"Sound of My Voice" (2011)

What truly makes this film superb is that it’s revealing to the audience about themselves. The film presents you with a story and what you take from it genuinely says something about you as an individual. The film is an incredibly detailed, well-thought out tale that doesn’t just leave room for interpretation, it invites it. Despite being intentionally ambiguous, “Sound of My Voice” does make plenty of statements. It shows how people that are so adamant about the truth, or their truth, are that way because they themselves are uncertain. It calls to questions who you trust and why. It examines how easily people can be swayed by emotion and their own personal vulnerabilities. Are faith and trust the same? What proof is proof enough? What “proof” is there that you can’t explain away? It’s a thrilling, tense and often interactive-feeling experience. There are so many clues along the way that lead you in one direction or the other and when it’s over you’ll be vexed for weeks. I have my own ideas about the truth of this film, what are yours?

"Vanishing on 7th Street" (2010)

This movie is pretty awful. It takes an interesting concept and then hides in the basement while all of the interesting aspects of the story play out. It drastically under-explains the plot, which is problematic when the story nor the characters are interesting or fleshed out. The film drags its feet through logistical garbage that offers nothing to the film and eventually sucks up the majority of the running time. It’s no wonder that the film barely made back a tenth of what it cost, despite being fairly low-budget. Don’t bother with this one.

"Shutter Island" (2010)

Scorsese’s ability to make anything scary translates well to a film in the horror/thriller genre. What works best about “Shutter Island” is that it’s interesting beyond the twist. SPOILERS: While you probably go into the film knowing the “truth”, or possibly figure it out early on, the film remains interesting based on how those pieces get tied together. Mostly because it’s the opposite of how most films use the “mental illness” trope. Rather than the filmmakers presenting you with events and then revealing they were hallucinations, the filmmakers show you the truth from the protagonists perspective. The hallucinations he has are clearly hallucinations and the events actually happen, they are just hampered by point of view. It’s a great example of intelligently using perspective to tell a surprising story. Furthermore, the writing in the final scene is heartbreaking and its what ultimately determines the core of the story, a very human story after all.

"You’re Next" (2013)

Don’t judge a film by its title because this title sucks. The film, however, is really quite good. It’s well-made, technically strong, tense, funny, well-written and unexpected. It also sports an awesome score with both classical horror elements and throwback stings as well. The premise is simple enough but still keeps you guessing, aided by some very clever red-herrings thrown in to keep the audience thinking. It’s a well balanced film, with comedy to complement the violence. It may not be the most innovative, shocking or groundbreaking horror film but it easily leapfrogs much of the same-old, humorless, stagnant remakes, copies and paint-by-numbers horror films that flood the theaters today. Most of all, this film comes from a group of filmmakers that are thinking about the horror genre in new ways and it’s exciting to see what will come from them next.

"Little Deaths" (2011)

Often times anthology films can be great because they exhibit simpler ideas that would never get made because they don’t warrant feature length. However, “Little Deaths” is not one of those beneficiaries of the format. One of the installments it good, one is solid in concept but poor in execution and the last is a dull, cold mess. The first short of the film sets expectations high, with a solid concept, good execution and a strong ending. The second film is a letdown because the concept is solid. However, the story never lives up to the strength of that concept and eventually falls flat. The final installment is predictable, ugly and just about as boring as it gets. While the film successfully presents three takes on similar themes and ideas, it doesn’t offer the cultish thrills of other, more successful anthology series. 

"Cold Fish" (2010)

This film strongly hearkens back to the Sam Peckinpah classic “Straw Dogs”. It’s about an average, meek man that gets caught up in extreme circumstances and eventually over-correcting. It’s an essay on moderation, which sounds boring but it’s anything but mundane. The protagonist’s desire to maintain the status quo at the expense of his family’s happiness sets the events in motion, but it’s the outside sources that take them down a dark path. The filmmakers beautifully blend the dark, Japanese style horror with content and storylines that mirror Scorsese and “Goodfellas”. It’s a tense, nail biting film that careens toward a terrifying finish. 

"Forgetting the Girl" (2012)

This film is a shockingly realistic assault on male sexual entitlement and extreme misogyny. The writing is powerful because these are things people hear and say every day about relationships and who is to blame. The filmmakers create an ingenious contrast between two seemingly unlikable male characters and which is actually the more dangerous of the two. In today’s world where rape-culture is often talked about, often denied and a very real danger to many, this film is massively relevant. It exposes the types of fallacies many people fall into such as confirmation bias when it comes to generalizations about the opposite sex. The excellent writing comes full circle when the “protagonist” is forced into a situation that mirrors an event from early on in the film, evoking a response that reveals his true nature. While the framing device is a bit convenient, it’s a small annoyance in an otherwise superb modern indie thriller. Christopher Denham’s performance carries this film.

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" (1986)

Goofy, not scary and actually boring, the sequel to the original horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” squanders a wonderful start and devolves into weirdness. Perhaps it’s a matter of expectations since the original was such a guttural, disturbing experience, but the follow-up seems more like a bad comedy spoof. Endless sneaking, Dennis Hopper cackling to himself, and a strange Leatherface love story litter this rudderless mess. It’s strange how something so iconic and terrifying could devolve into such a campy schlock-fest when it’s helmed by the same director. Although the performance by Bill Moseley as the terrifying character “Chop-Top” is thoroughly stomach churning, it’s not enough to compensate for the lack of horror or even entertainment value of any kind through this tedious film. What a shame.

