Father Gore's favourite horror performances from 2018— and there were PLENTY!
Eden Lake. 2008. Directed & Written by James Watkins
Starring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Finn Atkins, Jumayn Hunter, Thomas Turgoose, James Burrows, Tom Gill, Lorraine Bruce, Shaun Dooley, James Gandhi, Bronson Webb, Lorraine Stanley, & Rachel Gleeves. Rollercoaster Films/Aramid Entertainment Fund.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
There are many city v. rural films out there in the thriller genre. From Deliverance to any number of backwoods horror movies, such as the Wrong Turn series and plenty others. But not all of those have the effect of James Watkins’ Eden Lake.
Before Michael Fassbender broke out big time and in the days prior to Kelly Reilly’s huge break, Watkins crafted an equally pulse pounding and disturbing horror-thriller with these two in the lead roles. Aided by a script with some sharp teeth, as well as the tense action which keeps the film’s pace at a quick pace, Eden Lake will linger with you afterwards. This one boasts a terrifying finish that lets you get no rest, no matter that the rest of the film is brutally intense and shocking. However, there’s no shock for shock’s sake. Rather, we get a glimpse into the world of misled youths whose lives were likely influenced into running down the drain by their equally nasty parents. Not everything is completely tight in the screenplay from Watkins, but he makes up for those bits with interesting writing and two (or more) lumps of tragedy stirred in.
Heading into the bush for a weekend getaway, Steve (Michael Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly), a nursery school teacher, for some swimming and a bit of camping. They lounge on a nice freshwater beach enjoying the surroundings, the warm weather. After a little time, some young hooligans arrive with their loud music, their big dog, and start to make things less pleasant. Led by the crass Brett (Jack O’Connell), they get on Steve’s nerves, especially when the dog gets a little too close to Jenny. Soon the kids leave, then Jenny and Steve enjoy their time alone.
The next morning, turns out the kids broke a bottle and punctured one of Steve’s tires. He chases them in town after seeing them on their bikes, and later finds one of their houses. But this is only the beginning. When the couple encounters the crew again and the situation turns ugly, Brett’s dog is accidentally stabbed and killed by Steve, in self defense. This prompts an all-out war between the couple and the teenagers.
Steve and Jenny may not make it home from their trip after all.
The first thing we see in Eden Lake is Jenny at the school where she teaches. There are little innocent kids, who play child-like games, they laugh and fool around. Jenny’s obviously good with them, comfortable in her career. So to see everything get juxtaposed here with the situation not long after with the older kids is interesting. We go from little innocent children to big bad teenagers who, somewhere along the line from then to now, grew up from being kids into becoming full-fledged monsters. Also, I love the transformation Jenny undergoes as a meek, mild-mannered teacher who later is forced to become a warrior and survivor. Particularly – SPOILER ALERT – once Steve is dead, Jenny is left to her own devices. Even before he dies, she’s got to take care of herself, and him due to his awful injuries. There’s this long line of character development in a short time. Leading up to the serious confrontations, Jenny appears as quiet, reserved, someone who doesn’t want to rock the boat. The tragic events which unfold throughout the film mold her into someone fierce and assertive, and somebody not afraid to defend herself at all costs. For the handful of really dumb moves by Jenny and Steve, there are enough instances of well-written characters and the main parallel between Jenny’s occupation/where she ends up to justify Eden Lake as a solid thriller. Late in the film, Jenny is made to commit a terrible act – another one of self defense in this plot – but it is devastating, for us and for her. This is probably the pinnacle of the parallel in her character.
Even from the small supporting roles of the teenagers we get solid acting. Above them all stands Jack O’Connell. Recently he’s done amazing turns in films like Starred Up, but in 2008 this was a performance to watch. He is a terrible young man capable of extremely vicious violence, his personality a sick and turgid cesspool. The depth of depravity comes out, especially in a scene that comes just after the one-hour mark; his enjoyment is far too evident, which makes the character so powerfully menacing. This film could have had any number of young people take the role of Brett. With O’Connell, the performance is disturbing and forceful and you hate Brett to the core. Note: in the last moments with his character, you can almost see a twinkle of something in his eye, but largely I believe it’s not regret; it’s the same twinkle people like Ted Bundy and other killers would get in their eyes, holding back their real selves just behind it.
