Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nothing But A Series of Bad Decisions: JENIFER [Argento-thon]

Masters of Horror: Jenifer (2005)
Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Anchor Bay DVD (R1)
Rating: 4 / 10

After dabbling in the realm of the made-for-TV movie with the relatively pedestrian Do You Like Hitchcock?, Dario Argento returned to the short-form TV format with two contributions to Showtime's Masters of Horror series. Argento's own brief-lived horror show Door Into Darkness had met with relative success in his native Italy in the 70s, but he stuck to feature films throughout the next several decades. Argento's films had been getting increasingly gory, and this is no exception. But rather than focus primarily on the bloodletting, Jenifer (as well as Argento's MoH follow-up, Pelts) concerns itself with desire and features some very disturbing sex scenes.

In short, Jenifer is the story of a cop named Frank and the series of awful life decisions he makes after saving a girl from being murdered. This girl, Jenifer, is an odd one to say the least. In addition to having a severe facial deformity and solid black eyes, she's unable to speak. Frank's sent to a police psychiatrist after murdering the man who was attacking Jenifer, but he insists he's fine, except for a nasty little cut on his hand that he sustained in the rescue. But as the wound begins festering, Frank's mind quickly dissolves into a writhing mess of idiocy. I believe this is what we call a metaphor. Either that, or Frank really has a brain infection, because things get really, really, stupid.

After worrying she won't be taken care of properly at the station, Frank makes the awful decision to bring Jenifer home to temporarily live with his family. She thanks him by running around naked, terorrizing his wife, and eating his cat. Thank god his teenage son isn't bothered though - he responds to all this by saying "She's fucking awesome, and she's got a great rack. You know, for a Morlock." Add that to the list of phrases that I'll make sure to never to say in the presence of my parents.

If that's not enough, Jenifer attacks Frank's wife. His family, quite reasonably, moves out until he's willing to send Jenifer back to the station. Rather than agree to this perfectly understandable demand, Frank goes all out and has sex with Jenifer. It's all downhill from here. Jenifer's feral nature continues to manifest in increasingly violent instances as she kills and eats multiple people. Whoops - oh, yeah. Turns out she's a cannibal too. Frank, aware of this and fearing he'll be held responsible for the deaths, covers for her by dutifully burying the bodies. Eventually the couple flees to a cabin in the woods, where you can probably guess that things end poorly.

My main problem with Jenifer: the magnitude of Frank's idiocy. There may be something here that Argento was trying to say about the nature of addiction and Frank's acquiescence to his primal urges. The problem is that these things do not logically follow from what we know of Frank. I saw no motivation for his willingness to destroy his life and his family, other than that Jenifer is good in bed.

Her cooking needs a little work, though.
That said, Jenifer does a great job at being unsettling. It's not in any way subtle though, and it's a departure from Argento's previous work both stylistically and thematically. Not inherent problems, as it's clear that Argento at this point was attempting to evolve - this film just doesn't make a strong case for itself. That and the writing is downright bad. There's not a whole lot else to latch on to either. When I heard the first few "la, la, las" in the opening sequence I thought Claudio Simonetti was back in fully form, but this is no Deep Red. The majority of the score sounds indistinguishable from typical TV fare.

The Good

If disturbing is what you're after, Jenifer will certainly deliver. The gore effects are top-notch.

The Bad

Frank's motivations are unclear, the dialogue sucks, and at times this just seems like a showcase for monster sex.

Also, cat death is always a minus.

...the Hell?

Frank! You've watched her eat like two people! Stop it!

Stop it!

