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A Year in the Life: Diabolique Magazine’s Top Titles of 2017

Another year has passed and a new one is set to begin. However, here at Diabolique, we aren’t ready to say goodbye to 2017 just yet. This has been a big year for our little outlet as we made our return to print with issues 26 and 27, respectively. We dedicated our comeback to Asian genre cinema and the feedback was very positive. The follow-up issue, meanwhile, focused entirely on magick, fairy tales, and folk horror — it was a sell-out. Managing an independent print outlet in the current publishing climate isn’t easy nor is it wise, but we believe in keeping physical media alive and we do it because we’re passionate and wisdom is overrated anyway. This is a labor of love first and foremost and the positive response has been very humbling. That makes it all worth it at the end of the day. We hope to print more magazines in 2018 and we have some other exciting new projects in the works we hope will engage your mind and indulge your passion for the macabre.

But more on that when it’s time to spill our secrets…

Now, before we skip on ahead into next year, we decided to round up some of our staff to celebrate the year that’s been. The strange and deranged entertainment that fuels our desire to keep doing this daily has been strong this year, and no staff list is like the next. Instead of a traditional “Best Movies of 2017” feature, we expanded ours to include television and impressive home media releases as well. We’re sure you, dear reader, will agree with some selections and vehemently disagree with others — that’s the beauty of being individuals with unique tastes, after all — so be sure to share your own lists with us. Let’s give the entertainment of 2017 the swansong it deserves before we find out what next year has in store.

Joseph Perry – Contributing Writer

5. Always Shine (Sophia Takal, USA)

Always Shine is a gripping psychological thriller that boasts outstanding performances from its two leads. Beth (Caitlin Fitzgerald) is an introverted young actress who reluctantly continues to star in low-budget horror films requiring nude scenes. Her indelicate, foul-mouthed fellow actress friend Anna (MacKenzie Davis) appears for free in friends’ no-budget projects because she can’t land better roles. The two women communicate poorly in their fractured friendship but go on a weekend trip together to Big Sur anyway. The tension between them rises to a violent crescendo as their true feelings are revealed to dwell in a mutual disgust. Director Sophia Takal and writer Lawrence Michael Levine bring the film into abstract, surreal territory in the the film’s third act, a risk that paid off handsomely for this reviewer. Always Shine is a brave film that takes chances and lingers long in the memory.

4. Dead Leaves (Thierry Bouffard, Carnior & Edouard Tremblay, France)

French-language Canadian entry Dead Leaves (AKA Feuilles Mortes) is a post-apocalyptic drama with western-film tones. A fine ensemble cast brings this hypnotic motion picture to heart-wrenching life. It was written and helmed by the team of Thierry Bouffard, Carnior, and Edouard Tremblay. In a future autumn in Canadian forests, rugged, middle-aged loner Bob (Roy Dupuis) crosses wasteland trails with good-hearted and villainous people alike, including Josee (Audrey Rancourt-Lessard), a young woman who wants to be his traveling partner, something of which he wants no part. The chemistry between these two characters and actors is touching. In other subplots, a rape revenge tale includes a surgery scene guaranteed to make viewers grimace, and a tightly knit group of survivors crosses a band of bloodthirsty criminals. The third act offers a jarring balance of bleakness and hope.

3. Lowlife (Ryan Prows, USA)

Director Ryan Prows’ debut feature Lowlife is a gloriously eccentric dark comedy/crime caper, a modern take on retro grindhouse fare. The ensemble cast is a marvel, including Ricardo Adam Zarate as El Monstruo, a masked luchador who has hit rock bottom in his family’s tradition of helping the unfortunate. He is now on the payroll for deadly organ-harvester and sex trafficker Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham) and married to this man’s adopted daughter Kaylee (Santana Dempsey), who is pregnant with their baby. Motel owner Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), Haynes’ embezzling accountant Keith (co-writer Shaye Ogbanna), Keith’s friend Randy (Jon Oswald) — freshly released from prison with an unwanted swastika tattoo covering his face — and corrupt ICE agent Fowler (Jose Rosette) all cross paths to deliver a film that manages to bust your gut while tugging at your heartstrings. Speaking of hearts, a big one beats here amidst the lunatic absurdity, gritty violence, and gory set pieces.

2. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, UK)

Director William Oldroyd’s British period piece features an incredible performance by Florence Pugh as what I consider to be the year’s most chilling screen villain. She portrays Katherine Lester, a frustrated young woman trapped in a loveless marriage to an older man (Paul Hilton). Katherine enters into an affair with one of her husband’s hired hands (Cosmo Jarvis) and sets into motion a series of diabolical events. Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch have crafted a harrowing Victorian-era tragedy that offers up elements of film noir and horror. Pugh has deservedly won several awards for her performance. Indeed, her breakout turn here is reason enough to seek out Lady Macbeth, but the striking cinematography, taut direction, and the performances from the rest of the cast provide even more.

