2008 was a pivotal year in Horror films that served to create new standards in what a Horror film is, and what it could be. All five films are Foreign with only a single entry originating from Sweden and the other four from France. Perhaps this is a byproduct of a country so heavy on film censorship. This years films pushed boundaries in their respective genres and in some cases, the best cases, even transcended them. So without further adieu my top five horror movies of 2008 are as follows.
5. A L’Intérieur [Inside/US Title] (France)
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury
A L’Intérieur (Inside) takes place for the most part on a Christmas eve confined to the rooms of a small house where a pregnant woman (Alysson Paradis) grieves over her recently deceased boyfriend. All is calm until a strange woman knocks on the door in the middle of the night and chaos ensues. This movie carries with it an “idiot plot” where the viewer can’t help thinking that the characters onscreen should be smarter. They should have heard that scream! Why didn’t she pick up that gun? Why are the cops so fuckin stupid! As most horror movies go the “idiot plot” only serves to lead the victims to a timely and predictable demise and in any other movie this would be totally laughable if it wasn’t for the sheer visceral brutality that the victims in A L’Interieur (Inside) are dispensed with. It is in that brutality that the directors force the viewer to take the movie’s context seriously, culminating in an unforgettable finale.
4. Frontiere(s) (France)
Director: Xavier Gens
I grew up in a largely multicultural suburb of Toronto called Scarborough. I even grew up in Malvern, the most multicultural area of this suburb. Malvern was home to many different cultures and ethnicities including East and West indians, Asians, Africans, a huge Sri Lankan community and a very small German community. Most of whom disappeared after being arrested for war crimes as part of the Third Reich’s scientific research division. If Nazi scientists can hide out in Toronto’s asshole bordering God’s country then fuck me if I ever decide to stay at a bed and breakfast in the Parisian countryside. However, that’s just what a gang of young teens decides to do after fleeing Paris during a political upheaval following the election of an unfavorable individual to the Presidency of France. There they become victim to a family of inbred Nazi war criminals masquerading as hoteliers and have to escape their torturous confines. The tension is thick and the blood is plentiful but what really stood out to me was the performances behind the villains and their subtle nuances and intricacies. Definitely some of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a horror movie to date. Also impressive was the league of inbred cave dwelling children kept in a maze of caverns beneath the bed and breakfast. Lots of interesting things going on here.
3. Vinyan (France)
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
A couple played by Emmanuel Béart and Rufus Sewell lose their child during the Tsunami in Thailand. 6 months later at a charity video presentation on impoverished Burmese villages they think they see their lost son in the background on the tape. This sparks a relentless search into the Burmese jungle fueled by false hope and a mother’s bond to her lost child. Beautiful cinematography by Benoit Debie coupled with the sound design of Francois Eudes makes for probably the most intense assault on the senses on film this year. It’s a bleak movie that is brilliantly acted as it slowly detaches you from reality and immerses you in the couples hellish struggle through the jungle. The last couple of years the new scary place to visit for Hollywood was South Africa or the middle east so it’s nice to see a movie change the scenery a bit without exploiting the location or the tragedy that befell it. The environment is the perfect compliment to what the couple is struggling through, the Tsunami ravaged backdrop is meant more to provide an atmosphere of hopelessness which, at its core, I found to be the most prevalent and driving theme in Vinyan.
2. Let The Right One In (Sweden)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
The title is based on Morrissey’s “Let The Right One Slip In” and tells the story of a 12 year old boy Oskar who lives with his mother and is bullied and alienated at school by his peers until a 12 year old girl, who is also a vampire, named Eli moves in next door. What follows is a truly touching children’s tale about falling in love amidst the backdrop of a cold Swedish winter. Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema have a great sensibility when it comes to capturing the moments between Oskar and Eli. Lingering on takes and choosing interesting focal points with which to drive a shot. The whole movie has this air of childhood innocence that translates well to Vampire ethics and is executed flawlessly by all involved. Permeated by memorable scenes throughout, this is a movie that truly has it all culminating in an ending I can only describe as the most righteous conclusion to a film I’ve seen in recent memory.
1. Martyrs (France)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Martyrs tells the story of Lucie, a young girl played by Mylene Jampanoi, who escapes a slaughter house where she endured unspeakable acts of torture from her captors. After a fruitless police investigation, no evidence is found as to whom her captors where or what their motivation for the torture was. There was no evidence of sexual assault and no trace left behind for the police to build a case on. Lucie grows up in a home for psychologically disturbed children where she befriends Anna played by Morjana Alaoui. Years after her escape from her captors Lucie see’s a newspaper article with a picture of who she thinks are her captors. With the help of Anna, Lucie sets out to exact revenge on the people who tortured her so long ago.
When I saw this film at TIFF this past year the anticipation had been building for me for some time. I had read about it a year before, heard the buzz around it at Cannes, and heard the running comparison that it made Frontiere(s) and Inside look like The Sound of Music. So naturally when time came to plant ass in front of a screen and finally see this film I could not have been more excited. I did not know what I was in for. I don’t think anyone in the audience knew what they where in for. It was the first screening I had been to where everyone not only stayed for the Q&A but had an almost heated debate about the film with each other and the director. Miraculously, two people threw up and one fainted, but besides them I can’t think of a movie as brutal where most of the audience stayed for the whole film. I had seen more people walk out of Hostel than I saw walk out of Martyrs.
I think for the most part, people’s views on Martyrs seem split right down the middle. You either hate it, or you think it’s the most insane horror movie you’ve ever seen. I am of the latter point of view. I have never seen a movie of any kind that twisted a genre and threw you for a loop as much as Martyr’s did and then to top it all off – justified what you just saw onscreen. I will finish by saying this: If you’ve ever experienced human suffering first hand then you may find that watching this film touches a nerve, however if you watch the film to its completion then you may find that it hits on something deeper and more profound.- Notorious P.I.G.