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!
#9 GET OUT #9
Why is GET OUT #9? While I found this to be a somewhat flawed film in terms of the way things wrapped up, I do recognize that this was an extremely important film in terms of both horror and African American filmmakers. I am all for different perspectives on what keeps us up at night and if this film paves the way for that, I’m fully behind it. It also is a thoroughly entertaining film all the way through with some truly thrilling momnets reminiscent of THE STEPFORD WIVES and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. GET OUT also shows that Jordan Peele is not just a genius at making people laugh, but he’s a hell of a powerhouse behind the camera as well. It also appears he loves horror, so I hope we see more scares coming from him in the future. You can find GET OUT here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available from Universal Pictures!
GET OUT (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, LilRel Howery, Ashley LeConte Campbell, John Wilmot, Caren L. Larkey, Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Caren L. Larkey, Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Geraldine Singer, Yasuhiko Oyama, Richard Herd, Erika Alexander, Jeronimo Spinx, Ian Casselberry, Trey Burvant, Zailand Adams
Find out more about this film here, @GetOutMovie, and on Facebook here
In these disgustingly politicized times, people race to the polar opposites and gather their weapons and ready for battle any time any time a social issue comes up like some kind of twisted version of THE HUNGER GAMES. People are eager to argue with one another over these topics, standing firm and screaming in ALL CAPS or shouting in people’s faces rather than having a discussion that actually might enlighten both sides to the fact that we are all sharing this planet and it would be a whole lot better if we could just tolerate each other. I give this preemptive work of sentence-ry as a means hopefully quell those who are ready to jump to the talkbacks for a bare knuckle talk-brawl over this film. It is, after all, just a movie. And I think it’s a pretty damn good movie. It’s not perfect. It’s not a homerun. But it is a good horror film venturing down familiar avenues wearing a different shade of skin color.
GET OUT is at its best when it follows the lead of films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE THING, THE INVITATION, and films of this kind where, with increasing intensity, a person finds themselves in a world unlike his or her own and it seems like everyone is in on the joke (or oblivious to it) save the protagonist. Now in GET OUT’s case, this is a black man (Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya) taking steps into a upper scale white community. Being a white dude, I don’t know what it is like to be a black man walking through a white community, but I do know what it is like being a white man doing the same though a mostly black community in South Side Chicago, as I used to have to take the train to work to Harvey and walk six blocks to my job while I heard calls of “Five-O!” and “What you doin’ here, white boy?” on a daily basis, so I think that’s relatable. Writer/director Jordan Peele gives us a taste of what it is like to be a black man in a white neighborhood in a wonderfully orchestrated scene of pure suspense at the beginning, as a black man is walking alone and finds himself followed by a car in a white neighborhood. This sets the stage that something insidious is going on, but you soon forget it, because Peele introduces us to Chris and his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) as they prepare to meet her parents, even though she tells Chris that she hasn’t told them he was black. Once they arrive at the home, after narrowly avoiding a situation where Chris is harassed by a local cop, they are met with open arms by Rose’s dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) and mother Missy (Catherine Keener). All of Chris’ worry seems to be for naught, until Chris sees that all of the servants in the home are black. While this is addressed and quickly explained away by Dean, Chris still is wary of everything around him. Turns out, Rose’s visit home coincides with a yearly gathering at the home of other well to do white folks, and Chris is paraded out on Rose’s arm forced to meet and make small talk with the locals who are full of rushed assumptions, veiled stereotypical remarks, and worse yet, being pandered to by people seemingly filled with white guilt (Dean admits he would have voted for Obama for a third term as a means to connect with Chris, as if this benefits Chris in some way). Of course, this being a horror film, cracks begin to show and the real reason Chris is there for the weekend is revealed involving a teacup, some hypnosis, and an auction.
For a first time horror director, Jordan Peele impressed the hell out of me. I understand that comedians are often labeled as dark and are usually very good at drama, but Peele displays a really sophisticated sense of timing and pacing here—all good things necessary for great horror. He also knows how to inject humor in a scene (of course, since KEY & PEELE is probably the funniest show I’ve ever seen on television) to quell some of the more uncomfortable moments, such as the dinner party (the Tiger Woods line got me rolling). In terms of a straight-up, paranoia-fueled horror film about the world coming down around you and no one can be trusted, Peele delivers a rock solid film. Borrowing a page from THE STEPFORD WIVES, through Chris’ suspicious eyes, we are questioning everything going on as it appears the black folks Chris run into are acting like everything is completely ok when they obviously are not. And while at first, it appears Chris might be a bit overly cautious about the whole trip, eventually we see he is right in his assumptions and something horrible is going on. Peele takes the viewer extremely slowly down a staircase into the darkness at a smart pace that never skips any crucial step in making everything feel believable and natural to all of the characters. Sure, we know it’s a horror movie, but we don’t know to what extent, and Peele packs in some fantastic surprises along the way that are bound to shock and startle audiences.
