What a year.
2016 was, if anything, a polarizing sequence of months which saw historic political events and the untimely deaths of some astronomical talents. In fact, by summer, 2016 was looking less like a year, and more like a culling. Cinematically it was a pretty fascinating year though. As usual I saw few of the films folks went apeshit for, purposefully going out of my way not to watch any of them because I was too busy in a cesspool of trash and grotesque degradation. Life is short. That’s what 2016 taught me. This past year has been an odd one, crammed with Marvel hits, DC disappointments, a surprisingly solid haul of big Indy releases, and some remarkably beautiful horror films. So here it is, my Top 10 of 2016.
1. The Greasy Strangler
Jim Hosking made it to my hit-list back in 2014 with G is for Grandad, a perverse short in the fantastic smorgasbord of terror The ABC’s of Death 2. Hosking’s first feature film delivers everything I could have possibly wanted, from stunted repetitive dialogue, preposterous plotting, and insane performances, to sexual degradation, camp couture, and grease. It’s not for everyone and it’s not really a horror film (or any kind of film, for that matter) but it’s unique to the point of barmyness and infused with the kind of shameless disregard for its audience that John Waters milked in his classic flicks.
Arguably the runaway hit of Glasgow Frightfest 2016, Can Evrenol’s Baskin is an out-there fusion of Jungian nightmare elements, giallo coloring, and heavy sadistic terror. As far as horror goes in 2016, Baskin is probably one of the most unique ventures, taking its buddy-cop origins down a depraved psycho-sexual rabbit hole. Baskin is horrifying and beautifully put together; Evrenol’s talent is undeniable and his debut comes somewhere between The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears and Martyrs. But not like that at all.
3. The Wailing
South Korean director Hong-jin Na took the biscuit this year with his slow-burn thriller The Wailing. Like a classic slice of Lynch, The Wailing starts slow and steady, documenting a series of bizarre brutal murders without ever really fixing its finger firmly on the cause. It’s an uncomfortable and weird experience and the horror leaks out from places you might not expect. Veteran Japanese performer Jun Kunimura aces it as The Stranger, a mysterious newcomer to a small community who seems to bring out the worst in people. Ghosts, gore, hyper-violence, paranoia, a dollop of black comedy, and a good hint of surrealist terror go a long way.
4. The Invitation
As far as muted horror ventures went in 2016, The Invitation easily trumped the lot. Karyn Kusama clearly learnt that less is more from Jennifer’s Body and decided to make a film entirely about paranoia. It’s an uncomfortable film with its feet planted firmly in reality. Logan Marshall-Green steals the show as a slowly unravelling man forced to enjoy dinner with his ex and her new man, whilst John Carroll Lynch lends his gravitas for one of the eeriest turns of the year. Excellent tension building with a superb pay-off.
5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi already become everyone’s favorite wise-cracking Kiwi fun-maestro with What We Do in The Shadows, utilising Flight of the Conchords alumni with savvy horror comedy. His latest was a highlight of Edinburgh Film Fest, a heart-warming, hilarious, and zany trip through the Outback with the superb curmudgeon that is Sam Neill and the break-out talents of newcomer Julian Dennison. Maybe the key strength of the film is that it’s straight and doesn’t talk down to its potential child-viewer’s. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is easily a contemporary classic.
6. Men & Chicken
Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men & Chicken, his first film in a decade, was a personal favorite from Glasgow Film Fest 2016, and a surprising entry to the Dead By Dawn roster too. However, Jensen’s first film in a decade was a finely tuned black comedy, taking the slapstick farce of the Three Stooges and throwing it into a Rural Gothic territory with excellent results. It’s dark as fuck at points but totally hilarious throughout. Sincerity’s a big part of the success and it sports Mads Mikkelsen’s best performance of 2016- yes, better than Dr Strange or Rogue One.
Anthology horror’s back in vogue and has enjoyed some fascinating outings over the past five years, but Southbound is arguably the most cohesive, scary, and varied example of the new crop. As a collection, it owes much as much to the classic oddity of The Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury as it does to contemporary standards of intense horror and gore. Macabre and looping, it’s a disorientating trip with only a few brief dud moments amidst its intriguing collection of scares.
8. The Lure
Another surprise hit from Edinburgh Film Festival, Polish siren musical The Lure takes fairy tale characters and deposits them in a seedy nightclub in the heart of cynical Cold War Poland. Luscious catchy musical numbers, decadent lighting, gorgeous costumes, and superb casting keep the film a vibrant, seductive delight even when its final act starts to lose edge. Director Agnieszka Smoczynska is a boisterously stylish talent worth looking out for.
9. SPL2: A Time for Consequences (aka Killzone 2)
As far as martial arts crime thrillers go, Killzone 2 is delightfully melodramatic. Pou-Soi Cheang’s operatic Killzone sequel is a far more self-indulgent, at times overworked, action epic than Wilson Yip’s, but it takes Yip’s stagey approach to fight scenes and runs with it. Killzone 2 shares little with its predecessor except s cast members Jing Wu and Simon Yam, who return as new characters, in a sprawling country-hopping tale of human trafficking. Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung didn’t return for this film but some top talent in the form of Tony Jaa and Jin Zhang, do a damn good job of replacing them.
10. Love & Peace
Sion Sono appears to be pursuing a CV in the style of fellow countryman Takashi Miike, making multiple films a year, but with arguably better quality control than Miike. Love & Peace flaunts Sono’s typically fantastical approach to film-making with more of an eye to the family-friendly. Love & Peace is everything you’d expect from a Sion Sono Christmas film, its heartfelt, adorable, full of childish wonder, and sports one of the most hilarious and bizarre Kaiju sequences I’ve ever seen.