1. The Endless (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead once again prove themselves to be two of today’s best filmmakers with their third feature, The Endless. Their latest horror offering continues in the genre redefining tradition of their previous efforts Resolution (2012) and Spring (2014), this time building a marvelous enclosed world of mystery on the rural property of a cult to which brothers Justin and Aaron (played by Benson and Moorhead, respectively) have returned for a visit after escaping 10 years earlier. Enigmatic occurrences abound, such as the sudden appearances of videotapes and photographs, puzzling symbols in nature, and more. The film’s terrors are of the cosmic and existential sort, rather than the visceral. The Endless weaves a dizzying spell, working on an ever-building senses of dread and isolation.

Simon Ball – Contributing Writer

5. Borley Rectory (Ashley Thorpe, UK)

Ashley Thorpe’s Borley Rectory documents ghost hunter Harry Price’s 1929 investigation into one of Britain’s most infamous haunted houses. Over the past seven years, Ashley has stitched together the part-animated, part live-action docu-drama that features Jonathan Rigby as Price, Nicholas Vince as Borley’s rector Reverend Smith and The League of Gentleman’s Reece Shearsmith as Daily Mirror hack VC Wall, the man who called Harry in to investigate Borley’s mysterious phenomena, that includes ghostly nuns and carriages, phantom footsteps, moving objects and mysterious voices.

Shot in glorious monochrome, the period-perfect cast interact beautifully with Thorpe’s imaginative rotoscoped sets through an ethereal haze of pipe and cigarette smoke, condensing breath, candle flame, filtered sunlight and dust motes, drawing the viewer into an altogether unworldly onscreen experience. However, I think what I enjoyed most about this delightfully eccentric picture was Thorpe’s replication of imagery and style derived from the silent cinema concurrent with the haunting through atmospheric lighting design and the opening and closing the camera iris.

With the suitably spooky musical score from Mick Grierson and former Banshee Steven Severin, Borley Rectory is an all-round sensory delight. The punk/goth connection extends to former Doctor of Madness Richard Strange as Borley’s first Rector.

4. Tag (Sion Sono, Japan)

Japanese director Sion Sono can generally be relied upon to offer something outrageously spectacular, but he really excelled himself with the opening of Tag. A busload of schoolgirls are generally larking about when swotty Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) drops her pencil. Just as she bends to retrieve it a mysterious force neatly slices the top half of the bus off, bisecting all of her schoolmates at the waist. When Mitsuko takes to her heels to escape the deadly slicing wind, she finds herself plunged into a series of alternate realities that get progressively more bizarre and gory before the big reveal in the final reel

Any film that offers an outrageously violent, but hilariously comic slapstick high school massacre, a pig-headed bridegroom (who does actually have a real pig’s head), turning somersaults and a lingerie bloodbath wedding ceremony is alright by me. Tag is mad, gory and packed with well-choreographed violence, sudden death and high kicking action from the predominantly female cast.

3. Raw (Julia Ducournau, France)

Julia Ducournau’s Raw tells the story of Justine (Garance Marillier) who follows the family tradition by joining her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) at veterinary school. Naturally as a fresher Justine is subjected to a gory student induction ritual involving buckets of blood and having to chow down on a veterinary specimen. What could possibly go wrong? Well, Justine comes from vegetarian family so that pickled rabbit kidney awakens a hunger for flesh that just isn’t satisfied by a late night kebab or even those raw chicken breasts straight from the fridge. Only something more substantial and living will do. The horror ramps up as Justine sloughs her skin and starts eating and puking up her hair like a cat.

Gruesome, visceral and darkly funny, Raw takes the American teen college movie and gives it a good shake by the neck, while also being a bizarre kind of buddy and family movie as it documents Alexia’s mentoring of Justine’s transition from virginal veggie to full-on cannibal and the effect that has on their parents. The drunken pube waxing scene has to be the most gruesomely gross laugh out loud moments I have ever had.

2. Dark Circus (Julia Ostertag, Germany)

Documentary director Julia Ostertag’s debut fictional feature is a dark urban fantasy shot in Berlin. Twenty-year-old Johanna (Angela Maria Romacker) has a dead end hairdressing job and spends her evenings getting wasted with her mates, throwing up her dinner and self-harming. Fired from the hair salon Johanna is approached by a mysterious character known as the Dandy (Nikolai.Arnold). He draws her into Berlin’s parallel underworld, a realm of bizarre rituals and unknown pleasures.

