2016 : The Movie Year in Review
Now that my Mortado’s friends have had first crack at this per long-standing tradition? The best thing about the horror year 2016 was that it was loaded with goodies and featured very few out-and-out stinkers. The worst thing about the general movie – going year 2016 was that I didn’t get around to individually reviewing numerous titles… sometimes because of personal commitments but also sometimes because the fantastic line-up (read: franchise films) were utterly uninspiring and I didn’t feel like spending any more time with them. I can’t promise any of that is going to change in 2017, particularly as the first ‘horror’ release we’re going to get is yet another UNDERWORLD film. I haven’t seen a single film in the series since the first one… which gave me a headache. But let’s jump in on the year that was all the same–no time like the present! The genre and semi-genre films unseen by me this past year include DESIERTO (if some of the survival-horror films on this list count, then that one probably counts, too), THE WAILING, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE and the animated LEGEND OF THE CHUPACABRAS.
THE BOY lived up to the creepy promise of its trailer as an American babysitter promised to take care of a porcelain doll representing an elderly couple’s long-gone son, even though it took a predictable swerve in to 70s TV movie territory. That in itself is NOT a bad thing.
The mash-up fad had already faded and it was simply too late to unleash the film adaptation of PRIDE + PREJUDICE + ZOMBIES on a public that no longer had any interest in the deal–nevertheless, the actual film served quite well as a zombie movie AND as a Jane Austen story.
THE WITCH (sorry–I’m not going for the double-V spelling) was an exhaustively-researched and authentic creepfest involving Puritan-era terror and superstition (?). And it also gave us the charismatic goat known as Black Phillip as part of its unique and sincere presentation.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was the sequel that wasn’t really a sequel and provided plenty of intensity with its dilemma… yes, John Goodman might be quite insane–on the other hand, something might very well BE out there and he just might have the perfect safety shelter. How far do you want to push him?
We can debate the ‘true facts’ all we like, but James Wan returned to prime horror form by treating THE CONJURING 2 as a genuine high-stakes haunting with heavy Italian flavoring. As a MOVIE, it undeniably works.
Far more ‘high-concept’ was CLOWN, an expansion of Eli Roth’s phony trailer of years ago… and it gave us a child-eating monster perversely hiding in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. That alone was worth its weight in greasepaint, but the rest of the movie worked pretty well, too.
Also expanded from a much shorter Net sensation was LIGHTS OUT, a lean and mean ghost story that managed to sustain itself even at feature length.
THE SHALLOWS managed the near-impossible and gave us yet another shark-attack movie that wasn’t really yet another shark-attack movie.
DON’T BREATHE nearly snagged the top prize as a blind terror drew the reins in on a gaggle of unwitting burglars, and it also supplied what was probably the top ‘gross-out’ moment of 2016 (the entirety of THE GREASY STRANGLER notwithstanding). But I had to acknowledge that the moment also managed to take me out of the movie for a spell, and I fear that the filmmakers will feel obliged to ‘top’ it in the inevitable sequel.
TRAIN TO BUSAN was a gripping and exciting instant-apocalypse disaster ‘don’t call them zombies’ thriller from Korea. My only frustration with it was the way that the script perpetually shifted the odds and went out of its way to let one character in particular run interference on pretty much everybody else in the film.
I didn’t get to see PHANTASM: RAVAGER on the big screen, though I did get to see the J.J. Abrams restoration of the original thus, and that was certainly time well spent (and denied me when PHANTASM first came out, so that’s one off the bucket list). The conclusion of the saga offered a sad and uncomfortably realistic resolution to the whole bloody tale, which was certainly in keeping with the progress of the series–I just didn’t want to be there. At least it offered an alternative ‘out’ at the same time, and the film as a whole was certainly better than OBLIVION as a wrap-up.
And ALWAYS SHINE was an independent local favorite (shot largely in spectacular Big Sur) in which two aspiring actresses (experiencing either mild success or lack thereof) allowed their simmering resentment of each other to explode into an out-and-out psychological horror show during some ‘quality time’ together. I’m glad I got the chance to see this on the big screen… most of the world will have to settle for on-demand.
THE GREASY STRANGLER unquestionably takes the WTF prize for originality, audacity and quotability in 2016… however, I can’t give it top honors in ‘horror’ because it was never actually frightening. I just hope its creators quit while they’re ahead before we wind up with the diminishing returns of the HUMAN CENTIPEDE franchise.
But when it comes to relentless violence, character-driven shocks and unrelieved suspense, there was no stopping GREEN ROOM this year. How much would you like to bet that they’ll remember Patrick Stewart come Oscar time? Ho. Ho. Ho. But there’s your best of the year, right there.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
THE FOREST started promisingly as an exploration of the true-life Japanese ‘suicide forest’ phenomenon and featured some terrific individual scenes even as it inevitably meandered around to fulfill feature length.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR was the umpteenth lesson in why you shouldn’t wish your dead child back from the pale, but at least it had a nifty sting in its tail.
Did you remember that we got not one, but two PURGE films in 2016? Yeah, MEET THE BLACKS was supposed to be your typical SCARY MOVIE spoof of the whole deal, but it WAS a Universal release that got carte blanche to invoke “The Purge” by name with impunity, so it amuses me to count it as part of the series. It avoids the bottom of the barrel by virtue of a few truly hilarious isolated moments along the way. As for THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR? It was great at pushing buttons and stayed more than watchable throughout even as it suffered from the ‘too many endings’ phenomenon inherent to the deal.
