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!
#14 THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER #14
Why is THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER #14? Oz Perkins makes it on the countdown a second time with this haunting and patient little murder/mystery/descension into madness flick. Stunning performances and an eye for making things ultra-creepy, Perkins is turning out to be a filmmaker I’m going to be keeping a close eye on. His two offerings released this year were tops and is you liked I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, you’re going to love this one. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on Direct TV and digital download from A24 Films!
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015)
Directed by Oz Perkins
Written by Oz Perkins
Starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, James Remar, Emma Holzer, Peter J. Gray, Jodi Larratt, Matthew Stefiuk, Douglas Kidd, Heather Tod Mitchell, Cameron Preyde, Rose Gagnon
Find out more about this film here, @TheBlackcoatsDaughter, and on Facebook here
While I know THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is not going to be the type of horror film everyone is going to be getting behind, it definitely is the type of horror film I like. If you like slow-burning, unsettling little films that make you feel weird even though you can’t exactly put your finger on exactly why; THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is going to be for you. I guess a true test would be if you liked Oz Perkins last film, the Netflix ghost story I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, you’re most likely going to be able to make it through this one and most likely will like it as much as I did.
The film opens ominously with a young girl leaving her home and setting off to go to an all girl private school. The girl, Kat (Kiernan Shipka), is then seen talking with her counselor about a performance she is about to do for the entire school and how disappointed she is because he won’t be there. While the conversation seems innocent enough, the way it all plays out feels utterly unsettling. Enter one of Kat’s schoolmates, the elder classmate Rose (Lucy Boynton) who is having problems of her own with her boyfriend involving a missed period (and we aren’t talking about classes). Both Kat and Rose seem to be stuck on the school grounds during winter break as both their parents have failed to pick them up for the break. This leaves the school counselor to ask Rose to look over Kat and though she doesn’t intend to, she reluctantly agrees to make the counselor happy. This leaves Kat and Rose alone in the school together with Rose trying to scare Kat with stories about the school headmistresses being in a cult and Kat acting absolutely batshit crazy and paranoid whenever Rose leaves her alone. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan (Emma Roberts) is trying to make her way to the school by foot and hitches a ride with a couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly), not knowing that there is something underhanded and evil going on there as well. Both stories intersect, though you aren’t aware that they do until its too late.
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER formerly known as FEBRUARY in the festival circuit, was actually made before I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE, though was released afterwards. Both films excel in enveloping the viewer in a paranoid, indefinable discomfort from beginning to end. Both are tales where you trust nothing at face value and culminate in a potent, yet quiet climax that resonates long after the credits roll. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER in particular is effective in immediately tossing you into the darkness as Shipka is utterly hypnotizing as the seemingly innocent, but undeniably off Kat. The stilted and subtle way she interacts with people is creepy because you can’t exactly put a finger on why she is so creepy. Her later actions seal the deal in why we have this foreboding sense of horror whenever she’s on screen, but from the first moment, there is dread in droves.
On top of Shipka’s haunting performance, the other actresses in THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER are awesome as well. Boynton’s Rose has her secrets as well and while she comes off as the typical school bully picking on an under-classmate, this isn’t all there is to her. Whether she knows it or not, she’s in danger dealing with Kat and the fun lays in the fact that she believes she has the upper hand all the way through. Emma Roberts’ Joan is another nuanced character, seemingly innocent and fragile, but carrying her own dark secrets. As evidenced here and in I AM THE PRETTY THING, Perkins is gifted in telling nuanced stories with female characters.
But if you’re looking for flashy effects, jarring jump scares, and horrors rehashed for the ga-billionth time, look everywhere but this film. THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is a tale of human darkness that will leave a dark stain on your soul if you let it in. It’s subversive. It’s patient, quiet, and creeping. The type of stuff that creeps into nightmares rather than jolts you out of them. Perkins is a filmmaker to watch with this one two punch of I AM THE PRETTY THING and THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Fans of subtle, lingering, skin-crawlingly potent horror drenched in mood, atmosphere and dread like last year’s THE WITCH are going to find a lot of the same elements in THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER.
Worth noting: NINA FOREVER!
