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!
#16 47 METERS DOWN #16
Why is 47 METERS DOWN #16? Because sharks scare the shit out of me and a well done shark film is hard to find. While we’ll most likely never get another JAWS, lately we’ve been seeing a resurgence of shark horror. As a man who loves to be scared, I welcome it! 47 METERS DOWN does a lot of shark horror well. It’s got solid scares and one hell of an ending. While it isn’t perfect, it did make me stand up and scream which is more than I can say for a lot of horror today, so I had to include it in this countdown. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
47 METERS DOWN (2016)
aka IN THE DEEP
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Written by Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Starring Matthew Modine, Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Santiago Segura, Yani Gellman, Chris J. Johnson
Being terrified of sharks, the advancement of CG animation has only made shark films more frightening for me. Still, there has to be a good movie around it. Last year, THE SHALLOWS (reviewed here) did a fantastic job of curling my toes and forcing me to watch through my shaking fingers. Just around the time I got over the thrills of THE SHALLOWS, I found out there would be another shark horror film released later in the summer called IN THE DEEP, pitting pop princess Mandy Moore against the world’s deadliest predator of the deep. Well, someone realized that they might have a hit on their hands and while I received a screener for this and reviewed the DVD last year, it looks like the film’s been retooled, renamed, and given a theatrical release under the new title 47 METERS DOWN, which was the original title. But that’s ok, THE SHALLOWS was called IN THE DEEP at one point as well. Spacing it out a year later and plopping 47 METERS DOWN in roughly the same time of year seems to be the strategy to make this one a hit. Is it? Read on.
47 METERS DOWN is a one locale film where most of the action takes place in an isolated location for pretty much the entire film. Like OPEN WATER and FROZEN, 47 METERS DOWN isolates the main characters in order to show what a big dangerous world we live in to those who are so caught up in themselves to notice it. Moore plays Lisa, a recently heartbroken gal who follows her best pal Kate (Claire Holt) to Mexico on a vacation and into a shark cage boating trip where they can experience first hand these deadly predators in their natural environment. Petrified of this idea, Lisa wants no part of it, but is convinced to face her fears as the wench to the cage they are in breaks and sends them plummeting to the bottom of the ocean with sharks circling them.
This is a petrifying situation that most audience members would never, ever do. Simply by immersing these two into this horrific situation and the events leading to their descent into the darkness of the ocean was enough to make me check to see if I needed a new pair of underoos a few times in this film. The premise itself is terrifying and this film does a decent job of not only showing the danger of the situation but also of the speed and deadliness of the sharks circling the cage.
The problem is that in order to spice up the action component of the film, these girls are forced to leave the cage over and over and over again to a point that stretches beyond most folks suspension of disbelief. OK, maybe the gals have to leave the cage once or twice in order to find the new pulley to lift them up or to get the new breathing equipment send down to help them survive. But the girls spend more time outside of the cage than they do in. And that’s the main problem of this film—they feel like they have to have action in order to keep the film interesting, but in doing so, things like character moments are glossed over. Sure one can establish character through action, but when the action is fucking stupid, like say, leaving a secure cage and swimming around in shark infested waters, then you don’t feel for the characters; you just think they’re stupid as fuck for doing what they are doing. I lost count of the amount of times Lisa and Kate left the cage in order to do something, when the natural survival instinct of anyone with a brain would be to sit tight in the safe space.
That said, the shark attacks are absolutely terrifying. As things get dire, air gets depleted, and yes, the gals continue to leave and return to the cage so many times you think it has a revolving door, the sharks (surprise, surprise) get wary of their caged prey and start attacking. Filmed in utter darkness with a simple flashlight, these attacks are the stuff of my absolute worst nightmare. Later in the film, as the possibility of rescue occurs, even more shark attacks made me cower in fear as the sharks launch themselves at our fearless girls as they try to get to the surface and to safety. The final moments of this film are filled with sheer terror and gave me some of the biggest jumps I’ve experienced since…THE SHALLOWS.
