M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Last month, counted down my favorite horror films from my first year of reviewing. Now it’s on to Year Two which began officially on October 1, 2011 and went through September 30, 2012. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around a bit. I’ve even added a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2011 and September 30, 2012 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on October 4, 2011 and available on Video On Demand, digital download, and DVD/BluRay!

AMER (2009)

Directed by Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Written by Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Starring Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud, Marie Bos, Biancamaria D’Amato, Harry Cleven, Jean-Michel Vovk, Bernard Marbaix, Thomas Bonzani, François Cognard, Delphine Brual, Jean Secq, Béatrice Butler, Charles Forzani, Benjamin Guyot, Yves Fostier, Francesco Italiano, Henriette Raimondé
Find out more about this film here!

Sometimes style over substance is a good thing. In the case of AMER, it is certainly true. You’re not going to find a better looking film than the first one from international filmmakers Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani. But the fact that this film looks the way it does and hits you with such an impact on the senses might make one overlook themes that are prevalent in many of the best horror films. It’s the way this film smacks you in the face that leaves the impact, but the long lasting bruise comes in the form of some extremely heavy themes.

AMER tells the story of a young woman in three stages of her life; child, adolescence, and adult. In each segment, the film takes the viewer through a vivid landscape of beauty and terror. As a child, Ana (Cassandra Forêt) plays it full of precotiousness. Making her way through the decadent castle she lives in with her parents, her newly departed grandfather, and his nurse/mistress(?) who seems to have a penchant for the black arts. As the family deals with the emotional heft of the patriarch’s death, the child wanders around, examines the dead body, and gets threatened by the wheezing nurse in black who looks to be a witch.

Segment one deals with fairy tale and fantasy much more than the rest of the film. It sees threat through a child’s innocent eyes that don’t completely understand things like sex and death. When confronted with the two almost at the same time, the child suffers a trauma that is complex and overwhelming, leading to a nightmare that takes the child and the viewer to the edge of sanity. The filmmakers fill these scenes with dramatic colors and nightmarish imagery. This first vivid segment is by far the most entrancing. It is much more visual than the others, relying on classical depictions of child-like tensions and things under the bed, in the closet, and peeking under the bedroom door.

Segment two shifts forward in time to Ana during her adolescence with stunning actress Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud playing the part. This segment follows Ana as she walks with her mother (Biancamaria D’Amato) outside of the castle to the city which is filled with all sorts of dangers. While this part is much shorter and simpler, yet packs a powerful thematic punch as Ana is forced to confront the dichotomy of being in that foggy middle ground between child and adult. She is beginning to understand her sexuality and is starting to understand how to utilize that, but the city is filled with all kinds of predators in the form of male eyes that peek around and leer from all angles. There is a lot said about the male gaze in modern films, but AMER definitely gives that gaze a set of pointy teeth unlike most. This segment also highlights the wonderful conflict between mother and daughter as one is losing her looks while the other is just developing them. Frantically edited, this segment is the most thematically deep.

As Ana becomes an adult (played by Marie Bos), she returns to the castle. Again, the gaze is prevalent as she gets innuendo-loaded glances whenever she passes any and all men in the village when she arrives. While it is unclear why or how long she has been gone and why her parents are no longer there, those details become less important as we are thrust into another series of thrilling and mysterious sequences as it seems Ana is being stalked by a shadowy figure in the dark, abandoned corners of the castle. Shit gets Jungian really quick as Ana begins to not only do battle with dark forces descending upon the castle with less than noble intent, but also shadowy recesses of her own mind that lead back to Ana’s own skewed perception of sex and death developed in her childhood. The result is a cat and mouse chase like few others. This one is much more slasher-like as it highlights Ana’s development from innocent, child-like prey in the beginning to adult, seducing predator.

AMER is a sweaty, blood-stained love letter to Giallo. From the first segment, which homages some of the best Argento at his most vividly colored and tension-laden (evidenced at its best in SUSPIRIA) to the final segment which feels more like a wider embrace on the entire Giallo subgenre with a black-gloved killer, wide-eyed witnesses to murder, spotlight-glinting switchblades, and all kinds of twists and turns (believable or fantastical). Have I mentioned that this film has only a few lines of dialog? Well, it manages to convey all of its complex messages through editing, light, texture, action, and color alone. There is no other film that looks or feels like AMER. Add in a bold and bawdy Italian Giallo soundtrack and this is a wonderfully powerful assault on the ears and eyes.

There may be some who call AMER obtuse. It’s definitely an art house film. One that doesn’t explain itself or answer all questions. No bows are tied on the package at the end. You’re going to have to use your noggin on this one and if that intimidates you, there are plenty of mindless horrors out there. But those who like some meat on their movies to chew on and don’t mind some thinkin’ with your viewin’ have a lot to latch onto with AMER. The film also never talks down to its viewer. It is a film that is first and foremost meant to entertain. If you get some of the themes, that seems to be groovy to the filmmakers, but they are just there to give us a cool film and dammit if they don’t succeed in spades. While there are heavy feminist themes, AMER plays with these themes in a much more smarter way. Instead of force-feeding these themes with broad stereotypes and long monologues. Instead it simply places the viewer capably and effectively in the shoes of this woman suffering, overcoming, and being challenged by the world around her. I wish more films that label themselves “feminist” would adopt this method rather than the more aggressively, dumbed-down, and clumsily-pushed preachings of modern feminist films like 2019’s BLACK CHRISTMAS.

If you are a foreigner to Giallo, AMER is a modern enough take on the subgenre to act as an amazing intro course. If you’re an afficionado, you’re going to have a wide smile on your face seeing all of those themes, visuals, and methods at play. AMER is a monumental film. It is a feast for the eyes and ears and will not only make your mouth drool, but will cause your brain to go on overdrive with its complex themes of womanhood, sex/death, and culture. This one should be recommended viewing for all of those who call themselves horror fans.

THE 2011-2012 COUNTDOWN!

#6 – AMER
#16 – THE PACT
#17 – V/H/S
#24 – [REC]3 GENESIS
#28 – INBRED

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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