The Verdict

Skip this one. I can sum things up for you right here: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, especially when the good deed is followed by sex with a feral cannibal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Let the Magic Powers and Severed Limbs Fly in THE WARRIOR

The Warrior (1981)
aka Jaka Sembung
Director: Sisworo Gautama Putra
Seen via: Mondo Macabro DVD (R1)
Rating: 6 / 10

One of my new year's resolutions this year is to seek out more Indonesian genre films. After having my brain dissolved by Lady Terminator last year, and stumbling upon a series of posters depicting flying heads trailing organs (known in Balinese mythology as a Leyak), I felt that I was in for a special kind of madness. I mean, look at this poster (from Mystics in Bali):

That's more horrifying than any monster I've seen in years. I was instantly sold.

While Indonesian action experienced a brief spike in popularity last year with Gareth Evans' The Raid, the country's film industry has a rich and lurid past, particularly in genre films that flourished in the 70s and 80s. This era marked the relaxation of government-imposed censorship that had stifled the industry in prior decades. Combined with a government mandate that studios produce one original film for every five imports and additional tax incentives for filmmakers, this ushered forth a golden age of sleaze. Cheap, trashy genre films were easy to churn out and were guaranteed moneymakers. Audiences ate them up, especially when they were based on popular trends in Western films.

1981's The Warrior blends action and martial arts to tell a story adapted from a popular Indonesian comic book. The hero is Jaka Sembung, a mystical 19th century warrior who fights the oppressive Dutch colonialist regime in West Java. Sembung is played by Indo-action hero Barry Prima, and here he acts as sort of a Robin Hood figure to the oppressed Javanese. That makes the Dutch leader Van Schramm his Sheriff of Nottingham. This man boasts some impressive facial hair:

But despite his genial appearance, he's out for Jaka Sembung's blood. When he puts a bounty on Sembung's head, a large fire-blowing wizard walks right into the camp and accepts, despite being shot at by tons of Dutch troops who aren't quite sure why he's there. Oh yeah, bullets don't do much to any of the warriors in this movie - these guys are pretty nearly indestructable. As if that wasn't enough for the Dutch leaders, they make this guy wrestle a bull in order to prove himself. No problem - he just snaps its neck with his super strength.

Another wizard is resurrected from the dead to fight Sembung. He's been decapitated, but that's not a big deal. His head is just happy to be reunited with his body. Nothing phases this guy either - losing a head, arms, legs. No matter what's chopped off, he just keeps on fighting and reattaches his missing parts. Now the only problem is finding Jaka Sembung. Off to the village where he was last seen! Just in case you weren't convinced that the Dutch troops were evil, one of them threatens a local village kid with a gun unless the villagers 'fess up.

Rather than allow an innocent to come to harm, Jaka Sembung  surrenders himself, but not without a fight. The regenerating wizard is just too much for him though, so he's captured, jailed, nailed to a wall, blinded...

 AND turned into a pig.

How's he ever going to get out of this one?

With the power of Allah, of course. I'm not at all up to speed with the source material in this story, but from what I can gather, Sembung's power comes from an amulet that he wears which imbues him with superpowers when he prays. It's sort of a funny idea actually - can you imagine a superhero who prays to Jesus for his powers?

...oh. Never mind.

There are a lot of things to enjoy about The Warrior, many of which are the fight scenes. They're not always slickly choreographed, but filling them with magic, flying limbs, and blood keeps them engaging. The evil wizards are also a blast, simply due to how much they enjoy being evil. I always enjoy villains who clearly relish being bad, and these guys are great examples. They're always laughing and taunting Jaka Sembung, especially after pulling tricks like kicking him with a severed leg. "How many appendages come back to you? You are going to lose!"

It's also pretty interesting that most of the downtime between battles in the film focuses on the villains rather than Jaka Sembung. This gives us lots of time to revel in their villainry, as opposed to watching Sembung be sort of a goody-two-shoes.

If you're looking for some martial arts fights infused with mysticism and tons of blood, The Warrior might be right up your alley. There's enough Indonesian flavor in its mythology and magic that it stays interesting, and never feels too derivative.

Also, there's this.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Is Humanity Worth All the Trouble?

