While Korea's “Train to Busan” and “The Wailing” were justifiably celebrated this year, the return to horror by Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Pulse”) slipped in under the radar. Hidetoshi Nishijima stars as Koichi, a former big-city detective relocated to the suburbs who can't resist looking into a missing-persons case in a nearby town, but who should really be paying attention to the odd Nishino family next door. Teruyuki Kagawa, as the patriarch of that clan, is unsettling oddness personified, and the more we and Koichi learn about what goes on behind the Nishinos' closed doors, the more helplessly frightened we and he become.
Absent from the film scene for a decade following her 2004 girls'-school spooker “Innocence,” French director Lucile Hadžihalilović returned with a gender-switched but equally grim fairy tale. Set in a seaside community that seems entirely populated by prepubescent males and adult women, it focuses on one lad (Max Brebant) whose discovery of another boy's corpse on the ocean floor is his first step toward the discovery of an unpleasant fate that awaits him. Working with the tones of a waking nightmare, Hadžihalilović slips from haunting subtlety to gruesome body horror with disquieting ease.
John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), teenage son of the family who run a Midwestern funeral home, is not in fact a multiple murderer, though he certainly acts like he might be. While he wrestles (though not too strenuously) with his darker side, he also learns who is responsible for a string of local slayings and tries to do something about it, with suspenseful, surprising and blackly comedic results. The snowy Minnesota locations provide only part of the chill in director Billy O'Brien's note-perfect adaptation of Dan Wells' popular novel; Wells wrote several follow-up books, and another film treatment by this team would be welcome.
It's easy to tart up a microbudget fright flick with applied scratches, static, etc. and call it a homage to vintage shriekers viewed on VHS, but hard to get it right. Christopher Phelps and Maxim van Scoy do just that with this mini-feature, which opens with a few faux trailers and commercials (including one for an eco-horror flick called “Harvest Man” that begs to be expanded into a feature of its own) before proceeding into a sort of Reader's Digest Condensed Version of a cabin-by-the-lake killathon from the '80s. Yet the filmmakers manage to mix and match the familiar tropes in imaginative and freakily effective ways, and capture the proper atmosphere as well.
The fact that Anna Biller's genre-blender hasn't had wider theatrical exposure is a particular shame, as her rapturously colorful shot-on-35mm visuals demand to be seen on a big screen. But even on video formats, which it hits in April, “The Love Witch” is an entrancing mix of occult melodrama and sexual politics. And if there's any justice, Samantha Robinson's performance as Elaine, a sorceress who casts her spell on a series of men in her attempt to achieve true love, will be a star-making one
Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are plagued by boy's deceased former girlfriend, back from the grave. What sounds like the setup for a black comedy or a crude sex-and-gore romp is given surprising shadings by British writer/directors Chris and Ben Blaine. Like the underrated “Life After Beth,” “Nina Forever” uses its supernatural premise as a vehicle to explore grief and loss with resonance while also delivering as a genre drama. Cian Barry, Abigail Hardingham and Fiona O'Shaughnessy give terrific performances as they enact a love triangle with edges so sharp they draw blood.
Just because this is another movie about paranoia doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let it get to you. An Australian entry in the scary-surveillance stakes, it’s set in an Everycity where down-on-his-luck PI Parker (Lindsay Farris) takes a job spying on a woman (Stephanie King) for some desperately needed cash. She seems to be under threat by her violent fiancé, but it’s Parker, cooped up in a dilapidated apartment, who becomes truly victimized—by frightening dreams, mental collapse and perhaps something worse. Director Joseph Sims-Dennett whips up a grotty mise en scène to support a scenario whose antecedents are clear but that impresses in its own original manner.
The latest film by veteran provocateur Larry Kent premiered in his native Canada (at Montreal's Fantasia festival) last summer, just as Donald Trump was starting to look like a serious contender, and it carries even more relevance now that he has won. It's a study of religious intolerance taken to extremes, and Kent makes it abundantly clear from the start who he's for and against. That impassioned directness pays scary dividends as a fanatical rural pastor (Shane Twerdum, Kent's co-scripter) leads a campaign of harassment against Angela (Sarah Smyth), who operates a home planned-parenthood clinic. As the opposition develops beyond sign-toting and insult-shouting to physical violence, Kent creates a scathing portrait of how ideological zealotry can lead to ungodly behavior.
It's rare to find a horror anthology with no weak links, which is just what you get from this collection of interconnected terror tales traveling down dark desert highways. Each of the five stories—directed by Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath and the Radio Silence collective—dovetails with the next, creating a sense of unifying narrative flow while also offering individualistic frights. All deliver the goods, though the highlight is Bruckner's "The Accident," a grisly hospital-horror piece guaranteed to make you squirm.
Iranian horror first made inroads into the international scene with 2014's “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” and took a step up with Babak Anvari's debut feature. A more explicitly sociopolitical chiller that delivers the frights and eschews becoming distractingly didactic, it's set in wartorn 1980s Tehran, where a young mother whose husband is away on the battlefront struggles against government oppression. Her travails only become worse after an unexploded missile lodges in a neighboring apartment, the other residents of her building begin abandoning the place—and a supernatural presence seems to be after her daughter. The circumstances are vividly specific, but “Shadow” proves that the terror of facing a threat to one's child is universal.