M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#22 SPLIT #22
Why is SPLIT #22? Because believe it or not, it seems M. Night Shamalayan is staging somewhat of a comeback. While THE VISIT was not the perfect film, it did show promise that the director was back on track creating some compelling, suspenseful, and compelling scenes. With SPLIT, he even goes darker and I dug his spin on multiple personality disorder. It helps to have an amazing performance by James McAvoy. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Directed by M. Night Shamalayan
Written by M. Night Shamalayan
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Izzie Coffey, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, Ukee Washington, Robert Michael Kelly, Rosemary Howard, Jerome Gallman, M. Night Shamalayan, & Bruce Willis
Find out more about this film here, on Facebook, and @SplitMovie
M. Night Shamalayan delivers his darkest film yet with SPLIT, a tale of fantasy and multiple personalities.
SPLIT jumps right into the action as three young girls are being escorted home by their father after a birthday at a mall. When the girls enter the car, they realize that a stranger has slipped into the driver’s seat. They wake up in a sealed room to find that they have been abducted by a strange man named Kevin Wendell Crumb who suffers from multiple personality disorder (James McAvoy). Each time Kevin appears to them, he exhibits a different personality, from a 12 year old scamp named Dennis to a matronly female personality named Patricia. Casey (THE VVITCH’s Anya Taylor-Joy) seems to understand her abductor in ways the other two don’t and we find out why when we flash back and forth to her own past filled with vauge references to abuse. Meanwhile, Kevin’s psychologist theorizes that he is up to no good again and tries to pry into his hidden personalities during his required therapy sessions. And all of the Kevin’s 23 personalities attest that a 24th personality is emerging, a personality they all fear only known as the Beast.
While Shamalyan’s star had been fading fast over the last fifteen years, SPLIT shows a new sense of vigor and a return to form. A carefully crafted game of cat and mouse is created in this film as Casey and the two girls attempt to escape from their prison by outsmarting Kevin. All the while, we follow Kevin’s psychologist who fears Kevin has manifested some of his more dangerous personalities and she tries to uncover just what he is up to. These two stories intersect seamlessly. It’s less of a mystery, and more of a two tier story—one outside the box and one inside the box and the suspense is when the two parites will meet.
This being a Shamalayan film, I’m always expecting a twist in the end. There is quite a bombshell dropped in the last few seconds of the film, but I found myself looking for clues and not trusting the storyteller. This is Shamalayan’s fault, of course, as he has injected this mind-blowing twist into his most popular films. But after watching SPLIT and trying to figure out the twist that never comes—for a while I speculated that the trapped girls were metaphorical manifestations of Kevin’s personalities being vanquished by the Beast one by one. I also began to wonder if the psychologist was yet another personality working against the dangerous ones. This actually took me out of the movie and I urge folks to ride this story through and trust Shamalayan to deliver some dark and exciting scenes rather than keep your eyes peeled for a switcheroo. It’ll be a much more enjoyable experience if you do that. I think my first viewing would have been better had I not been racking my brain to figure out the twist before it’s revealed.
The real draw to this film is James McAvoy’s portrayal of the multiple personalities. From the previews, I wondered if seeing McAvoy in drag or acting like a special needs child would be a step too far to believe, but in the end, I was utterly convinced at McAvoy’s conviction to take these characters seriously. We spend enough time with McAvoy in these different personas to get acquainted with them. Shamalayan and McAvoy plays everything straight and it miraculously works. All of McAvoy’s characters are convincing, making the film itself all the more chilling seeing McAvoy transform from one personality to the next—all of them different, all horrifying.
There is a hint that Casey herself might be suffering from multiple personality disorder herself as we are made privy to her past through flashbacks. This is never fully resolved by the end and feels almost like a red herring tossed out there to distract and confuse the audience rather than provide any further understanding of her character. It is possible they are setting Joy up as a heroine in future films—sort of Kevin’s good opposite, but that plot thread is never really given time to blossom as the climax focuses solely on a gruesome and arduous battle between Kevin and Casey in the labyrinthine prison.