"Jigoku" (1960)

Also known as “The Sinners of Hell”, is a strange parable about guilt and sin, “Jigoku” represents the roots of Japanese horror. The odd and twisted world created in the film draws to mind such modern day films as the work of David Lynch or even a dark version of “Fantasia.” The film almost plays as a satire on the idea of sin and guilt, and how no one, no matter how innocent, will escape punishment in certain renditions of Hell. It exhibits a world, not unlike the real world, in which anxiety of hell, not compassion or conscience, often fuel the need to “do good.” What’s scarier than the idea of Hell? The idea that you’re headed there no matter what.

"Stoker" (2013)

To write a short review of “Stoker” is an exercise in madness because one could teach a full college course on this film. It’s absolutely drenched with detail. It’s an explosion of themes, symbolism and insinuation that are masterfully portrayed in photography, editing and sound. It’s an eerie and troubling film that doesn’t present many palatable themes. Despite the abundance of ideas in the film, the one standout is our protagonist’s penchant for violence and how that ties her to her uncle. Another crucial element is time and how the timing of India’s father’s death, her transition to adulthood, her uncle’s arrival and the actualization of her morbid desires all coincide. Masculinity and femininity, incest, violence, pedophilia, rape, coercion, manipulation, abuse, mental illness. Spiders, eggsacks, giant boulders, belts, shoes. The film plays on the idea of etiquette and societal norms. It teeters on the concept of adulthood and how our definition of it is black and white but the reality is shades of gray. It’s an undoubtedly uncomfortable movie because you will find yourself at odds with India’s desires. The entire film hinges on the distinction between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s there, it’s razor-thin, it won’t be spoon fed to the audience and it very likely may anchor on one line of dialogue: "He used to say, sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse." Prepare yourself, for this film will haunt you.

"eXistenZ" (1999)

David Cronenberg films, despite their acclaim, can often skew too weird or too dark for mass appeal. Yet, “eXistenZ” strikes the perfect balance of weirdness and darkness, despite its relative obscurity. This can probably be chalked up to films with similar content coming out in the same year with “The Thirteenth Floor” (awful) and “The Matrix” (excellent). All three deal with blurred borders of reality. “eXistenZ” arguably approaches the subject with the most inquisitive eye and analytical perspective. There are all sorts of questions that one has to address with the idea of virtual reality like the vulnerability of a “real” body, disembodiment, and the ability to discern what is real and what is artificial. The film has a distinct resemblance to “Inception” and the idea that, once you’ve crossed the border into the virtual or dream realm, how do you know when you’re back again? As with many Cronenberg works, it also addresses the blending of sexuality and morbidity. This is a really underappreciated film that provokes thought as well as entertains. If you’re a fan of Cronenberg but haven’t checked out “eXistenZ”, do it.

"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" (1988)

The great thing about this first sequel to the horror classic “Hellraiser” is that it is a continuation of the story, not just a repeat of the events. They could have gone the easy route and had a new set of victims of the Cenobites and Lemarchand’s Box (like some of the later sequels). Instead, the story picks up where it left off and continues with Kirsty’s conflict against Julia. It takes the story into a new world of terror, an Escheresque maze Hellscape that invites the audience into the realm the Cenobites describe; morbid personal Hells. The film truly elevates the series to another level and expands upon the greatness of the original. It is an excellent sequel and an excellent horror film in its own right. Not to mention one of the best lines in horror history, “Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell”

"Chained" (2012)

An ugly, unsettling, brutal film, “Chained” is not for the anyone afraid to confront the realities of the darkest corners of the world. “Chained” is a bleak meditation on the chain of abuse that can be passed down from parent to child to child and so on. It’s an interesting take on nature versus nurture and how or why one develops a moral conscience. The film is driven by the performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as the brutish, severely damaged serial rapist/murderer. He manages to portray a person so “evil” yet so realistic, it’s haunting to think there are really people like this in the world. The writing is solid, the premise and execution are tight, and the climax is both surprising and thrilling, as well as contextually developed and satisfying. “Chained” is a good thriller but not one that should be watched without forewarning: it’s grim.

"From Hell" (2001)

This film is… weird. As appropriate as Johnny Depp is for his role of opium-addled Ripper investigator, Heather Graham is about as miscast as possible. It’s a distracting decision because her English accent is poor and really just draws attention to itself. While there are some scary and powerful images of violence and gore, they are interspersed amongst a film that is overly long and unfocused. Is it a love story between detective and hooker? Is it a tale of conspiracy and men in power? Is it a meditation against organized religion? Unfortunately, it feels most like a forbidden romance hidden in a time of ultimate turmoil, which is really the least interesting story and the least contextually established. Aside from some strong imagery and a terrifying performance from Ian Holm, “From Hell” just misses the mark on too many levels. 

"Munger Road" (2011)

"Munger Road" is a smart, technically strong film that offers some great tension but falls short of a satisfying ending. The premise is solid and the writing keeps you guessing about what is really going on. The performances are quite good, anchored by Bruce Davison as the wise small town Sheriff. However, there aren’t enough answers and there isn’t quite enough context to fully flesh out the tale. The open ending is too open and feels like just the first installment. It’s a shame because the film squanders what could be a real indie gem with cult potential.