The Annunciation (1984)
Director: András Jeles
Seen via: Undisclosed Source
Rating: 7.5 / 10

You know the story: tempted by Lucifer and exiled from the garden of Eden after eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve walk forth into a life of regret for their abandoned innocence. This is how The Annunciation begins, but it quickly falls into stranger territory after Lucifer causes Adam and Eve to hallucinate different eras throughout the future as a ploy to convince them that nothing but ruin and pain await humanity.

The first thing you'll likely notice about Hungarian director András Jeles' The Annunciation (adapted from the 1861 play The Tragedy of Man by fellow Hungarian Imre Madách) is the odd decision to populate the film exclusively with children. It's the obvious symbolic choice for the opening scene. But what about the remainder, which is soaked in high-level discourse, blood, and cryptic iconography? Imagine the most sincere grade-school stage play you can, rife with questions about determinism, the corrupt nature of society, and the fate of mankind, all taken with the utmost seriousness by its young actors. It sounds ridiculous, but Jeles manages to push it into the realm of the surreal with what seems to be sheer force of will.

The tone is aided by elaborate costumes contrasted against relatively sparse settings. What appears to be the same outdoor location is used to represent multiple time periods throughout history, upon which massive set pieces such as a towering guillotine and a stone labyrinth are laid. Against these foreboding settings, the film takes on a degree of aplomb which refuses to be undercut by the youth of its actors. The kids stare off into the distance or directly into the camera as they recite their lines, often while performing slow, deliberate motions (think rituals plucked from a Jodorowsky film). The meticulous staging at times gives the impression of a classical painting - there's a often a definite lack of motion, as if the players are as stuck in their setting as humanity is in its petty quarrels. It's filled throughout with small fascinating details, such as a piece of lace that falls over the camera like a curtain, remaining there for several minutes while the film plays on. The languid, oneiric quality of the film is further multiplied by the score, which frequently deviates from orchestral or choral pieces into experimental territory.

After it leaves Eden, it's often baffling - no attempt is made to orient the viewer to the current setting other than quickly displaying the location on-screen. First, a story about Byzantine soldiers in a city where a single syllable spells the difference between heresy and piety (homoousion/homoiousion, both obscure theological terms referring to the nature of the divinity of Christ). Then a segment from the life of astronomer Johannes Kepler, bleeding into the French revolution where kids dressed as soldiers lie around in languor musing on Equality, Fraternity, and Liberty.

Through all of this, four young actors play recurring roles and bookend the film as Adam, Eve, Lucifer, and Death. If there's a thematic trajectory that each of their performances follows, I'll be damned if I can see it. In fact, other than the general arc of the story, it's hard to pull any meaning from the sea of dialogue. (How much of this is due to translation, I'm not sure. Somehow I think that's not the primary issue.) The film is so dense and cryptic that teasing apart its meaning takes a backseat to the captivating visuals. This is the film's primary weakness: the signal is too frequently lost in the noise. I'm unsure that I would walk away more enlightened were I to watch it a second time.

All this is in the end just a trick by the devil - a plot to convince Adam he should abort the fledgling human race before it begins. In a conclusion that's surprisingly trite given the heavy philosophical meandering that preceded it, Adam concludes that With God All Things Are Possible, and that he'll soldier on against the cruel future. Despite this ultimately simple message, the bulk of The Annunciation is difficult to pin down. It's the sort of film that sounds completely preposturous when described, but remains interesting despite its seemingly deliberate attempts to mire itself in art-house impermeability.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mondo Shock Tactics and a Call for Tolerance in LET ME DIE A WOMAN

Let Me Die a Woman (1977)
Director: Doris Wishman
Seen via: Synapse DVD
Rating: 6 / 10

Mondo films come in many varieties, but never are they at their best (or worst) when they're focused on subject matter that tends toward the prurient. Cloaking nudity and sex within the format of a documentary is a slick way to make the viewer feel a little more edified while they're indulging in some sleaze. Still, the old mondo tricks of staging scenes, exaggerating facts, or even flat-out making things up if it'll spice up the footage undermines any knowledge you might take away from the film. And when it comes down to it, be honest: are you really watching a movie like this to learn something?