Fassbender does well with his role and it comes off naturally. Although, it is ultimately Reilly whose talent sells Eden Lake into its suspense. We’re often taken by the danger of a thriller when it’s a woman in danger, simply because she’s a woman, men are after her, et cetera. Yet Reilly brings a life to Jenny. Again, she’s a timid sort of lady, though, as time progresses this timidity wears off, and her battle-face shows. The vulnerability of her character always shines through, most scarily in the last scene. But she commands your attention to the presence of her character, and you truly feel for her every step of the way, despite some of the dumb choices (fault of writing; not her performance).
The ending still leaves me in shambles. Really puts the cap on things as far as determining whether or not the behaviour of the teenagers has been ingrained in them over time.
A 4 out of 5 star film, indeed. There are certainly a few spots where Watkins needed to tighten up some things, such as a few truly strange choices the characters made. But none of that ruins what is an effective, violent, and edgy thriller. This one will take you to the brink. Then, just when you’re sure the lead character and you have each had enough, Watkins piles it on to leave us with that grim taste in the mouth. Trust me. Eden Lake is a keeper, and if you can forgive a few blemishes this will really hit the spot if you’re looking for a horror-thriller to damage you.
Dark Summer. 2015. Directed by Paul Solet. Screenplay by Mike Le.
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps, Dinora Walcott, and Peter Stormare. Campfire/ContentFilm International/Preferred Film & TV.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
After the excellent little 2009 film Grace, I imagined director Paul Solet might go on to do other exciting things in the horror genre. There was a tender quality even to that nasty gem, which I found impressive. When a director can take a story that is truly horrifying and add in dashes of pure, raw emotion, it’s always a treat.
When I heard of Dark Summer, my first thought was Disturbia – the Shia LaBeouf film they actually reference early in this one. But quickly, after I got into the plot and the story started pulling me in the realization that Solet and writer Mike Le were doing something much different. Using a similar setup, with some changes of course, Le’s screenplay takes us into a much more supernatural and frightening space. Even while not everything is as good as it could be, this is a fairly solid indie horror-thriller. Particularly, I enjoy both Keir Gilchrist and Stella Maeve, who ultimately hold up a lot of the film. Add in an amazing score, the ever interesting Peter Stormare in a small supporting role, a few wild bits of horror, and Dark Summer is definitely worth a watch.
Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer. The young man evidently cyber-stalked and harassed a girl named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). The terms of his arrest: no visits from unaccompanied minors, no computer access or internet, the last of which are monitored by the police. Parole officer Stoke (Peter Stormare) keeps an eye on Daniel and explains how the house arrest works.
However, Daniel’s closest friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) come by with a tablet so he can connect to a nearby internet source, and bring him a little weed, bit of Ambien. Later on when Daniel tries to call his mom – the reason for the tablet – Abby calls. And a minute later, Mona Wilson; with whom Daniel is not supposed to have any contact. In a terrible twist of fate, Mona shoots herself in the head on camera while Daniel watches.
As things become more and more sinister, Daniel becomes aware that perhaps his harassment of Mona was not entirely his fault. Once Abby, Kevin and Daniel dig deeper into the mystery, black magic works its way into the equation, and anything they believed before goes out the window.
Immediately I was aware of the incredible music in Dark Summer. The score swells into a pounding rhythm in certain scenes, which holds us in excitement and suspense at various points. Other moments contain a score that stays just below the exterior, pulsing with the slow and steady feel of a current taking us along for the ride. Composer Austin Wintory is prolific, even if he isn’t well known. His music spans short films, video games (including the 2012 Journey and most recently Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), television, and of course, feature films; he worked on Solet’s previous film Grace, as well. I can’t speak for all his other titles, but the work he does with Solet is truly exceptional. If anything, you’ll enjoy the creepy, slow burning feel of his score in this movie because it perfectly compliments what Solet was attempting to do. Part of the film’s charm is, no doubt, the music; undeniable.
Some of what Solet did was frightening. For instance, the quieter and more subtle moments where Daniel wanders his empty, dark home are tense, and these contributed to that overall slow burn of the film. Not everything needs to be a jump out and scare you scene, or jump-scare imagery. Solet does include some of that. Mostly, though, he sticks with the creeping feeling of these low-key moments, and the majority of them work. The horror got better as time went by. Above all else, it’s the thriller aspect of Dark Summer which works. As we follow along with Abby, Daniel and Kevin sussing out the mystery of Mona’s suicide, there’s a lot of macabre excitement. Following along with all the steps of what we later figure out is an elaborate dark spell, this makes up for any of those brief points where Solet doesn’t hit the mark exactly with other aspects. Furthermore, I liked the makeup and special effects, as everything fit the tone and atmosphere Solet was striving to achieve.