Another tale of twisted love as seen almost as a fairy tale is the ghost story NINA FOREVER, about a couple haunted by the ghost of a former girlfriend. This is a complex little love triangle that is equal parts gore, eroticism, and straight up fucked-upedness. I love this twisted little spookshow all the way to its surprising end. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on SHUDDER!
NINA FOREVER (2015)
Directed by Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Written by Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine
Starring Abigail Hardingham, Cian Barry, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, David Troughton, Elizabeth Elvin, Sean Verey, Javan Hirst, Richard Sandling, Phelim Kelly, Lee Nicholas Harris, Bill Holland, Katharine Bennett-Fox, Tamar Karabetyan
Find out more about this film here, @ninaforeverfilm, and on Facebook here
Chock full with the type of quirk and sickness that I haven’t seen in a horror film since Lucky McKee’s MAY, NINA FOREVER turned out to be the right type of wrong for me and if you’re looking for a film that highlights the more twisted side of love this is it!
Described as “a fucked up fairy tale,” NINA FOREVER follows an outcast named Holly (the beautiful Abigail Hardingham) who studies to be a paramedic and works her days away at a local grocery store. When her boyfriend proves to know nothing about her, they break things off and Holly immediately takes interest in a dark, brooding coworker at the grocery named Rob (Cian Barry), who recently lost his girlfriend Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) in a traffic accident and is grief-stricken. As the two grow close, Holly begins to find out more about Rob’s ex and respects that he is still getting over her (and most likely is more attracted to Rob because of his overwhelming grief). When Holly and Rob finally make love, though, this guilt and sadness seems to bring Nina’s ghost back from the dead as she sprouts from the mattress stained in blood, sort of like HELLRAISER, but more romantical. Of course, both Rob and Holly are freaked out by the naked and bloody corpse writhing and talking to them from the blood stained mattress, but when Nina keeps on appearing to keep Holly and Rob from having sex, fear gives way to frustration and though Rob and Holly’s love is strong, Nina’s bloody ghost is a big, gory wedge getting in between their happiness.
As gory as this film is, it is quite heartfelt and sensitive to feelings of loss and guilt, as well as potent in capturing that magic that happens when two people meet and hit it off for the first time. This is a film that has powerful feelings as its backbone driving the story forward and all three actors (Hardingham, Barry, and O’Shaughnessy) convey this grab bag of emotions extremely well. The fact that Holly decides to roll with the fact that the ghost of Rob’s ex hanging around is a testament to the power of their love, but the film doesn’t really stop there in that these ghostly interruptions push Holly to the breaking point. Sure there’s a bit of comedy at the fact that everywhere Nina shows up is smeared with blood and gore, so the couple have to keep throwing out their sheets and cleaning the walls every time they have sex because Nina’s gory intrusions, but the film plays with the metaphor of how death affects a relationship and how one looks at relationships after one has experienced loss in a way that elevates it past mere comedy to a deeper and more soulful level.
The odd thing about NINA FOREVER is that it is told from Holly’s perspective. This all makes sense by the end of the film, but for most of the runtime, one would think this would be the type of tale told from Rob’s perspective as he is the one who experienced the loss of his girlfriend and is dealing with her return every time he is intimate with his new girlfriend. Sure we are given snippets into Rob’s morose world where he visits Nina’s grave and has dinner at her parent’s place every Sunday, but most of the real emotion comes through the experiences we endure from Holly’s perspective. Because of this odd point of view, everything feels a bit off kilter. This isn’t horrible, it’s just another aspect of this wonky and unconventional film that makes things feel even more out of whack, but Holly is such a likable character that I didn’t mind following her around most of the time.
Often wickedly funny, often sweetly sexual, but just when you find yourself laughing or falling for these characters, things flip to being potently poignant and then downright morose, NINA FOREVER is a film for folks who like unconventional love stories with endings that aren’t so happy. The lead three stars are going to be big someday if their performances here are any indication, especially the uniquely gorgeous Hardingham who is equal parts sexy and twisted all at once as Holly. If you’re the type who love stories that stray from the norm, NINA FOREVER may be the right kind of fucked up for you too.
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
#15 – THE TRANSFIGURATION
#14 – THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
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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