I was more than grateful that the local arthouse gave me the chance to see THE NEON DEMON on the big screen (after months of trailers in the mainstream houses). However, the actual film was yet another triumph of style over substance, as Nicholas Winding Refn gave us a visually hypnotic take on little more than “This business will eat you alive.”
BLAIR WITCH was a far more in-keeping follow-up to the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT than was BOOK OF SHADOWS, but by now we all know the concept and the rules. You’re in the zone, so you’re screwed no matter what you do… the ending was pre-ordained even as it offered a nice variation stemming from the legend of Orpheus.
SHIN GODZILLA was almost painfully talky and slow-moving and stood as yet another unsolicited reboot when we’re anxiously awaiting the follow-up to the 2014 Gareth Edwards epic. But when it DID kick in, it featured some of the most amazing and awe-inspiring imagery ever invoked in the Toho series.
OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL was a vast improvement over the truly dreadful original–however, its status as a prequel locked it into a pre-ordained conclusion.
MORGAN deserved better than its ‘biggest flop of the year’ reputation, yet it was still essentially SPECIES done as psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, the final twist worked quite well.
And SHUT IN managed to make a truly preposterous story-line work reasonably well by virtue of its cast.
THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM was exactly that. D.J. Caruso continues to ape Hitchcock with an unpleasant tale of a personal trauma viewed as a ghost story–but with a script that seemed cobbled together from numerous AMERICAN HORROR STORY reruns.
And then there were two ‘possession‘ stories featuring David Mazouz (young Bruce Wayne in GOTHAM, which I continue to enjoy). THE DARKNESS had him bring a handful of rocks home from the Grand Canyon to set up ye olde POLTERGEIST rehash yet again. But it was INCARNATE that showed up near the end of the year to give us a thoroughly uninspired hodgepodge of THE EXORCIST and INCEPTION. Framing the action with a cool song was a nice try, but none of the actual movie worked… even for a moment. INCARNATE takes bottom honours for 2016.
As for the rest of the year’s releases I caught on the big screen?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR kept my interest up in the Marvel franchise successfully (the jury’s still out on yet another Spider-Man), while DOCTOR STRANGE proved that there was, indeed, room for yet another origin story to sweeten the pot for the future. X-MEN APOCALYPSE held my attention while it played before proving itself completely unnecessary (I could say the same thing about STAR TREK: BEYOND). It turned out that the raucously rude DEADPOOL was exactly the Marvel film I really needed in 2016.
As for DC? BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was overly long and contrived (Martha!) but I appreciated Ben Affleck’s take on the Dark Knight all the same. And while there was PLENTY wrong with SUICIDE SQUAD, I had too much fun watching the film to care about any of that.
Let’s see… what else off my particular beaten track? I saw not one, but two Christ-centered films in 2016… the Coen Brothers allegory HAIL, CAESAR! worked best in incidents as opposed to a satisfying whole, but was enjoyable enough; and RISEN interpreted the Easter story as a faith-based detective thriller and proved remarkably entertaining in the process.
THE JUNGLE BOOK was a terrific CGI/live-action take on the Rudyard Kipling classic… I equally enjoyed Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie.
THE NICE GUYS played very well as a mismatched ‘buddy’ comedy set in the BOOGIE NIGHTS era, even if it pulled a TRAIN TO BUSAN or two and went out of its way to kill off a sympathetic character who, quite frankly, didn’t need to die for any greater reason than that the scriptwriter wanted it to happen.
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION was the lone Jason Statham vehicle to hit the big screen in 2016. It worked decently whenever Jessica Alba wasn’t on camera. Don’t hold your breath for a third instalment.
I was essentially ordered to see HELL OR HIGH WATER on the big screen on the promise of a truly excellent modern Western. It was. And it was probably the best non-genre film I saw all year.
I deliberately went out of my way to see something completely off my beam when opportunity presented itself… I went and saw the Mexican comedy NO MANCHES FRIDA (a high-school ‘super teacher’ romp in the guise of a crime drama). It was a bit overlong and contrived… but it was still good fun.
ARRIVAL was literate, thought-provoking and imaginative science fiction (bound to disappoint anyone expecting a typical ‘invasion’ story-line)… even if it, like RAVAGER, went to places that are sad enough in real life.
And finally, I attended the two biggest ‘holiday’ releases of the year. Gareth Edwards gave us ROGUE ONE instead of a second Godzilla instalment. I’m afraid that too many spinoffs will give us a STAR WARS saturation that will stop making the series special. This DIRTY DOZEN variant played reasonably well and gave Peter Cushing fans pause to consider… but we all knew how it was going to turn out ahead of time. My favourite thing in the movie was another appearance of the full-strength Darth Vader sorely lacking in the prequel trilogy.
Meanwhile? I went and saw SING. All by myself. Because I couldn’t deny that the trailer with the pig belting the Lady Gaga number cracked me up. No greater reason. The story was every show-biz cliche you’ve seen a hundred times, but it was pitched to a young audience that hadn’t already seen those. And the actual film made a great point… everything was chaos when singers thought they were competing for a huge cash prize, but when they finally decided to sing just for the pure love of it? There it is. And I can deal with that.
Wishing you great cinematic adventures and experiences in 2017!