Doris Wishman's Let Me Die a Woman is a unique little mondo picture in that it's focused on sex, but clearly not with the intent to titillate. Honing in on gender dysphoria and offering a glimpse into the lives of several transgendered individuals, it merges an objective, clinical view of the topic with more questionable shock tactics. The result is likely to make most people squeamish for one reason or another, but even today it remains an interesting historical artifact.

Before you've watched a single minute of the film, you're able to gain a sense of its attitude from the title. Notice the morbid fatalism - let me DIE a woman. Not live, which is what most of the individuals in the film are doing quite well, despite having been victims of what the film calls a "cruel trick of nature." Alternate titles included Stranger in My Body and Adam or Eve, but apparently those weren't provocative enough.

Despite its sensationalist title, what can be deceiving about Let Me Die A Woman is that it often appears very straightforward. At the beginning of the film we're introduced to Dr. Leo Wollman, who in an unprecedented feat for a mondo flick, is actually a medical expert. Wollman worked extensively with pre- and post-op transsexuals in the seventies and throughout the following decades. He was even responsible for co-authoring the Standards of Care in the nineties, which offers guidelines for doctors interacting with trans individuals. Wollman provides the backbone of the film, discussing his work and offering glimpses into group therapy sessions, physical examinations, and even an operating room for a glimpse of gender reassignment surgery (which appears to be jacked from an old medical/educational film). Be warned: this film does not hold back. Everything here is shown in all its detail, occasionally at the expense of the patients' dignity. Even assuming willing participants doesn't really absolve it from all the poking and prodding that goes on. The tone is more that of a freakshow than a doctor's office.

So was Wollman simply unaware of the context in which he'd be portrayed in this film? Were standards different enough at the time that he reasoned any exposure of the issue was better than none? With scant information about his career I can't adequately judge his motives, but it's often hard to reconcile his apparent sincerity and good nature with the exploitative material in the film. What's more, many "facts" in this film are just flat out wrong, but again, this may just be representative of the current state of medical science in the seventies.

It's hard for me to sort out how many of the attitudes in the film can be ascribed to the dated perspectives of the time and how much was deliberate sensationalism. If the sensational is what you're looking for, there's plenty here between Wollman's more down-to-earth segments - including a recreation of a do-it-yourself gender reassignment surgery performed with a hammer and chisel. There are also multiple sex scenes that could have been lifted out of any sexploitation film from the same era, with the distinction being that here they're underscored by ominous orchestral music and the inevitable reveal that "she" is a "he."(Cue dramatic swell from the brass section.)

And yet, amidst all of this, there are beacons of rationality and what seem to be good-natured intent. Most prominent are the interviews with Deborah Harten, who was born a man but had been living as a perfectly happy woman for years when she appeared in the movie. Deborah's stories are interspersed throughout the shocking portions of the film, and serve to mediate some of the more extreme content. These segments seem surprisingly progressive in their views, and are provide a necessary breath of fresh air after some of the more questionable sequences.

It's not hard to assess Doris Wishman's intent with this film. Just look at the rest of her output: nudesploitation, "roughies,"  and a failed attempt to branch out into horror (A Night to Dismember). She was a schlock pusher, and schlock is what this film is. As a mondo film, it stands out as one of the more interesting ones if you can stomach the dated attitudes and blatant misrepresentation of its subjects. Still, it seems to mark a shift toward paying increased lip service to values such as tolerance, goodwill, and sympathy, something which would become commonplace and seemingly mandated in later years. (Being Different from 1981 showcased disabled individuals and was surprisingly upbeat, particularly when it busted out some original songs.) In the midst of this, the interviews with Deborah end up nearly swaying the film's tone. Placing her in the middle of all the fearmongering, pity, thinly veiled prurience, and crass exploitation only serves to illustrate the ills of the society in which she lives alongside with the courage she's displayed in facing them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dario wants to know... DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? [Argento-thon]

