was unbeliveably refreshing to see an ultra-low budget flick take the route less traveled. While The Sighting was never exactly amazing, it was solid and ended on a particularly good note: bunts and grand-slams both earn bases, after all.
In a coincidence that can only be termed “cosmic,” the very next film that I screened ended up involving the same creative personnel and actors as the previous film: you might not believe me but I swear this was unplanned. In a further coincidence that can only be described as “impossible to ignore,” The Triangle ends up suffering much of the same exact problems as The Sighting, yet also benefits from the same game-saving twist, albeit one that’s even better than the one in their Sasquatch flick. Truth, as they say, is really stranger than fiction!
The Triangle begins as a pretty standard-issue found-footage film about a group of friends (the filmmakers, using their own names) who go visit an old friend at his commune-like home and wind up in the same sorts of situations that usually happens in these types of things. The acting is decent, there’s an almost comical over-reliance on split-screens (much of which serves to confuse the action rather than heighten it) and the whole thing feels very familiar. Then, out of nowhere, the filmmakers drop a simply genius twist, the kind of thing that would be more at home in 2001: A Space Odyssey and we’re really off to the races. From there, The Triangle becomes pretty damn fascinating, right up to the enormously satisfying (if frustrating) open-ending. If this filmmaking team ever manages to make a consistent film, I’d be willing to wager it would reserve a spot on one of my future Best of lists, no questions asked: the amount of potential here is really exciting.
Some films will just be a tough sell, no matter how you slice ’em, and the pitch-black Australian comedy Stalkher is definitely one of those. The directorial debut of leads John Jarratt (perhaps best known as the terrifying Mick in Wolf Creek) and Kaarin Fairfax, written by Kristijana Maric, Stalkher is the tender story of a creepy guy who slips into his co-worker’s home, one night, with the intention of doing her grevious injury. He wakes up tied to a chair, however, and quickly realizes that his prey is every bit as “damaged” as he is and just as eager to have some human interaction, even if it has to be with the guy who just broke into her house. As the night progresses, a twisted, perverted battle of the sexes ensues, with each of the would-be “lovers” using every trick in their books to gain the upper hand on the other. Will Jack be able to free himself and finish the job he came to do or will Emily finally find the love that she’s always wanted?
Nothing about Stalkher would work if the leads weren’t so unbelievably fearless: this is, after all, essentially a two-person show, almost like a stage play, in a way. There is an undeniable thrill in watching Jarratt and Fairfax (two extremely talanted performers at the absolute heights of their respective games) absolutely rip each other to shreds, both spiritually, emotionally and physically. The dialogue is raw, honest, very funny and pretty offensive, while the frank discussions about men and women pull zero punches on either side: Jack is a revolting misogynist but Emily certainly isn’t spared from Maric acidic script. At times, the film was actually too awkward, painful and honest to watch: there are moments where the action veers effortlessly from extreme hilarity (Fairfax is an absolute master of the cutting comment) to gut-punch ugliness and it can give you a bit of emotional whiplash. There were times were I felt terrible for laughing and did, anyway. Stalkher definitely won’t be for everyone but it’s a massively impressive co-directorial debut and Jarratt and Fairfax absolutely deserve commendation for everything they did.
Based on Jeanne Ryan’s young-adult novel, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s (the team behind Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3) adaptation of Nerve is really more of a thriller than a horror film, which makes its placement on my ultimate 2016 horror list a bit dubious. Questions of genre-placement aside, I ended up liking this smart, fast-paced techno-thriller quite a bit, even if much of it was as predictable and leading as an old-fashioned rail-shooter video game. Young Venus Delmonico (Emma Roberts, proving she’s one of the best, most exciting new actors out there) decides to participate in a game where players perform increasingly dangerous “dares” for a horde of anonymous, online spectators. She finds danger, betrayal, heartbreak and true love, all while doing her best to free the masses from the blinders of the status quo. If it sounds a bit familiar, it is, although that doesn’t stop the fun (for the most part).
Nerve has a lot going for it: fantastic cast of young actors (Roberts and Dave Franco are particularly good); exceptionally colorful and cool look, nerve-wracking action sequences (there’s a blindfolded motorcycle ride that easily one of the year’s best setpieces) and just enough familiarity to allow the filmmakers to shorthand many of the characters and situations, getting us right to the “good stuff” (for better or worse). This was extremely polished and decidedly non-horror-oriented but, as mentioned before, I really enjoyed it: as someone who is decidedly not the target audience for young adult cinema, that very fact, alone, elevated this quite a bit.
Jack Goes Home
Several years ago, I saw a film that disturbed and affected me quite a bit: I actually haven’t stopped thinking about it since, to be honest, in one way or another. Eduardo Sanchez’s Lovely Molly was a truly horrifying, painful and impossibly bleak parable about drug addiction and sexual abuse, couched in a demonic possession narrative, that absolutely howled with genuine, real pain. I never thought I would see another low-budget genre film like that. Enter Thomas Dekker’s Jack Goes Home, yet another impossibly bleak film that will, no doubt, knock around in my skull for years to come. And they say that horror is just empty thrills…
Jack (Rory Culkin, in a truly amazing, award-worthy performance), a very troubled young man, returns home to see his mother (Lin Shaye, more unhinged than anything since her tentecular outburst in Mouth of Madness) after he finds out that his beloved dad has just died in a car accident. Jack makes the trip with his childhood friend, Shanda (Daveigh Chase), leaving his pregnant fiancee (Britt Robertson, in one of the film’s most thankless roles) behind. Once there, Jack gets hit on by his gay, next-door-neighbor (Louis Hunter) and meets his dad’s favorite veternarian (Natasha Lyonne, with the film’s other thankless non-role). He also finds a mysterious tape recording, addressed to him, and some rather strange, disturbing things in the attic. As Jack begins to remember more and more about his repressed childhood, he also comes to learn some terrible things, secrets that no one should ever have to know. Will Jack be able to hold on to his fraying sanity or will his trip home be a journey straight into Hell?
Jack Goes Home is one of those rare films where I’m not sure how much it means to say you liked it…or if that’s even possible, to be honest. Extremely well-made and with one of my favorite performances of the year (Culkin really is magnificent in this), this was also one seriously miserable film: the revelation takes the film into a whole, horrible other direction which has the effect of sucking the viewer down into an absolute black hole of gloom. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single part of the film that I truly “enjoyed,” even though I respected the hell out of the whole thing. Even Culkin’s performance, which I’ve termed one of my ‘favorites,’ is based on such misery, anger and venom (often directed at innocent people) that is something else best admired from afar. Call Jack Goes Home the anti-feel-good hit of the fall.
And, with that, we finish the final day of October, the ever sacred 31st: Halloween. Stay tuned for a final wrap-up on everything screened this month, along with a few final thoughts. Until then: Happy Halloween, boos and ghouls!