Once initiated Johanna is guided by Mistress (Namjira as-Sefid) and as Johanna’s perception and self-confidence grows, she becomes integrated with the bizarre characters that populate the occult realm of Dark Circus, while her conventional life outside disintegrates. As she gains insight into her deepest desires and darkest nightmares, Dark Circus documents Johanna’s transformation into a powerful woman.

Dark Circus is an immersive experience that blew me away with blast after blast of exuberant visual imagery, extravagant costume and set design and the outrageously transgressive behaviour that takes place behind the narrative. Ostertag shot the film with the participation of Berlin’s thriving underground punk, fetish and BDSM community who were given a free creative reign to perform, with the result that the film looks totally amazing.

1. Boabhan Sith AKA The White Fairy (David Hutchinson, UK)

For non-Celts the title of Scottish director David Hutchinson’s self-financed horror comedy should be pronounced “Bavanshee” and it’s a kind of ancient Scottish demon. Boabhan Sith features Greg Drysdale as Jeremiah Clate, a Scottish Laird whose family are subject to a curse that turns the Clate women into Boabhan Sith when they produce a male heir. The curse can only be broken when threescore people witness the Baobhan Sith just as a rare flower, the bog bloater, indigenous to his remote island blooms. So Clate hits upon the complex scheme of conning filmmakers Senga (Janet de Vigne) and Freya (Larah Bross) into coming to the island, to film the Baobhan Sith and show the film at a mainland horror film festival when the flower blooms to ensure a large enough audience to lift the curse. (A bit of a risky strategy if you ask me).

Part satire on the business of indie horror filmmaking and exhibiting, Boabhan Sith really is as mad as it sounds, and for good measure, Hutchinson throws in a bonkers housekeeper, a mad egg lady and a demonically possessed chicken just to push this crazy Celtic folk horror even further over the comedic edge.

Jeremy Kibler – Contributing Writer

5. It (Andrés Muschietti, USA)

One of my most anticipated films of the year, Stephen King adaptation It left me soaring like one of Pennywise’s balloons and wanting to watch Chapter 2 immediately. Even if the evil entity terrorizing Derry, Maine was excised from the film, this would still work as an emotionally resonant film about underdog camaraderie and the fears and anxieties we all felt when we were kids. The performances by the seven young actors in the Losers’ Club are all terrific, and it’s no hyperbole that Bill Skarsgard’s chilling portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown deserves to take a place next to Robert England’s Freddy Krueger.

4. Super Dark Times (Kevin Phillips, USA)

Another remarkable feature debut found its way onto this list. Super Dark Times, which might have gone under the radar, is an unsettling, moody, excellently acted indie about adolescence and how an accident can force one into the heart of darkness and collapse a friendship. It’s a small film, but the rewards are huge and hard to shake; the less one knows about this one, the better.

3. mother! (Darren Aronofsky, USA)

Darren Aronofsky never stops being a filmmaker to watch, but his latest, mother!, is unlike anything one is expecting. Playing almost as a dark farce that eventually erupting into a wild nightmare, the film completely swings for the fences and becomes one of the most visceral cinematic fever dreams in recent memory. mother! leaves us with plenty to mull over, and every viewer will have his or her own interpretation, which is just about the greatest pleasure about cinema that thinks outside the box.

2. Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA)

Jordan Peele, one-half of sketch-comedy pair Key and Peele, knocked it out of the park with his directorial debut, Get Out. It’s definitely a horror film but also a pointed social commentary on racism still lingering in the world. It’s such a shock that this got the green light by a major studio but we should all be glad that it did; Get Out is ballsy, disturbing, and extremely vital, not to mention entertaining as all get-out.

1. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, USA)

A meditation on life, death and grief, writer-director-editor David Lowery’s A Ghost Story left me unprepared for how much it would move me. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a couple living in a Texas ranch home, and after Affleck’s character dies in an accident, his spirit returns home with the white sheet from the slab over him. Without saying more, the film spans time and space like an elliptical journey and takes on a plane of personal self-reflection for the viewer. It’s strange and beautiful, challenging and haunting, and the best film of 2017.

