Season’s greetings, Chewers! We’re going to do things a bit differently this year. If the everyone on the current crew made their own lists, you’d likely end up seeing a lot of repeats, and you’d likely end up reading several variations of the same sentiments. To be a bit more economical, we’re doing two lists: one with picks you might expect from the CHUD crew, and one with picks you might not. What follows is the latter: our unconventional picks. They’re not honorable mentions, really — they’re more. We’re passionate about these films, and we hope to transfer some of that passion on to you.
They’re in no particular order. Enjoy!
Travis Newton on The Duke of Burgundy
After gathering rave reviews from trusted critics earlier this year, the latest film from writer/director Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) continues his peculiar brand of 70s pastiche arthouse psychodramas. Strickland has a knack for blending British folk horror and Hammer influence with Italian and French aesthetics, creating a rich amalgam that feels distinctly his own. Duke of Burgundy‘s odd unfolding narrative about two middle-aged women in a BDSM relationship expands small moments into exhilarating sensory experiences, and does so without overwhelming the viewer with detail and visual bombast. It’s brilliantly conceived, weird as hell, and exquisite in almost every way. (From my review)
Travis Newton on Faults
A greasy fever dream set amid the cult panic of the eighties, Faults is a testament to what a good filmmaker like Riley Stearns can accomplish in a very limited space with very few actors. It could easily be adapted for the stage, but the tobacco-sweat staleness of the film’s motel setting is conveyed so vividly that a stage adaptation could never compare. Plus, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser (at his absolute best) are so good in their roles you’d never want anyone else to play them. Inventively photographed on a shoestring budget, Faults is a darkly funny and creepy feature debut for Stearns.
Travis Newton on A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Technically, this was released in US cinemas late last year, but I don’t give a good goddamn. The theatrical release was so terribly limited that hardly anyone outside of LA or New York really got the chance to really process or appreciate the film. And there’s no way this one gets to fall into the crevasse between 2014 and 2015’s best films — it’s too good. In fact, I think it’s the best vampire film since Let The Right One In, which is especially impressive because that means it also had to be better than Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows. That’s no small feat. Director Ana Lily Amirpour has made one of the best looking black and white films in years, capturing the unexpected beauty of a desert town in California (standing in for Iran). Sheila Vand plays a strong and vulnerable heroine, whose unassuming girlish looks hide centuries of vicious bloodsucking.
Drew Dietsch on Krampus
(my review) Considering that this was the same year that Poltergeist came out and proved its unnecessary existence, Krampus expertly demonstrates that unflinching, unapologetic horror for kids can still be made. And more than that, you can manufacture that horror in a lot of practical ways. The physical beasts of Krampus feel so refreshing after years of CGI hokum filling a lot of horror flicks. There’s scale and texture to these monsters that make them immediately endearing to any fan of old school creature features. And Krampus is as mean-spirited as its eponymous character, a sentiment that is almost always lacking in any cinema aimed towards children. It’s not as successful as something like Gremlins, but it works plenty enough to become the Gremlins for a whole new generation of budding horror fans. No film in 2015 made me feel like a kid again like Krampus did.
Drew Dietsch on The Voices
(my review) I’m hard-pressed to think of a film in 2015 as bizarrely dark as The Voices. It’s a huge testament to Ryan Reynolds (an actor I cared nothing for until this film) and his performance that such a twisted character as Jerry comes off as savagely sad and endearing. It doesn’t hurt that director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) counteracts this gloom and terror with a bubbly visual world that seems too cartoonish to be true. Don’t expect a comedy out of this one. There are few moments of levity in this film, but any laughs that do occur spring out of some really disturbed places. This is a tragic character study that errs on the side of fantasy just so it doesn’t come across an experiment in unstoppable soul-crushing. And seriously, this is worth it for Reynolds alone. This is his Punch-Drunk Love; a film that takes a performer’s quirks and public personality (in Reynolds’ case, boyish glee and irreverence) and shifts it into a territory that is frightening and honest.
Drew Dietsch on The Final Girls
It’s really great to see meta-horror films escape the easy cynicism of Scream and reach for more ambitious goals. Films like The Cabin in the Woods, Behind the Mask, and Resolution have all commented on the genre while attaining a narrative satisfaction that Scream never quite obtained. The Final Girls proudly joins those films as a horror movie about horror movies that manages to cement its own emotional weight in somewhat surprising ways. Not content to be a joke (albeit a really well-executed one) at the expense of Friday the 13th, The Final Girls actually ends up being about grief, letting go of lost loved ones, and experiencing what your parents were like back in their heyday. Though there’s countless chuckles to be had, it was the heart and soul of The Final Girls that stuck with me. Though it does function as an affectionate jab at the slashers of yesterday, it enormously succeeds at being a really rare piece of horror cinema: a tearjerker.
Andrew Hawkins on I Am Thor
You gotta give it to Jon Mikl Thor. The man behind I Am Thor has to be one of the most hard working guys in metal. It’s not easy work being a rock god, and Thor knows better than anybody what it’s like to be catapulted to fame, only to have everything come crashing down at warp speed. The documentary surrounding the man, his band and their devoted followers is one of the best of the year. The film is a testament to how the human spirit can overcome almost anything. I Am Thor is a must see for metal fans. It’s almost as if Aronofsky’s The Wrestler were repurposed as a music doc, but actually had a hopeful and inspiring end.
Andrew Hawkins on Body
Body was a surprise this year. This little independent thriller came out of nowhere and featured a captivating story and excellent performances from its cast. Featuring a top notch performance from Larry Fessenden as a poor guy who winds up crippled and held against his will by three drunk and paranoid college girls, Body goes from being a girl’s night out comedy to an almost Hitchcockian suspense in 0 to 10. The bait and switch this film pulls pays off in spades when we see the main group of girlfriends deteriorate as they figure out how to avoid dealing with the consequences of drug use, breaking and entering and murder. It’s a lot of fun.