And then there’s a false ending that sort of trumps all of those scares…
Sigh…it’s a shame they didn’t stick with the action filled ending. The one they went with is interesting and TWILIGHT ZONE-y (though not supernatural), but definitely deflated the balloon for me. Instead of the edgy ending jagged with gnarly fear, 47 METERS DOWN ends with a more uplifting end that feels tacked on rather than thought all the way through. It all makes sense and does have a charm to it, but still, the final moments ended up frustrating me more than anything else and leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth rather than the feeling of satisfaction that a film successfully scared the crap out of me.
Moore and Holt are fine here in the leads, despite the script pointing them in bone-headed directions. Modine only has a slight cameo, but it’s good to see him working again. 47 METERS DOWN will make you jump is you have a deathly fear of sharks as I do, but the story itself is riddled with head-slapping decisions and an ending that felt toothless.
Worth noting: THE MONSTER!
While it seems Bryan Bertino hasn’t been able to recreate the sheer tension he did with THE STRANGERS, he comes close in THE MONSTER—a trapped in a car with a monster outside flick that has a lot of character, a tragic story, and some fantastic acting from its two lead actresses. I also love the practical effects monster used in the film. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on DVD/BluRay from A24 Films!
THE MONSTER (2016)
aka THERE ARE MONSTERS
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Written by Bryan Bertino
Starring Ella Ballentine, Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Christine Ebadi, Marc Hickox, & Chris Webb as the Monster!
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
From the director who chilled your bones with THE STRANGERS comes THE MONSTER, an electric and emotionally charged powerhouse of a horror film.
Bertino may have made a small misstep in his last endeavor MOCKINGBIRD (reviewed here), but he is back on course with THE MONSTER which tells a painfully real story of parentified child Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) and her young, alcoholic, and irresponsible mother Kathy (Zoe Kazan) whose car breaks down in the middle of a dark road one night and find themselves in a life or death battle against a monster in the woods.
THE MONSTER is not a premise that is unique or particularly groundbreaking. It’s your typical monster story, sort of like CUJO meets DUEL where most of the film takes place on a dark road and the small cast is trapped there and forced to work out inner problems while challenges are scratching their way at them from the dark. What makes this film so memorable and moving I the performances of the two leads. Mapping out the perfect scenario for disaster, Bertino gives us flashbacks to show just how dysfunctional Lizzy and her mother Kathy’s relationship is. Lizzy has to wake her mom up from her hangover and basically takes care of her as her mother battles alcoholism. She is embarrassed of her mother, yet loves her and roots for her. Little Ella Ballentine is going to be a superstar, if this role is any indication as she delivers a heart-wrenching performance as Lizzy. She’s a better actor than most actresses twice her age, able to be a scared little girl in one scene and a young powerful woman in the next. Alongside Kazan, who is equally good, this is one amazingly acted film.
I think if anyone is going to criticize THE MONSTER it might be in a few of the plot holes that occur in the film. And these aren’t necessarily plot holes as much as choices by the director on what to include about the monster and what not to include. The motivation of the monster itself, other than this being a horror movie and the monster has to attack anyone on screen, is as foggy as the night road. Is the monster hungry? Is it trying to feed its own offspring or its own ailing mother? Where did this creature come from and what exactly is it? None of these questions are answered and I imagine the director would say that they aren’t important in the grand scheme of things as this is a story about the troubled relationship between Lizzy and Kathy. Still, if you’re a stickler for these types of details, this one is going to bother you.
The monster design itself is impressive. It’s definitely practical, which I appreciate, yet the articulation of the face and the movement of the creature is very unique and fun. Looking almost like a hairless panther/bat hybrid, the monster in THE MONSTER definitely lives up to its name and Bertino films it in a way that it looks impressively scary throughout. THE MONSTER is a simply told story, but what makes it amazing are the actresses involved and the even scarier scenario one must face as a parentified child watching ones parent wither away in front of you. Bertino captures this complex and tragic feeling masterfully and that’s what makes this film a cut above most monster flicks.
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
#21 – ANNABELLE 2: CREATION
#20– I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
#19 – THE GREASY STRANGLER
#18 – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
#17 –SEOUL STATION
#16 – 47 METERS DOWN
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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