Brad Gullickson – Contributing Writer

5. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, USA)

Anne Hathaway’s Gloria topples from her comfortable New York blogger elite status, crashes upon her hometown floor with an impossibly flat air mattress, and does her damnedest not to lose herself in the bottle while tending bar at the local watering hole. She’s doomed. Until she discovers a psychic connection with a colossal kaiju terrorizing the population of Seoul, South Korea. Nacho Vigalondo’s weirdo monster mash deserved more eyeballs than it got. Not just for the bonkers premise and satisfying creature design, but for delivering a complicated sad-sack reawakening worthy of cinema’s most down and out boozehounds. Colossal is Marty meets Godzilla.

After the film screened at the 2016 Fantastic Fest, Vigalondo stated that Colossal was actually his response to the anonymous and often venomous abuse found online. Fanboys take to Twitter to launch attacks against anything that doesn’t meet their provincial point of view, and the resulting emotional damage taints any proper discourse. What would these trolls do with the power of a kaiju crushing homes half the world away? Enter Jason Sudeikis’ nice-guy to provide the horrendous skin of toxic masculinity. Colossal succeeds in its genre ambitions while providing a good slap across the face of the culture most primed to appreciate it.

4. The Devil’s Rain (Robert Fuest, USA)

William Shatner and Tom Skerritt vs. a goat-faced Ernest Borgnine. What more could you possibly want from the movies? How about a proper restoration and a Blu-ray packed with special features? Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day, but the good folks over at Severin believed the world deserved to rediscover this post-Exorcist cash grab, and I thank them for their faith.

The Devil’s Rain is a true oddity. Directed by the man who brought us The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (Robert Fuest), shot with the same eye that lensed multiple Blue Demon luchador epics as well as Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (Alex Phillips Jr.), edited by Steven Spielberg’s right hand man (Michael Kahn), and populated with a cast from a rejected ‘70s disaster flick (Shatner, Skerritt, Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, and an eye-less John Travolta). The Devil’s Rain behaves unlike any other entry in Satanic panic cinema. They desperately tried to legitimize the production using guidance from the Church of Satan, and went so far as to keep Anton LaVey onset to provide technical accuracy to the ceremonies. The final product is still a cheesy mess of a flick, but an incredibly attractive and utterly gooey must-see.

3. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, USA)

While Universal failed yet again to launch their Monster Cinematic Universe with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Guillermo del Toro absolutely schooled them on how to deliver a new take on one of their classic creations. The Shape of Water feels like the culmination of everything del Toro has been striving for since his very first feature. Here is a compassionate celebration of The Other as a reflection of The Known. It’s less of a Beauty and the Beast romance as it is a Beast and the Beast relationship; two monsters seeing the splendor in each other.

Sally Hawkins crushed my soul with her performance as the cleaning lady who found love in the eyes of Doug Jones’ amphibian man. In a world of isolation and loneliness, friends and co-workers come together to aid in their togetherness. Del Toro never gives the audience an easy-out with the creature. There’s no mistaking him for a human being. He’s not a man trapped in a fish body. You must buy into their love affair based completely on Hawkins’ point of view. Their bond salves our own discontent and managed to rekindle my own faith in humanity.

2. The Adventures of Captain Marvel (John English & William Witney, USA)

Beating Batman by a couple of years, Captain Marvel was the first comic book superhero to hit the silver screen. While he’s not regarded as highly today as yesterday (and was forced to undergo the SHAZAM! re-branding thanks to the rise of DC Comics’ top competitor), there was a time when the exploits of Billy Batson outsold those of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. The Adventures of Captain Marvel is the saga of an aspiring archaeologist who stumbles upon a wizard in a cave that grants him access to a crime-busting alter ego via a magic word. This 12-chapter serial pits young Batson against gangsters, spies, and the cult of the Scorpion. It’s a rollicking thriller, featuring top-tier stunts to match its endless bravado.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics give this spandex classic a rich treatment with their new 4K scan from the Paramount archives. Why wait for Warner Brothers to bungle the concept with their upcoming adaptation, The Adventures of Captain Marvel revels in a theatricality lost in this era of boundless blockbuster entertainment. Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel is confidence personified, and he acts as if he’s been ripped straight from the four-color panels. Whether you’re hooked into the MCU for another twenty years or not, this miraculous Blu-ray showcases the appeal of the sub-genre contemporary audiences may never escape.

1. Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA)  

No film this year rattled me as hard as Get Out. It is an exceptional thriller, as well as the ugliest reflection of our greatest sins. Ultimately, an absolute product of its filmmaker. Jordan Peele’s sketch comedy specialized in calling out American injustice through brutal wit and humor. Rarely did a laugh escape without a profound sense of tragedy or downright disgust. For his directorial debut, Peele continued that trend with a highly effective horror film that never betrayed its own rage.

