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!
#3 THE EYES OF MY MOTHER #3
Why is THE EYES OF MY MOTHER #3? Because THE EYES OF MY MOTHER conveys true elegance within a grotesque package. Presented in this black and white format and told in a three chapter manner spanning one generation of a twisted family, the events that transpire in this film are the stuff of nightmare. It’s gorgeous and uncanny all at once. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on BluRay/DVD from Magnet Releasing!
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2016)
Directed by Nicolas Pesce
Written by Nicolas Pesce
Starring Kika Magalhaes, Diana Agostini, Will Brill, Olivia Bond, Joey Curtis-Green, Flora Diaz, Paul Nazak, Clara Wong
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Filmed in beautiful black and white, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is an unconventional horror story split into three parts about a misguided woman seeking companionship in ways that are most uncanny. While there are elements of torture porn in this film, as there is a person in chains being broken by mistreatment, the focus is less on the torture and more about the formation of twisted relationships and the uglier side of family and love.
In chapters marked “Mother,” “Father,” and “Family,” THE EYES OF MY MOTHER follows a young girl Francisca (played by wide-eyed cutie Olivia Bond) as she grows into a young woman (played by the enchanting Kika Magalhaes) and how she forms her twisted outlook on love through various tragic events happening to her family. A character only seeking to be loved and to follow in her dear mother’s footsteps, Francisca is first seen taking advice from Mother (Diana Agostini) definitely seems like she has a few loose screws herself as she attempts to educate the young girl in surgery at a very young age. When a mysterious giggling stranger appears on her doorstep, he ends up attacking the house while Father (Paul Nazak) is away, but when he returns and incapacitates the stranger, he is given to Francisca as a sort of present to take care of in the barn, which she does with misguided tenderness. This is but the first domino to topple in Francisca’s psyche through these three chapters.
There’s a simplicity to this film that cannot be denied. The decision to go black and white with this really does set it apart and make it feel more resonant as it covers odd family relations, torture, and more twisted beliefs. Each frame seems to be meticulously plotted out by filmmaker Nicolas Pesce who, like many surreal painters, has an eye for making disgusting and off-putting things look beautiful. The subtle blending of the soft tones also help a lot, as Pesce’s lingering camera makes everything look like a moving and flowing painting during the scenes taking place outside. Inside, there are more harsher tones, reflecting the strong differentiation between the blacks and whites and the moral conflict of the twisted behavior going on behind the walls of the farmhouse and the barn. This all seems very intentionally mapped out by a filmmaker who pays attention to how the softness or harshness of shadow and tone can represent the action of that specific scene. Compare the gentle conversation in a field with a herd of cows and all of its grays to the extreme black and whites of the footage inside the barn with Francisca’s captive pet and you will see a master at work in Pesce’s film.
The acting is out of this world as well. Magalhaes is beautiful and doe-eyed as Francisca, a complex character doing horrible things through the understanding of a child’s view of the world. No matter what horrible acts she commits, I sympathized with her as she is truly a cracked human being. Agostini is the true standout as Mother here with her haunting, bone-like face to the cold delivery she gives as she teaches her daughter how to cut out an eye is truly chilling. Her performance is what many will remember from this film after the credits. And Will Brill’s performance as the giggling drifter is one that will cause many a nightmare as he descends upon the house.
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER serves as three interconnected shorts starring the same characters at different stages in their lives. Seeing this growth from one point in life to the next feels almost invasive as these moments are delicately and intimately played out. This is an odd film—taking narrative risks and offering extremely flawed characters as the centerpiece, but it’s a brave one to take the chances to do something different with a story. I didn’t want this film to end as this world is truly one of bizarre beauty and a somewhat simple, albeit bent look at life and love. Unfortunately for the lead character, the world isn’t so simple and that’s the biggest moral you’re going to take from this exquisite little horror.
Worth noting: UNDER THE SHADOW!
