October 11th, 2014

Dark City

Halloween Countdown, Day 11

It's film time! Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD or VOD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the classics. Not the usual suspects.

Today I have quite a few new recommendations to add to the list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed all of these via Netflix.) Here they are, in reverse chronological order.

Oculus movie poster How I Live Now film Jug Face

  • Oculus (2014): We watched this for Longmire's Katee Sackhoff and Doctor Who's Karen Gillan. We ended up agreeing it was one of our favorite movies of the year. A young woman is convinced that an antique mirror is responsible for the death and misfortune her family has suffered. This is beautifully crafted horror.

  • Alien Abduction (2014): This is the film I mentioned in my post about the Brown Mountain Lights. It's a found-footage film done right, with scenes that reminded us of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Signs, The Blair Witch Project, and The X-Files. Its restraint in showing very little of the aliens is a strength. Be sure to watch through the credits!

  • Europa Report (2013): For my money, this is the best science fiction film of the last year. Gravity can't begin to compare. This recounts the fictional story of the first crewed mission to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Despite a disastrous technical failure that loses all communications with Earth mission control and a series of dangerous crises, the international crew continues their mission to Europa and encounters a baffling mystery. All SF fans must see this.

  • The Happy House (2013): It's the bed and breakfast you always dreaded - and that's on a good day. This is not a good day. This quirky, clever serial-killer comedy works unexpectedly well thanks to its dark, restrained script and compelling characters.

  • Haunter (2013): This Canadian film is about teenager stuck in a time loop that is not quite the same with each revolution. She must uncover the truth, but her actions have consequences for herself and others. This one really surprised us (in a good way). Shiver inducing and well worth watching.

  • How I Live Now (2013): Ably adapted from the award-winning novel by Meg Rosoff (which I really liked), this dreamlike film follows fifteen-year-old American Daisy, who is sent to stay with cousins on a remote farm in the United Kingdom just before the outbreak of a fictional third world war. I don't know why this haunting apocalyptic work didn't receive more attention, because it deserved it.

  • Jug Face (2013): This wins the original premise award. There's no way to describe the film that doesn't sound bizarre, but it's unexpectedly compelling. A teen girl who is pregnant with her brother's child tries to escape from a backwoods community, only to discover that her people have determined that she must sacrifice herself to a creature in a pit. (Be warned about the subject of miscarriage.)

  • The Numbers Station (2013): This is a British-American action thriller about a burned-out CIA black ops agent (John Cusack) assigned to protect the code operator at a secret American numbers station somewhere in the British countryside. I suspect the poor reception this received is because it's more quiet, melancholy, and introspective than the run-of-the-mill action-mystery. Of course, that's why we liked it.

  • Extracted (2012): This thought-provoking indie SF film considers a scientist whose consciousness becomes trapped in the mind of a convict who volunteered to be a part of an experimental procedure. This is another cerebral tale well worth seeing.

  • Last Kind Words (2012): Brad Dourif movies are always a part of Halloween, or at least they should be. Seventeen-year-old Eli has just moved with his family deep into the backwoods of Kentucky to work on the isolated farm of a local recluse. Inexplicably drawn into the strange forest that lies beyond the farm, Eli encounters the beautiful, sweet, and mysterious Amanda, seemingly the perfect girl. But with the discovery of decaying bodies hanging from the trees, he realizes that the forest - and Amanda - are harboring some very dark secrets. If a horror film can be called lovely, it's this one.

  • The Wall (2012): This elegant Austrian-German film haunted me for a good long while. A woman visits with friends at their hunting lodge in the Austrian Alps. Left alone while her friends walk to a nearby village, the woman soon discovers she is cut off from all human contact by a mysterious invisible wall. With her friends' loyal dog Lynx as her companion, she lives the next three years in isolation looking after her animals. Understated and affecting.

  • Ghost from the Machine (2010): After his parents die, Cody, an inventor, becomes obsessed with finding a way to contact them once again. Tom, a local scientist who lost his wife, becomes interested in the project and helps Cody. Together, they discover that Cody's invention can cause ghosts momentarily to reappear as flesh and blood. What follows is a dark and moving study of human nature.

  • Below (2002): This World War II-era horror film makes great use of the claustrophobia of submarines to create a chilling mood. Very atmospheric. If you like Star Trek's Bruce Greenwood (and who doesn't?), you'll want to see this.

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    Your mileage, of course, may vary.

    Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?
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