As I mentioned, Gilchrist and Maeve each put in terrific performances, as did Stormare in his smaller role and also Harrell.
Gilchrist is a quiet type whose brooding nature comes across easily. He fits the bill of a young man who is withdrawn, not able to outright talk to girls and impress them. At the same time, he has an emotional side that is clear once we get to know the character of Daniel. I really enjoyed Gilchrist in It Follows, and here he impressed once more. The guy is a talented actor with range, which hopefully will get him more work as time goes on. He is certainly cut out for indie films with good talent and a unique sort of look; he isn’t weird looking, but has a look that sets him apart from so many other young male actors out there today.
I found Maeve did the best job of all in this film. She has a quiet disposition, which again fits her character well, too. She and Gilchrist have proper chemistry, and that helped on two fronts: the relationship of these two characters as friends, as well as Abby’s little crush on Daniel. There is an intensity to Maeve that comes across easily without her having to throw every bit of her acting arsenal at us constantly. Sometimes an actor can give the right looks, move the right way, and generally take on the right air of attitude, which Maeve does constantly here. Her caring nature helps to bring the character of Abby closer to Daniel, then as the film’s suspense and horror become more prevalent her performance goes with the flow accordingly, her character darkens and deepens. I’d love to see her do another horror, something even more solid than this, because there is a lot behind her eyes.
With a few missteps, I still give Paul Solet’s Dark Summer a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. There could’ve been more intense sequences, but many of them present still affect the viewer. In a few scenes, the horror jumps out at us and takes on a life of its own. Most importantly, the drama and thriller portions of the movie are incredibly solid. Within a dark story we find many moments of tenderness, either from Daniel or Abby, or both, and this makes some of the more disturbing, terrifying scenes less shocking; not that this is needed, but it puts an interesting spin on the other elements when a morbid plot has linings of beauty. Regardless, Dark Summer holds it own in enough places that I enjoyed it, and would likely watch it again down the road. I’m interested to see what Solet does in the future, as he’s already put in a segment called “The Weak and The Wicked” for Tales of Halloween this past year. He is a uniquely talented director who will, hopefully, go on to more exciting, frightening, wild projects soon enough. Check this out and if you like slow burn indie thrillers, you’ll probably find surprise in these 81 minutes.
John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, and Donald Moffat. Universal Pictures/Turman-Foster Company. Rated R. 109 minutes.
It’s hard to choose a favourite filmmaker. For me, and for many, there are tons of great directors out there. Especially when you consider the different genres. I often have a hard time saying I like one director – who happens to stick with a certain genre – over another, simply because I feel particular directors are best within certain genres. Still there are a handful of them I’d place at the top of my personal list.
One such filmmaker is John Carpenter.
Not only does Carpenter direct, he is a master of his craft. Something I’ve always admired about his style is that he likes to do his own scores, which is a big part of his overall aesthetic (funny enough – this movie isn’t scored by him: it’s the prolific Ennio Morricone, so fucking awesome regardless!). He pretty much has what I’d call an auteur style. Nobody does horror-thriller as good as him.
The Thing brings all of the best aspects of Carpenter together, alongside the solid performances of the likes of Kurt Russell and Keith David, as well as Morricone’s wonderfully suspenseful and effective score. This is not just one of the best horror movies from the 1980s, it’s one of the best horror movies. Ever. What starts out like a tense thriller evolves into a horrifically existential science fiction film, all based on John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” (also the basis of this 1951 film). I can never get enough of the dreadful, isolated horror Carpenter brings out in this movie. There’s a reason people always talk about this one. And a damn good reason Carpenter is a master of horror.
At an American base in the Antarctic, a chopper chases a dog across the snowy mountains equipped with a man holding a high-powered rifle. When the American crew – including R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David) +more – come out they discover two crazed Norwegians. One tries to throw a grenade but blows up their chopper. The other, aiming for the dog, shoots George Bennings (Peter Maloney), so one of the crew shoot him dead.
At first it seems as if the men simply went insane up in the wilderness. However, after the dog transforms into a hideously deformed creature, MacReady and the crew start to deal with a situation beyond their control. Some sort of virus seems to be spreading, but no one is able to tell who it’s infecting – moving from person to person, The Thing inhabits anyone’s skin it wishes.
Will any of them survive? And if they do, is it really them?