Another positive is that the cast is phenomenal. Kaluuya as Chris seems like a great guy—flawed to a tee and cursed with guilt about the passing of his mother at a late age. This actor is going to have a long career in the biz. The only problem I had with him is that his eyes constantly looked watery, as if he were stoned or tearing up the entire time. While there are scenes where he is supposed to be crying and it’s appropriate, he seems to have that glassy eyed look all of the time and it made my eyes begin to water up just looking at his. Other standout roles are, of course, Bradley Whitford as Dean. He injects the right amount of regal-ness along with a dry wit to make him charming, yet suspicious. Paired with Catherine Keener who carries her own sense of wry humor laced with dark undertones to every line she utters and this is one pair of movie bad guys that are truly memorable. I also have to give a shout out to Stephen Root, whose character is only on screen a short while, but his presence is overpowering throughout. Finally, Caleb Landry Jones is becoming one of my favorite actors. With small roles as Banshee in X-MEN: THE FIRST CLASS and the twisted brother in THE LAST EXORCISM and the lead in Brandon Cronenberg’s ANTIVIRAL (an excellent flick, BTW) under his belt, the actor never fails to deliver a memorable role. Jones’ role as Jeremy, the overly aggro brother eager to show off his MMA skills to Chris, is riveting. Even as a young actor, Landry is a force of nature and is able to display his more horrific side here amazingly.
This film has been marketed as a satire. It’s supposed to hold a funhouse mirror up to society and gives a broad strokes version of reality to get people talking. And while the subject of race is prominent, I do not feel like it is a “Hate whitey” film, as some folks have complained about. It definitely talks about race and begins a conversation that is necessary in this day and age. But those rushing to paint it overly liberal or lob the word SJW around are missing the point that the reason Chris is wanted is not because of his race specifically. I think this was an interesting decision for Peele to make as it really allows the audience to fall into assumptions that the movie isn’t necessarily trying to make and points the accusing finger at the more subtle forms of racism and prejudice in society than those screaming for the death of one group or another. Through the bulk of the film, it’s the pandering that is going to make you squirm; the white people trying to deal with guilt by making sure they say they voted for Obama, the references to black athletes in Chris’ presence, even Dean’s explaining away Chris’ suspicions about the black help and Chris’ quickness to accept those excuses speak more about today’s society than any of the overt racism spouted by Jeremy about blacks being a superior athletic race. In GET OUT, it’s the stuff right under the surface that is the real terror, not the sheet wearing racists, but those who overcompensate in order to be accepted and get in close to be trusted. This makes the overall theme of the film more gray than simple black and white. Yet that’s why there are a few things about GET OUT that annoy me.
I know Jordan Peele knows that not all white people live in affluent houses and are independently wealthy. I also can assume Peele has met some white folks that aren’t racist or evil or evilly racist or racist-ly evil. But watching GET OUT, one would assume that not to be the case. There isn’t a white person to be seen in this film that isn’t up to no good. And while at least the worst of horror films inject a black person in there (which is equally deplorable, since it is so obviously just trying to grab a demographic rather than tell a story), there is no such character in GET OUT. All whites are bad in this movie. They may not all be racists, but they are all bad in one way or another. A satire is supposed to make one laugh and be shocked, but in the end relate to something in the real world outside of the cinema that makes the viewer look at that world differently. Peele is successful in painting a world where people are duplicitous and underhanded, but he does so at the cost of simply painting in a broad swath and casting all whites at the oppressors and all blacks as the victims fighting against those oppressors. For me, that’s not really a bold statement, but a perpetuation of a divisiveness that is already happening in America. Had there maybe have been one redeeming white person or hell, even a token white friend who just gets killed off first, I think it would have been a more powerful statement as to the way blacks are often pigeonholed in cinema and in a greater sense the world itself.
Also, as ballsy as this film is at times, I feel the film really shits the bed at the end. I don’t know what I wanted to see. Maybe not the “happy” ending we get, but something more real and horrific that again drives the point home that there is a long way to go before racism and prejudice is extinguished from this country. Instead, we get an ending where we are laughing our way out of the cinema instead of scratching our chins and actually thinking about what transpired. The last thing we get is a release of all of this tension through laughter, which makes it easier to forget the serious and well thought out things that occurred and themes explored. As effective as everything was, wrapping things up in a bow like that feels like a cop out.
There is a version out there of this film that has a lot of the stuff you’ve seen in previews but don’t show up in the actual movie that hit theaters. The scene where Chris is startled by the skeleton of a deer is not there. The scene where Jeremy is wearing a Medieval battle helmet and seemingly on the attack in the rain isn’t there either. I’m not sure why these scenes were cut and left in the previews, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they fit into the film in the eventual uncut/director’s cut version.
Recently at the last few comic conventions I’ve attended, I have lead a panel focusing on “Reinventing Horror” and in these panels, the topic of race/gender always comes up (I’m doing another one at C2E2, BTW in April). I think it’s kind of unfair to prop this film up as a movie made by an African American director. I would much rather categorize this film as a good, if not great movie, and leave it at that rather than pigeonhole it. Still, if this film means more black directors get a shot to tell their version of what horror is, I think that GET OUT is important in that sense. Hopefully, we will get more films that take on serious issues and, most importantly, take on serious horror, like this and less like BOO!: A MADEA HALLOWEEN. If GET OUT paves the way for more smart, well acted, well produced, and high concept horror in theaters from men and women of all cultures and colors, then GET OUT is definitely an important movie and that result would definitely be a good thing. Seeing the lily white blah that was the trailer for WISH UPON before GET OUT only drives the point home that we need more horror from different perspectives.
