Luca Guadagnino’s eagerly awaited reimagining of Dario Argento’s classic supernatural horror Suspiria finally goes on general release in the UK today. The tale of a prestigious Berlin dance school that’s home to a coven of witches is an extraordinary macabre fantasy that flies by, even in spite of its 153 minute run time.
But it is very, very weird. It’s atmospheric, imposing, elegant and ferocious all at the same time with striking visuals, haunting performances and some twisted set pieces. Even having attended a Halloween night preview screening more than two weeks ago, it has been hard to shift the film from my mind.
Suspiria is not alone on that front in recent years. Bizarre, experimental and disorientating folk-inspired horrors have risen to the foreground in the genre of late, replacing the previously predominant grizzly torture porn of the mid-late noughties (such as Saw, Martyrs and Wolf Creek) and the rise of modern A-lister horrors (like The Conjuring, American Horror Story and The Cabin in the Woods). These films still exist and are still being made, of course, but this list (inspired by Suspiria, out in cinemas today) is a celebration of the peculiar and thoughtful. Starting with…
Set your expectations to ‘what the bloody hell was that about’ as Nic Cage wreaks violent and gory revenge on the demon / angel / things that took his Mandy from him. I could hardly make head nor tail of Panos Cosmatos’ 80s-set ode to Grindhouse but it is so utterly bonkers that it’s very difficult to forget.
A mid-point tonal shift really ramps things up. The first half is a measured story about a couple whose life is severely interrupted by a cult. The second half features a chainsaw duel. It’s… hard to describe.
The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ folk horror takes place in 1630s New England as a family of settlers, ostracised from their community, are plagued by the visit of a witch. With their crops failing to grow and a particularly boisterous black goat to deal with, the family gradually begins to be torn apart. Anya Taylor-Joy is outstanding as the eldest daughter who is accused of colluding with the Devil by her superstitious mother.
What makes A24’s movie quite so superb and utterly horrifying is the fact that large portions of dialogue and stories are lifted almost directly from witch trials and court accounts of the time. The ending is freaky and weird but The Witch benefits tremendously from repeat viewings.
Darren Aronofsky‘s poetic arthouse epic is about as divisive as any entry on this list is going to get. Not because it has a lowercase ‘m’ in the title, nor because it also includes an exclamation mark. But because it is both loved and hated by so many; and because, well, does it count as a horror? Debatable. Horror is perhaps the broadest genre of film around. It encompasses the silly, the surreal and the spooky – and somehow, mother! manages to be all three.
Jennifer Lawrence is the vulnerable central figure trapped by her own love and the love of those around her. There are many ways to interpret mother! – here’s one of them – that almost all point to the story being a biblical allegory. Or, at the very least, a religious one. But I think we can all agree, it is very, very weird.
From the very first scene, Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room, Blue Ruin) and Macon Blair’s Netflix Original thriller from earlier this year continually trips up the viewer at every opportunity. When you think you have a grasp on things, suddenly a tidal wave of strangeness washes over things. On the face of it, this is a story about a naturalist (Jeffrey Wright) who responds to a handwritten letter from a grieving Alaskan mother (Riley Keough) whose soldier husband (Alexander Skarsgård) returns from the war and goes on a murder spree.
But that is just what is on the surface; and straightforward, Hold the Dark is not. It chills to the bone – not least of all because of the icy climes of the Alaskan country – and steadily carves away at your sanity like an ice pick through a frozen block. A lack of closure mires the ending a tad but you’ll still be thinking about it for days to come regardless.
The final film on the list is perhaps the best movie of the year so far. Similarly divisive amongst audiences who either love or hate it – especially the final 10-15 minutes – Hereditary is an exceptionally bleak insight into the mind of one whose grasp on reality is slipping further and further from them. If there’s criticism to be levelled at director Ari Aster, most find fault in the culmination of this gloriously manipulative and unsettling feature that decides to neatly explain everything right at the end, just for the benefit of anyone who hadn’t quite gathered what was going on yet. Which, to be fair, is probably more than half of those watching.
It demands your attention – not least of all when Annie (Toni Collette) screams in anguish during close-up shots as her life falls apart around her. It begins slow and steady as it plasters on the foreshadowing in thick layers, before slowly and gradually increasing in intensity as Annie’s life and sanity falls apart around her. Intelligent filmmaking at its finest.