Carpenter really sets up his atmosphere well, in every film. Almost none better than The Thing, as he starts out first with a long cinematic stare into space. From there we move to the Antarctic wilderness, vast landscapes of nearly nothing except for the white snow stretching on for miles and miles. It’s an appropriate way to give us that immediate sense of isolation. Once the exterior isolation is setup, Carpenter moves inside to where all the human elements of the story come into play. Then, furthermore, we start to get their sense of isolation – from the moment you see Mac drinking, playing around on the computer and then dumping a couple shots of J.B. into it, there’s an obvious idea of how sick this guy is with his lodgings up north. It only gets better from there, but I’ve always thought the film’s opening sequence really made the isolation sink it quickly, yet easily.
Not only the isolated feeling, either. With the Norwegians chasing the dog, the chopper exploding after a fumbled grenade toss, adrenaline is flowing hard. The tension is instantaneous and you’re already champing at the bit for what’s coming next. The music, the cinematography, the actors – all pistons are pumping. Carpenter is good for this usually. Again, though, I’m inclined to say one of his best instances is here in The Thing. Carpenter’s sense of atmosphere and tone is so important to what makes him great, as well as unique in the horror genre.
While most Carpenter movies have stellar effects, The Thing boasts such an innovative and terrifying creature. It’s truly epic (a word that is overused improperly; I used it in seriousness). Honestly, after the dog becomes that hulking, massive monster, the first time I witnessed it I was awestruck for a minute or two. I still am, really. Such good effects, plus it’s unexpected. Even as I watch it again now, for the who-knows-how-many-times, there is an aspect to that scene I always find reels me in. Plus, afterwards there’s the scene with Dr. Blair (Brimley) dissecting The Thing; even the look on Brimley’s face, his disgust, it makes you almost smell the nasty reek of this alien creature’s insides. Downright incredible, these special effects. From start to finish this movie has such carefully crafted practical effects, you can’t help but admire the work put in.
The entire film isn’t built on effects, nor is it solely leaning on horrific elements to make its mark. Only other stuff Bill Lancaster wrote was Bad News Bears-related. With The Thing, adapted from Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” (great read by the way – check it out), Lancaster did some solid work. The screenplay is tight, it’s mysterious and has a ton of suspense, which the master Carpenter draws out perfectly with his style. There are genuinely creepy aspects I find unsettling. Such as when the crew starts watching the grainy videos, then they make their way out to the crater where the ship is sunk down, I find that entire portion so impressive! Morricone’s score is beyond perfectly fitting, it has that classic horror movie feel to it and at the same time there’s stuff you could call very archetypal Morricone (a.k.a dig it). So I’m actually amazed Lancaster did so well with this script, considering he’s never done anything else science fiction or horror. Hats off. Put into the hands of Carpenter this story soars to a new level of terror.
There a few performances in The Thing which help it greatly. Kurt Russell, obviously, is one of the reasons this movie kicks ass. They could’ve put a lot of actors in this role and it would’ve been all right. But with Russell there’s that little extra charisma, he’s tough and yet there isn’t some kind of superhero-ness about him. He gets afraid like anyone else in the same situation. Russell and Carpenter work well together, this may be the pinnacle; I dig Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, but there’s something so perfect about this movie I can’t help single it out as their best collaboration. Then on top of Russell’s skill, Keith David does a nice job – he also did They Live 6 years later with Carpenter, wish he’d been in more of his films. And as much as Brimley gets shit for the “diabeetus” kick, he is spot on here; that scene when he flips and everyone tries to bear down on him, I always thought it was a great moment and shows how well Brimley can play a good character when he wants. Plus his fit lends to some more of the isolated, desolate feeling happening from there on in. All around excellent cast.
The Thing is a 5 star film. Without any shadow of a doubt. There’s so much happening. Above anything else, there’s a supremely existential terror flowing throughout almost every scene. Once The Thing takes hold, nobody knows who is who, who to trust, and it moves from one person to the next, some times even to animals. So there’s this incredibly dreadful horror at play. Then you throw in John Carpenter’s tense style, Ennio Morricone and his suspense-filled score, a well written screenplay with good actors to play it all out. What a mix!
If you’ve never seen this, my god, get out and watch it soon. Not only that, read the original short story by Campbell, as well as see the 1951 adaptation The Thing from Another World, which was a huge influence on Carpenter overall but especially for this film (obviously). I can never forget this movie, and it’s one I’ll put in any time I need a real creep.