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005)
Director: Dario Argento
Seen via: Anchor Bay DVD (R1)
Rating: 3.5 / 10

Dario Argento has often been referred to as "the Italian Hitchcock," and in a lot of ways the name is apt. Both Argento and Hitchcock were at one time the premiere purveyors of suspense in their home countries, reaching levels of popularity high enough to achieve household name recognition. Argento has freely admitted his admiration for Hitchcock, and Do You Like Hitchcock? is his homage to the American master of suspense.

Much like The Black Cat was Argento telling a story inspired by Poe rather than adapting an older work, this film tells a new story that draws upon a number of Hitchcock's films. As with The Black Cat, a lot of the fun here comes from playing spot-the-reference. Unlike Argento's previous homage, this film (intended for TV) is a full 90 minutes long, and doesn't really have enough weight of its own to support an entire feature.

The film opens with a boy riding his bike through the woods, following a woman back to a dirty old cabin. It's clear from the way that he's furtively pursuing her that he's watching something he shouldn't. When he finally gets close enough to the window to sneak a peek inside, he's greeting with a vision of cackling women engaged in some bizarre blood sacrifice.

Don't expect too much of an explanation as to the film's bizarre opening scene - it's more an indicator that this kid is constantly seeing things he shouldn't, even when we flash forward to the present... The kid, named Julio, is now a film student currently doing research for his thesis on (wait for it): the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently Julio hasn't seen Rear Window though, because rather than doing research he's constantly peeping into the neighbor's windows without any regard for the consequences. As someone who's writing this at time when he should be doing dissertation research, I can relate wholeheartedly to how difficult it is to avoid distractions. That's precisely why I DON'T work at home. (Not that I'd creep on people if I did - the internet is distraction enough.)

When he sees one of the girls in his daily peepshow at the video store checking out Strangers on a Train, he's intrigued. Understandably, his girlfriend isn't too thrilled with his sudden fascination for this woman. Things only get messier when someone kills the window girl's mother by beating her to death with a pestle. Against his better judgment - no wait, I take that back, Julio has no judgment at all - he begins following his neighbor, as he suspects she is conspiring with a friend. His girlfriend, now even less impressed with the state of their relationship, leaves Julio. "It's called stalking - I've read an article," she says. Although you probably don't need to have read an article to realize how bad things are going to get. Julio continues to become more involved as he tries to unravel the murder by drawing on his knowledge of Hitchcockian conspiracies.

"It's called stalking..."
The biggest problem with this movie: there are just too few variables. On the list of suspects we have window-girl Sasha, and her friend, Federica. Other than that, the only characters who get significant screen-time are Julio's girlfriend, mother, and video-store-clerk buddy. With such a narrow list of suspects, it's not hard to figure things out on your own long before Julio comes up with concrete evidence.

While it's a blatant homage to Hitchcock, this film would have been more interesting had Argento been willing to inject a little more of himself into it. The elements that push Argento's work into the nonlinear and surreal are gone, perhaps in an attempt to favor Hitchcock's more traditional approach and focus primarily on a tightly-wound narrative. But this means the film is ultimately pedestrian to look at with a plot that's too thin for the runtime.

It's interesting that of all the themes Argento could have picked out of Hitchcock's films, he chose to focus on that of voyeurism. This theme underlies nearly all of Argento's early work, and it could have been interesting to see how he interpreted it in the guise of a Hitchcock movie. Instead, we have this ultimately disappointing story that doesn't really offer anything new.

The Good

It's hard to pick out anything that stands out in this film, other than a few individual scenes. There's an attempted murder involving a bathtub drowning that's pretty brutal, but not much else. Hitchcock fans might enjoy picking out references too subtle for me to catch, but most are pretty blatant.