Get Out is a film made by a fan and a student of genre. It is an experience steeped in cinematic history that never falls into the trap of simple homage. While shades of The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby are felt beneath its structure, Peele provides an uncomfortable thriller that wins its fright from our nation’s failures. Get Out is an attack on white audience’s congratulatory sense of progress. The good liberal can quit patting themselves on the back, and wake up to the micro and macro aggressions that run rampant and unchecked. TSA may save the day, but the red and blue lights of Rod Williams’ patrol car expose our grotesque complacency with the usual dreadful ending.

Kieran Fisher – Managing Editor

5. Mom & Dad (Brian Taylor, USA)

When I first heard the news that Nicholas Cage would be re-teaming with Brian Taylor (one half of Neveldine/Taylor) for a movie about a virus that makes parents kill their children, my heart skipped a beat and my cheeks flushed with joy. The co-director of Crank making a movie about this kind of insensitive subject matter was never going to be subtle in the first place, but casting an actor like Cage only confirmed that it was going to be nuttier than a buffet hosted by squirrels. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.

Cage is a cinematic art form, and when he has a severe case of the “Cage Rage” he’s a joy to watch. But Taylor is a director who knows how to control the Cage Rage, unleashing little hints of Cage’s lunacy before letting his man explode. Sometimes the joy of watching Cage is seeing the crazy build up before the magical explosion blows the movie to smithereens. It’s like the thrill you get from a rollercoaster as it slowly climbs the rungs before the velocity begins. Mom & Dad is the cinematic equivalent of a rollercoaster, and if your idea of entertainment is seeing Cage smash up a pool table with a sledgehammer while singing “The Hokey Pokey” you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.

The best part about Mom & Dad, though, is that it’s a satire about parenting. Sometimes kids — especially teenagers — are annoying and drive parents crazy. I’ve never been a parent, but if I had children they’d probably drive me to murder. In Mom & Dad, the craziness just happens to become a murder epidemic. Brian Taylor is known for making movies which pummel their message home with the subtlety of a nuclear blast, and while their tongues are always placed firmly in their cheeks, they’re much smarter than they ever get credit for.

4. Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA)

When it comes to racism, it’s easy to blame it all on white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s. However, even well-meaning liberals can sometimes be guilty of subconsciously perpetuating racism, and in Jordan Peele’s stunning feature-length debut, this idea is explored to unnerving, devastating, and sometimes, hilarious effect. This was the pop culture clarion call that was needed to start addressing these issues, and hopefully Get Out continues to inspire these conversations even beyond the realms of entertainment as long as such problems are pertinent.

But the film is so much more than a social commentary. While, the talking points of Get Out understandably focus on the film’s subtext, it should also be praised for its originality. It’s so easy to dismiss mainstream horror as being much of the same old, same old, but Get Out completely shattered that notion by delivering an audacious and inventive offering that conquered the box office. The film’s success showed that there’s a market for original scare fare, and hopefully this has paved the way for a new era of bold, unique genre cinema with widespread appeal.   

3. Headshot (Timo Tjahjanto & Kimo Stamboel, Indonesia)

This has been a great year for action movies across the spectrum. John Wick: Chapter 2, Atomic Blonde, Logan, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard showed that even mainstream Hollywood was in the mood for more hard-edged fare in 2017. Meanwhile, The Fate of the Furious and Wonder Woman provided the big, silly, escapist fun we need sometimes. Elsewhere, the UK gave us an unsung indie gem with Bad Day for the Cut, and South Korea impressed like they always do with Ak-Nyeo (The Villainess), The Prison, The Merciless, and more. I could go on, but my favorite came from Indonesia and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Headshot marked the third genre effort by the Mo Brothers, the impressive writer-director pairing who brought us Rumah Dara (Macabre, 2009) and Killers (2014). The film stars Iko Uwais (The Raid) as an amnesiac with a dark past, which he must eliminate with bone-crunching martial arts and bullets when it comes back to haunt him. As he retraces his memories, the body count increases and leads him toward a bloody showdown for the ages. Imagine a Bourne movie, albeit with gung-ho action and lots of mayhem, and you almost have Headshot in a nutshell.

Headshot is hyper-violent and brutal at times, but what surprised me most was just how much heart and sweet melodrama it boasts. The romantic subplot is a tad generic, sure, but Uwais and his co-star Chelsea Islan have good chemistry together and their characters are so likeable that you want to see them overcome their plight. The plight, on the other hand, is what makes the film so exciting. The Mo’s take us to some extreme pretty extreme places at times, such as a bus full of innocent civilians being gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a year where gun violence has once again shocked the real world, scenes like this one pack a disturbing punch. For me, this movie is a rainbow of emotions and yet another impressive release from Indonesia.

2. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, USA)

With his debut, Bone Tomahawk, author-cum-director S. Craig Zahler took us to the Old West for a tale of frontier adventure and native cannibalism; almost as if the heroes of a John Ford Western yarn stumbled into the unforgiving terrains of a Ruggero Deodato exploitation vehicle. That movie also featured violence so graphic that it made viewers cringe, with one particular scene boasting arguably the greatest gore gag of modern times. When it was announced that his sophomore feature would be a prison-set fight movie, my hopes were naturally high. And thankfully, Zahler didn’t disappoint — in fact, I actually prefer this to Bone Tomahawk.

Regardless of Zahler’s reputation for violence, however, his films only feature bloodletting in brief spurts. Instead, his focus is placed on characters and the harsh worlds in which they occupy. He doesn’t hurry towards the climax either, giving his characters plenty of room to breathe in the process. Brawl in Cell Block 99 revolves around Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a drug pusher who gets sent down after a job goes awry. Naturally, this doesn’t go down well with the bad people who lost out on their big payday because of his mishaps, so to make amends they kidnap Bradley’s pregnant wife and threaten to have her and her unborn child murdered unless he kills another inmate on their behalf. The only problem is that the inmate in question is locked up in another prison, so Bradley must think outside the box in order to get himself transferred and do their nefarious bidding.

Chaos ensues, things get bloody, surprises happen. But it’s the gradual descent into hell which makes Brawl such a worthwhile journey. Bradley is a multi-layered character who’s as gentle and composed as he is prone to crushing skulls with his bare knuckles. Vaughn gives a career-best performance as our protagonist, and it’s a meaty role which allows for him to showcase his dramatic chops as well as his ability to punch a car to death with his bare hands. This isn’t the same Vince Vaughn you might associate with all those comedies; he’s completely transformed here, and he’s heading into a stage of his career which promises more grittier genre efforts going forward as he’s already re-teamed with Zahler for the upcoming police brutality thriller Dragged Across Concrete.

1. Good Time (Ben & Josh Safdie, USA)

Grimy New York has served as the backdrop for many a genre classic. During the heyday of filmmakers like Larry Cohen, William Lustig, Frank Henenlotter, and Abel Ferrara, the Big Apple’s seedy underbelly felt like just as much of a character in movies as the actors themselves. In recent years, however, NYC has been portrayed as much cleaner and more gentrified place, but the Safdie’s have other ideas. If you’ve been missing the dirt and grime, look no further.

Good Time stars Robert Pattinson (yes, the glittering vampire from Twilight) as a petty criminal who must break his mentally disadvantaged brother out of police custody after they botch a bank robbery. Unfortunately, he ends up freeing the wrong criminal by mistake, and the rest of the night is spent dealing with the consequences as he encounters problem after problem in the city’s seedier burroughs.

As far as thrillers go, they don’t come much better than this. Tension is tangent in every frame — from the opening robbery to the shocking final moments. This is the cinematic equivalent of a timebomb, and its psychedelic elements make it feel akin to a fever dream — or nightmare, depending how you look at it. The Safdie’s recently signed on to remake Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs., and I completely trust them to do a good job. This is a vision of NYC the great man would probably be fond of capturing himself, because Good Time does its forefathers proud.

Joseph Dwyer – Web Editor

5. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, Poland)

Sometimes I complain about the stagnant state of cinema, lamenting that it ain’t what it used to be. Some friends and colleagues of mine are stuck in this state of mind constantly. However, this year I began to have more faith in the contemporary output — how can someone complain about the lack of originality in film when a Polish horror musical about mermaids was just unleashed on the world? And furthermore it is a legitimately good film (however you want to qualify that). The Lure is colorful, sexy, disgusting, and trading among various tragic emotions such as love, desire, and jealousy. It delivers.

4. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, France)

I can’t recall any films in recent memory that have such a genuine, brooding, quiet woman as the protagonist like Kristen Stewart’s Maureen in Personal Shopper. Cinema has commonly shown quiet, smoldering men on screen, but female characters are so often created as outward, extroverted people who move the plot forward. In Personal Shopper it is sometimes difficult to even understand Stewart’s mumbling as she paces around. It is hard to get this sort of character right in an engaging manner. The film hinges on a preoccupation with contemporary communication like text messaging, but that may be the only setback in it. The passing scenes involving psychic medium abilities, forbidden high fashion, and “waiting” are the types of things that stick with the viewers, growing on them until the latent realization that Personal Shopper is an amazing film.

3. Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA)

I saw Get Out in a crowded theater and it was one of the most memorable public viewing experiences of my life. The audience was akin to horror viewers of years past, yelling at and heckling the characters before the first scene was over. In this darkened space, you could feel the racial tensions and reactions just by listening to the crowd. I experienced the awkwardness of someone near me yelling, “Get that white bitch!” as lead actor Daniel Kaluuya fights his deceptive girlfriend (Allison Williams). At one point a woman stood up in the front row and began screaming at the person next to her — I never found out why. Get Out risks being overrated when looking at the reaction audiences had to the film everywhere, but it is one of those odd popular films that deserves the hype. Jordan Peele accomplished something great and memorable by letting viewers enjoy the thrill of genre filmmaking while simultaneously showing the realities of racism in America. I hope people scream at this film in anger and satisfaction for years to come.

2. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, USA)

After the wonder and perplexion of Inland Empire wore off soon after seeing it about a decade ago, I began thinking of David Lynch in a somewhat negative manner, often referring to him as overrated. Aside from Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive I thought too much enthusiasm was put into appreciating his oeuvre. Twin Peaks: The Return is a strong reminder that Lynch is in fact one of the greatest living filmmakers today. The Showtime series was very much a return of Lynch’s entire career, featuring his signature motifs and much of the cast he has worked with over the past 40 years. Honestly, I never even finished watching the original Twin Peaks, but one of the great things about The Return is that it isn’t even really necessary to have watched the past episodes. It works as a complex artwork all its own. Greeted with almost universal acclaim, it is a series that very much deserves the awe it inspired.

1. The Untamed (Amat Escalante, Mexico)

It is easy to dismiss The Untamed as an uncreative rip off of Zulawski’s 1981 film Possession. However, Zulawski and his followers don’t really have the right to claim tentacle sex monsters as their own — Lovecraft threw that notion (perhaps sans the sex) into the public domain much earlier in the twentieth century. Amat Escalante’s latest film shows the pleasure and aggression of dealing with gender and sexuality. We see women engaging in transgressive desires, and a man dealing with the cyclical fear of societal violence against his hidden homosexuality. Some viewers might find the violence in the film a bit gratuitous, but The Untamed is one in a long line of films that deal with the horrors of sexuality in an unflinching manner. There’s also a great special effects scene involving a bunch of animals having an orgy inside a crater. Sorry if I just spoiled that for you. There is something about the film that traumatized and hypnotized the cockles of my movie-watching year.

Kat Ellinger – Editor-in-Chief

As usual, I am way behind the times given that I am frequently absorbed in older films for the purposes of research. 2017 was a research heavy year. I didn’t catch many of the hot topic films; for instance, mother! But I did manage to gather up five for this list. Five brilliant films indeed, in no particular order…

5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, USA)

In one of those “almost missed the list, but watched at the last minute” moments, yesterday I settled in for Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer knowing nothing about it. Fuck. That’s all I can say. An absolutely astounding film on so many levels. A genuine masterpiece. As with most of these films I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s cinema that needs to be seen and experienced without knowing a thing in advance.

Taking masses of inspiration from Kubrick’s The Shining in regards to building tension, The Killing of a Sacred Deer unravels its bizarre mystery through silence, endless questions, and gargantuan spaces, which threaten to swallow up all its main players. Pumping endlessly on, question arrives after question, until stress builds to suffocating levels. The film uses no score, just a series of dread-inducing dissonant rumbles (again reminiscent of The Shining). The main characters all act as if they are half asleep, delivering dialogue like automatons, which makes every word and action loaded with some sort of sinister connotation. No emotion is shown until the second act. But when it arrives it does so in a tidal wave that’s ugly and uncomfortable. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is relentless. Sickening. It is the kind of film that makes you want to crawl out of your skin. Chock full of inappropriate words and behaviour, tinged with the occult, painfully beautiful to look at, even genuinely funny at times, with stand out performances from all involved (Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Silverstone, and especially Barry Keoghan, who gives a terrifying performance), this is one film everyone needs to see.

4. Anti-Porno (Sion Sono, Japan)

And talking of uncomfortable, this leads me to Sion Sono’s beautifully confrontational Anti-Porno. A film that certainly lives up to its title by the way in which it challenges the notion of the objectification of women in the porn industry and the wider context of Japanese culture. It’s an absolute headfuck, wrapped up in bright primary colours and discourse about shitting, pissing, rape, fantasy, and fucking. The erotic scenes are heavily charged with sadism (our Joseph E Dwyer wrote a fabulous piece on this aspect here). And it isn’t short of graphic images either; including one where a woman is penetrated with a strap-on by a jeering group of women who are intent on degrading her.