Worth noting: UNION FURNACE!
Another horror story about a wicked game played with lives at stake is UNION FURNACE. I reviewed this quite a while ago, but it was just recently make available on it’s website. It’s the story of a group of people gathered to play a game until only one is left. All of it is held court by a madman in a gold lion mask with an audience of masked watchers in the audience participating. It’s definitely an unsettling one to see the people reduced to players in a game rather than actual human beings. You can find it here on the film’s website!
Available from Metropol Pictures!
UNION FURNACE (2015)
Directed by Nicholas Bushman
Written by Nicholas Bushman, Mike Dwyer
Starring Mike Dwyer, Seth Hammond, Katie Keene, Keith David, Kevin Crowley, Tara Bellando, Misa Farslow, Chris Griffith, David Hayward, Lyle Kanouse, Louie Lawless, John W. Lawson, Megan Morelock, John Newkirk, Benjamin Franklin Crawford Wallace
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
UNION FURNACE is the type of indie film I love to discover. Having not an inkling of what this film was about save for the image of the golden lion masked man in a clown colored shirt in front of an audience of masked onlookers who seem to be enjoying themselves at whatever they are coldly looking at, I was tickled to see the coolness that this film exudes from every second of screentime.
The title UNION FURNACE refers to the small Ohio town in which this film is filmed. Being a native Ohioan, I was surprised to never have heard of Union Furnace, but I’m more familiar with Northwestern Ohio than Southern Ohio where this film is located as references to Cincy (Cincinnati, OH) are made numerous times on the film. One Ohioan named Cody (Mike Dwyer) is down on his luck and buried in debt. Stealing a car from a church parking lot, he is followed by a shady individual later to be named Lion (Seth Hammond) who is the aforementioned dancing dude in the gold lion mask. Lion charms Cody with a wad of cash and promises him more if he is to meet him and take part in a friendly competition. Soon Cody finds himself among 8 contestants in a small lodge with the masked audience hooting and hollering for blood. The first game is a derivation of the board game Sorry and seems innocent enough, but as the contestants who lose begin to disappear, the stake rise and soon each contestant is out for each blood and the most desperate is the only one who gets the money and gets to survive the night.
Immediately, when the soupy torch song/retro-country mash-up plays over the credits, I knew I was in for something outside of the norm. The patient and stylistic way director Nicholas Bushman soaks in the poverty stricken and bland colored Ohio small town vibes conveys the mood of desperation. The director makes the mundane landscape pop with surreal music and a steady, unblinking lens. The scenes of Lion gyrating among the overweight and overzealous crowd wearing masks set to bizarre musics is both gorgeous and grotesque. Very much reminiscent of dirty oversaturation of Vincent Gallo’s BUFFALO 66, this film looks like a rusty relic found in an antique store and I immediately recognized it as something truly unique.
The story itself is not new. Films like INBRED, DELIVERANCE, and even hints of Illuminati conspiracy groups of the rich seeking the poor as entertainment as hinted at in EYES WIDE SHUT and THE CONSPIRACY came to mind while watching this film. But in truth, I love those types of films. Kubrick and Tarantino are definitely influences Bushman seems to be pulling from. And the actors themselves have a sort of David Lynch/David Cronenberg/Stanley Kubrick style disconnect from the way the rest of the world works that I found fantastic. As Lion, Seth Hammond proves he is someone to look out for as he exhibits a Matthew McConaughey sort of laid back manner and Mike Dwyer channels Tim Roth in scenes as the captive who seems to be Lion’s favorite to win. Keith David adds a bit of class to any role he plays and does so here as an uptight captive who wishes he wouldn’t have accepted Lion’s offer. While the rest of the cast are made up of faces I haven’t seen before, but all of them do a great job of playing either down and out types with their own unique back-story or the haunting masked crowd that could be made up of anyone, but still make for an ominous background to this twisted tale of human lives at stake for a profit.
UNION FURNACE is a unique tale shown through a lens that tells me that director Nicholas Bushman is someone to look out for. The richness of the way this film looks is unlike most I’ve seen and while Bushman borrows from other directors, he borrows from the right ones to spark my interest. As Bushman evolves into his own style, I’m hoping this evolution continues to focus on great character as seen through a lens that balances between the grotesque and the beautiful. UNION FURNACE is a powerful film that will definitely leave you wanting to soak in more of its bizarre imagery and sounds even after the satisfying end. Highly recommended for those who love a little quirk, ambience, and class war in their thrillers.
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
#13 – THE SIMILARS
#12 – IT COMES AT NIGHT
#11 – SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL
#10 – SAVAGELAND
#9 – GET OUT
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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