The Bad

The languid plot and small cast of characters doesn't do the film any justice when it tries to establish suspense. There's never really any question as to who's guilty.

...the Hell?

If witnessing a blood sacrifice isn't enough to teach young Julio that voyeurism is BAD, then I don't know what is.

The Verdict

Argento's attempt to pay homage to Hitchcock results in a film that's weaker than the individual work of either director. You'd be better off sticking to pure Argento or pure Hitchcock.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Favorite Cinematic Discoveries of 2012

We've all got holes. No, that's not what I mean, you pervert. I know exactly the kind of weird stuff you  searched for on google to get here, and I'm keeping track of it all.

What I mean is that every film fan has gaps in their viewing - except for maybe a few people who continually astonish me by having seen more films than should be possible in the integrated span of their lifetime. I'm not one of those people though. I'm also not afraid to admit I haven't seen everything, because it means I'm constantly able to benefit from all sorts of incredible recommendations. I love seeing a great movie for the first time. Picture how great it'd be to wipe all of your memories of your favorite film and have it stun you for the first time all over again. You can't put a price on that experience.

The continual feeling of discovery is a large part of the reason I like film so much. Here are a few films that blew me away for the first time this year.

All About Evil

This flick had been on my to-see list ever since I passed it up a couple of years ago at a fest in favor of ... I don't even remember. I finally broke down and watched it this year, then immediately wondered why I waited so long. What's better than a movie about murder? A movie about movies about murder, of course. Don't worry though, this isn't some awful self-indulgent meta-filled garbage. Rather, it amps up the camp and tells a blood-soaked tale of revenge and madness. When shy Deborah comes into possession of an old revival theater, she finds that the only thing that'll draw people in faster than old horror flicks are the new horror flicks she starts filming. How does she get the gore to look so real? Well, it ain't practical effects - it's because the gore is real. Things spiral out of control and culminate in a movie theater massacre that reaches Demons-levels of fun and gore. This little indie gem is populated by a cast of eccentric misfits and cult film icons that keep the tone light in spite of the high body count. It's somewhat scarce these days, but it's worth seeking out a copy, unless you want to wait for the 2014 re-release that IMDB is hinting at...

Bride of Frankenstein

One of the best favors I did for myself this year was to go back to the early days of horror and seek out classic films that had up to now escaped me. Aside from the occasional Saturday afternoon TV matinee in my youth, the Universal horror pics were untouched ground for me. While it's hard to narrow them down to a favorite, I'm going with The Bride of Frankenstein for the following reasons: 1) Dr. Pretorius, now one of my all-time favorite mad scientists. 2) The emotional depth in the monster's struggle to (re)gain his humanity, which caught me very much off guard. 3) Elsa Lanchester's ability to dominate the film in just a few minutes of screen time as the Bride. 4) How well this film embodies the paradox of how the Other is treated in the early days of horror (i.e. do we empathize with the monster, or cheer his death at the end?)

Lady Terminator

A man pulling an eel out of a seductress's lady parts and turning it into a magic dagger within the first five minutes should alert you that this is not your typical low-budget Terminator rip-off. It also in no way indicates the flood of bullets, neon, and explosions to come, nor the freewheeling enthusiasm and excess, all of which is held together by the most tenuous strings of plot. Indonesian exploitation has its own special breed of madness, and it's on full display in this - a film that by all rights should have been just another boring cash-in on an American trend. Lady Terminator surpasses its source material and becomes by turns sublime and surreal. The only thing it's missing is a Le-ak.

Night of the Comet

This film came courtesy of my favorite film series, Cinema Overdrive, which constantly uncovers hidden gems I'd otherwise overlook. It's also not above occasionally throwing more popular genre fare on the big screen, as was the case here. Valley girls surviving a zombie apocalypse sounds tedious in so many ways, but Catherine Stewart and Kelli Maroney won me over completely despite their ditziness and shallow materialism. Who knew that life in the modern world wouldn't be so different after the end of the world? These girls had it figured out a couple of decades before Shaun rolled around.