Sono has his characters constantly break the fourth wall in a sublime use of Brechtian alienation effect. So you just have to keep telling yourself it’s only a movie. But with characters constantly swapping out roles and positions, as it effortlessly oozes between a movie within a movie, and into the realm of fantasy and memory, you have to run to keep up.

I must admit I am a sucker for everything Sono makes. His films are usually the highlight of every year. But Anti-Porno was one that really took me off guard. Exciting stuff. Oh yes, and Asami is in it… I love her so much.

3. Lady MacBeth (William Oldroyd, UK)

Sadistic women — or in this case woman —  was also the topic for William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth, which arrived with relatively no fanfare on a very limited run of screenings in the UK. The film’s distribution unit did it no favours either, making it impossible for press to review by ignoring enquiries, which makes me feel a little disappointed because this film should have been much bigger than it was. It is now streaming on various platforms (BFI Player and Amazon Prime) for those who want to catch it. And I recommend you do, at the earliest opportunity.

The story is a loose adaptation of novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov but moves events out of Eastern Europe and into the cold, dark, savage climate of Northern England circa 1865. Florence Pugh plays the titular “Lady” — Katherine Lester —  a young woman who is sold off into marriage to a grotesque, brutal, unloving man (portrayed by Paul Hilton). Like all self-respecting Gothic melodramas Katherine finds herself locked away in a foreboding mansion in the middle of nowhere, where she is expected to pass away her time in pious solitude. Her husband is away a lot, so she ignores his orders to stay inside. Her explorations of the estate lead her smack bang into a torrid love affair with one of the servants, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), but her sexual awakening leads to aggression, obsession and eventual murder.

What I loved about the film was the way in which it really harnessed the idea of female sexual energy as a powerful, cruel, and devastating force. Katherine Lester wouldn’t be out of place in the pages of Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, as a personification of the writer’s chthonic demonic female: cruel like nature, able to rip the Apollonian male apart with her bare hands. Refreshing to see. Although the film does resort to a moral conclusion in the end, Pugh gives an exhilarating and empowered performance all the same.  

2. November (Rainer Sarnet, Estonia)

Brutal landscapes were also at the forefront on November, which can only be described as a cross-between the desolate style of something like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, or František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová, combined with Terry Pratchett fantasy elements, Gothic romance and jokes about eating shit.

Adapted from Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk, this Estonian film (directed by Rainer Sarnet) played at Fantasia Festival earlier in the year, but since then has received little attention. With a home video release on the horizon this is one film you want to put on your radar if you like any of the following: folk horror, Gothic, weird fantasy, occult themed films and dark humour.

The film is again centered around marriage rituals and forbidden love, using the theme of witchcraft and magical realism to weave its beguiling web in a story about a girl who just wants the love of a local lad, but he is besotted with a aristocrat girl. It has to be seen to be believed, throwing just about everything into the mix including shapeshifting and werewolves, strange mythical creatures — which are made from items of scrap and then brought to life through magic so they can do their master’s bidding (usually stealing stuff from the neighbours) — ghosts and moonlit rituals where the dead rise up and walk amongst the living. An absolutely beautiful film and original story, which is really funny when it wants to be too.

1. Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA)

And last, but certainly not least, my final best of has to go to Get Out. The film seems to have appeared, deservedly so, on many lists this year, including topping the BFI’s. There has been much debate about whether it is a comedy or a horror. Even more from people who thought it was predictable, wanting to signpost how clever they were figuring it all out. None of that matters. Get Out is an enjoyable ride, with a mixture of both hilarious and horrific moments played out to perfection. Director Jordan Peele knows what he’s doing. The film exhibits a real love for both genres, with care and attention to detail.

I am one of those people who scoffs a lot at modern films, the cynical old bastard that I am. I took my daughter to see it after she cajoled me into it. I sunk back in my chair and groaned when I saw the moniker “Blumhouse” appear in the opening credits. Assuming it to be another home invasion movie, I prepared for the worst. Five minutes later I was hooked. All I will say is Peele is a modern day Ira Levin. His material may be derivative of the aforementioned writer, but it’s what he does with it that counts. I am not going to go into all the sublime context, and the film has lead to some really interesting readings from various commentators (including our own brilliant Less Lee Moore which you can read here). All I will say is if you haven’t had a chance to catch this film, do so now. Chances are you won’t regret it.

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One comment

  1. Great lists, thank you. Although I would have to disagree with the inclusion of “Brawl in Cell Block 99”, an abysmal film from start to end with a exponentially poor cast.

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