This film showed up on a lot of people’s best of lists and I honestly don’t know why. Sure it gives us a peek at horror in another culture, but for me, the film failed to give me a single startle at all. Once I realized that the film basically is about an evil sheet, it really fell flat for me. I will give it to this one for making a story about women’s rights and wrapping it in a ghost story, but while it works as a political statement, it doesn’t as a horror movie. Worth nothing, but not much else to me. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available from Vertical Entertainment!
UNDER THE SHADOW (2016)
Directed by Babak Anvari
Written by Babak Anvari
Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi, Behi Djanati Atai, Hamid Djavadan, Soussan Farrokhnia, Aram Ghasemy, Nabil Koni
A lot has been said about UNDER THE SHADOW being this year’s THE BABADOOK. And while I can see the similarities; the focus on a stressed out mother and child, a boogeyman that may or may not exist in the dark periphery, and strong themes that resonate outside of the norm for the horror genre, I feel the film just can’t live up to that kind of hype as it lacks an overall shock and chill factor.
Sideh (Narges Rashidi) is an Iranian mother immersed in pressure, both from a culture which is difficult to accept a woman’s individual voice and the difficulties of raising a young child in the middle of a warzone. But things get even worse when her daughter complains of voices and apparitions taking shape in the night. Written off as the imagination of a child, Sideh is terrified to find out that her daughter’s complaints are real and a Djinn is haunting their home as it is also barraged by daily missile attacks.
OK, before I give praise to this film, I have to just keep it real here and say the following.
Call me insensitive, but the biggest problem with UNDER THE SHADOW is that the monster is…wait for it…a sheet. You know the creature at the beginning of THE FRIGHTENERS? The carpet/sheet/grim reaper creature? Under the direction of Peter Jackson and the effects of some extremely capable folks, it was pretty cool. But given the limited budget of this film, it’s not even as scary as that because it just kind of whips around corners and plumes up from the floor. I understand there may be some kind of cultural significance to the sheet or fabric or curtain or whatever it is that is tormenting this family, but watched by an American without much knowledge of Iranian culture (and no reference of the significance of the sheet is given in the film), it’s just a sheet. Now, I get the significance of what this sheet represents. It symbolizes the covering that Iranian women must wear when they leave the home. It is a symbol of a culture that covers up femininity for religious/selfish/egotistical/possessive/male dominated reasons. I get that this is a feminist film and one that shows a woman’s battle with being quieted, silenced, covered up, and unnoticed. Again, this is a strongly resonant film because of this metaphorical weight and I don’t want to diminish this type of struggle or the power of this metaphor. But still, I’m here to talk about not only the metaphor, but how effective this film is in terms of scares, thrills, and chills. And I’m sorry, but this is a movie where a woman fights desperately against a spotted sheet for the life of family and I just can’t say it hits me on that level. Just sit back and let that soak in—it’s a movie about a woman fighting a sheet and looking at it that way, cultural sensitivity be damned, it’s kind of fucking goofy!
I won’t argue that this is not a well acted film. Narges Rashidi is amazing in the lead as the conflicted mother who wants to go back to school after a life of protesting, as well as the conflicts she experiences as a mother trying to do the best for her child in the middle of bombing and all out war. She does a fantastic job, comparable to Essie Davis’ role of a pressured mother in THE BABADOOK, but while Rashidi is put through the ringer by her needy child and the situation they are in, Davis runs circles around her in her role and comparisons are downright offensive. I hate to compare UNDER THE SHADOW to THE BABADOOK so much, but if you are going to compare that movie to the other, it’s hard not to talk about the blaring differences between the two.
UNDER THE SHADOW is full of metaphor about female oppression. It shows a woman ahead of her time caught in a culture with many archaic thoughts and represents the terror of being caught in this culture, filled with war, discrimination, and oppression in a very effective way. UNDER THE SHADOW is a fantastically acted drama exemplifying what it would be like to be caught in such a society with nowhere to run and hide. But because the monster looks like Charlie Brown’s costume in IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN CHARLIE BROWN, it just doesn’t have the scares to match the strong metaphor this film presents.
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
#8 – THE VOID
#7 – CAPTURE KILL RELEASE
#6 – THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
#5 – IT
#4 – THE DEVIL’S CANDY
#3 – THE EYES OF MY MOTHER
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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