One of the most idiosyncratic and emotionally powerful pieces of navel-gazing I've ever witnessed. Watching Tarnation is like reading someone's diary, flipping through their family photos, and watching their faded old 8mm videos, while occasionally stacking up antidepressants and hallucinogens and crashing hard. What's even more remarkable is that it's primarily the work of one person - documentarian, subject, autobiographer, and curator Jonathan Caouette. Tarnation is both a distressing portrait of mental illness and an attempt to pick up and reassemble the pieces of a fractured life.

Please - tell me about your discoveries over the past year! Let them become my favorite first experiences this year.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Five Movies From 2012 That I Really Liked

I've happily given 2012 a swift kick in the rear on its way out the door, but as usual there remain a pretty sizable chunk of movies released in the last year that I need to catch up on. So, I can't claim that this is a "best of" list, nor would I want to really. With the kind of taste I have, you don't want me picking the "best" of anything. Instead, here are five movies from 2012 that I really liked. Alphabetically,


If any film caught me by surprise this year, it was Bernie. Richard Linklater doesn't so much blur the line between fiction and reality as cross it deliberately in this darkly comic tale of true crime. Jack Black finally gives me a reason to take him seriously in the role of a gregarious and somewhat effete funeral home director who's pushed to his limits when his is-it-or-isn't-it-platonic relationship with a wealthy spinster ends in bloodshed. Despite Black starring alongside Matthew McConaughy as the tireless town sherriff, the real stars are the residents of the rural Texas community as they gossip their way through the interviews that make up the bulk of the film. Maybe the most lighthearted murder story and the most accurate portrayal of small-town life you'll see all year.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

This myopic investigation into the audiovisual texture of 70s and 80s sci-fi reminds me of what Amer did with the giallo: reduce the genre to its component parts and examine them under extreme magnification. Beyond the Black Rainbow mixes up telepathy, human experimentation, new age medicine, general mindfuckery, and even some slasher tidbits and submerges them in in a haze of analogue synths and primary colors. The feel of the film drowns out any deeper meaning, but with style this strongly distilled I'm willing to ignore a slight lack of substance. Aesthetically speaking, this is my favorite film of 2012 by far.

Lovely Molly

Who knew that Eduardo Sanchez would pull through with a film this good over a decade after The Blair Witch Project? I was caught completely off guard by this extremely harrowing tale of addiction, mental illness, and (or?) demonic posession. Relative newcomer Gretchen Lodge gives her role as the titular Molly nothing short of 200% and really makes this film work in a way it probably would not have otherwise. Don't let the found-footage aspect turn you away, stay far away from the needless exposition on the film's website, and be prepared to revel in the ambiguity.


Now this is the kind of kid's movie that I'd love to see more of - one that's in no way saccharine, free of pop-culture gags, and doesn't pander to the younger crowd. What's more, it recognizes a large part of being a kid is feeling weird and out of place, and uses this idea to drive a surprisingly good ghost story. Combining great stop-motion animation with characters that are likable as they're imperfect, ParaNorman is a movie with enough to keep kids of all ages (even those approaching their third decade, ahem) entertained throughout.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Few films in the past few years have gotten under my skin like this one. It's centered around the idea that the only thing worse than encountering evil embodied in your own children would be wondering if you'd somehow caused it, and somehow remains artistically and thematically fresh in the wake of countless "evil kid" films. Tilda Swinton is as wonderful as ever, and Ezra Miller (who you might recognize from the similarly chilling Afterschool) puts himself on the map as a young actor who isn't afraid of challenging roles. These strong performances are layered within a dreamlike structure that feels as if we're examining a set of memories, and climax in a truly chilling ending.

Some honorable mentions, in no particular order: The Cabin in the Woods, Excision, The Grey, Juan of the Dead, The Loved Ones, The Raid

What were your favorites? What am I missing?