While all of Shamalayan’s films are dark, this is him at his darkest. Kevin abducts young girls because their innocence and purity disgusts him. There is death, there is suggested incest and rape, there is murder, and monstrous animal rage and fury in SPLIT. It’s an angry and mean film, and one I feel is more raw than I’ve ever seen in a Shamalayan film. I like it that Shamalayan shows his pitch dark side here in this tale tha the has tied into his UNBREAKABLE film in the final moments of the movie. In some ways, it feels like Shamalayan was thinking about his next film combining the two characters while making this one, but in the process he has created a truly horrifying villain in Kevin and his multiple personalities.
Worth noting: THE GHOUL!
If you’re looking for more psychological horror, look no further than THE GHOUL, a twisted descent into madness tale about a man who wants to believe he is a top tier detective on a high profile murder case, but really is suffering from a mental breakdown. The lines of reality and fantasy get blurred until you don’t know what’s up or down. Reminiscent of Denis Villeneuve’s ENEMY in much more subtle and psychologically bent ways, THE GHOUL is a good one. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on BluRay/DVD from Arrow Films/MVD Visual!
THE GHOUL (2016)
Directed by Gareth Tunley
Written by Gareth Tunley
Starring Tom Meeten, Alice Lowe, Rufus Jones, Niamh Cusack, Geoffrey McGivern, James Eyres, Paul Kaye, Waen Shepherd, Dan Renton Skinner, Rachel Stubbings
Find out more about this film here and @TheGhoulFilm
THE GHOUL delves into the deepest and darkest of crevices in psychological horror and while it isn’t a scare a minute shockfest, it will unnerve you if you let yourself get caught up in this deftly made descent into madness.
In his fantasy world, Chris (Tom Meeten) is a homicide detective and forensics specialist assigned to the most grisly and unsolvable cases. But in reality, Chris is suffering from severe depression and seeing a therapist. When his therapist assigns him to another therapist named Moreland (Geoffrey McGivern) with some rather unconventional methods of intervention, Chris meets another one of Moreland’s patients named Coulson (Rufus Jones) and follows him to his home. When Coulson notices Chris, he strikes up a conversation with him and the two begin talking about their eccentric therapist Moreland. Agreeing to come to a party with Coulson, Chris is plunged into a world of madness, where manic depressives and those suffering from all kinds of mental maladies converge to hypothesize and conspiracize about everything from their government to the gods above to their own therapists. Chris is compelled by Moreland’s techniques and seeks a normal life with a longtime crush and the girlfriend of his college buddy Kathleen (PREVENGE’s Alice Lowe), but is also pressured by Coulson and his league of lunatics to ignore Moreland’s guidance. To them, Moreland is an angry celestial being bent on destroying souls and inhabiting his patient’s younger and healthier bodies. You know, kind of like BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH.
While the premise is a bit wonky, everything is played dead seriously, which makes THE GHOUL all the more creepy. When we meet Chris, he is a confident detective and we think this is going to be an investigative drama about headless corpses found in a bloody apartment. As compelling as that is, it is equally compelling to see that same confident man breaking down in a therapist’s chair a shell of that confident detective we were just introduced to. The lines between Chris’ fantasies and his dreary real world begin to blur and by the end, you don’t know what is real and what isn’t alongside Chris. That’s where this film is so engrossing. It really does a fantastic job of putting you in Chris’ shoes so you as well as Chris are questioning every move he makes and everything that happens around him, asking whether it is real or not. Because we are placed in the shoes of someone so out of control and so manipulated by anyone around him, it’s an uncomfortable place to be, and for some, this will be too much to endure.
If you stick with it, though, THE GHOUL (which is the name Chris gives his mental illness) will definitely get under your skin and take you to places that are less filled with tactile scares, and are more uncomfortable to endure. Director Gareth Tunley offers up a look into an unwell mind in a way I haven’t seen before as well as delves into psychological complexities such as the relationship between patient and client, the stresses that occur when a caregiver must leave a client, the delicate dance done in order to build trust between caregiver and recipient, and finally, the dangers of the intersection of people suffering from different mental disorders. THE GHOUL is a deft psychological thriller that pulls the grounding right out from under the viewer and leaves them unsettled in a mania-laden nightmare.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#31 – THE DEMOLISHER
#30 – PLANK FACE
#29 – LAST GIRL STANDING
#28 – DEVIL IN THE DARK
#27 – HELL HOUSE LLC
#26 – XX
#25 – THE SUBLET aka THE RESIDENT
#24 – PATCHWORK
#23 – Morgan Spurlock’s RATS
#22 – SPLIT
Best of lists from previous years;
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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