DECEMBER 31 — Out of all types of movies out there, I probably watch genre movies (as defined by genre film festivals like Fantastic Fest, Fantasia, Sitges and their kin, meaning horror, science fiction, fantasy, action and cult movies, to name some examples that fall under the banner) the most throughout the year, as there’s probably way more fun, reckless invention and fearless provocation to be found in these films than films of the normal kind.
Sure, the fact that genre movies are more often than not lower budget in nature, and are usually classified as B movies, have made them less “desirable” for most film fans to pursue, but it’s exactly this “lower class” nature of the whole enterprise that have usually emboldened filmmakers working within the genre film scene to just pursue their obsessions without having to think about what other people might think of their work.
Here are 10 that I admired and loved the most this year:
Gangster revenge films are nothing new, and the synopsis for Bull, the latest film from British director Paul Andrew Williams (who first made his name with London To Brighton, and who’s been working in TV since his last film, Song For Marion, hit cinemas in 2012) might even read like one at first, as it tells the story of Bull, an enforcer double crossed by his own gang who’s now out for revenge.
'Bull' is a grim and unforgettable experience that will remind you of those fantastically violent South Korean classics like 'I Saw The Devil' and 'Oldboy'.
I guess all those years working in TV have made Williams a little bloodthirsty when it comes to screen violence, as he gifts us with a gangland revenge tale that’s punishingly brutal, savage and laced with generous amounts of Grand Guignol that it almost feels like a true-blue horror movie.
A grim and unforgettable experience that will remind you of those fantastically violent South Korean classics like I Saw The Devil and Oldboy.
A terrific barnstormer from Taiwan that absolutely blitzed genre festivals late last year, The Sadness, written and directed by Rob Jabbaz, a Canadian living in Taipei, looked destined to be this year’s Train To Busan, but alas, the film’s extreme violence and cruelty have probably limited the amount of people being able to see it.
Still, this fresh variation on the zombie mythology (caused by a virus named Alvin, whose existence is being denied by the government because it’s an election year) has managed to up the ante by making the infected not exactly brainless, but more like rabid dogs with functioning critical thinking, albeit solely focused on their more violent tendencies, which include awful things like murder, torture, rape and the like.
Imagine the nightmare of having to deal with that, aided by some outstanding make-up and practical effects, and you’ve got yourself a new modern zombie classic in the making.
Speak No Evil
Remember how crushing your first viewing experience of Funny Games was? Cross that one with Force Majeure (or any other Ruben Ostlund film for that matter) and you’ll find yourself in the presence of Speak No Evil, a new soul-destroying feel-bad classic from Danish actor-turned-director Christian Tafdrup.
A cautionary tale about the perils of being too polite/civil, the film concentrates on a Danish family being invited by their new acquaintances, a Dutch family they met while on holiday in Italy, to spend a weekend in their isolated house somewhere in the Netherlands.
What follows is a series of mind games and invasion of boundaries by the hosts (like casually forgetting that one of their guests is vegetarian, or making their guests’ daughter share a room with their son) that slowly escalates into more sinister and terrifying things.
A devastating film that will burn itself into your consciousness for days afterwards, this is quite simply one of the finest films of 2022.
By no means a “good” film in the traditional sense, and a sequel to an even worse film (in whatever sense you might want to view it from), Terrifier 2 wins my undoubted love and affection (and surely many others as well, as this crowd-funded US$250,000 or RM1.1 million film has managed to rake in US$12.1 million worldwide) purely by the sheer force of its gore and bloodletting.
It has all the shaky/amateurish acting one would expect from such a low budget effort, but it also has, in its more focused attempt at crafting and sticking with a narrative, laid out a more stable line for which the filmmakers and practical effects artists can hang their very creative and eye-catching murders and death scenes, courtesy of the film’s undoubted star Art the Clown, making for a hugely enjoyable viewing experience, especially for all the gore hounds out there.
There are horror films so horrific that the audience just can’t find it within them to make any kind of noise, except the ones emanating from the chairs/sofas they’re sitting on as a result of clinging on for dear life.
But then there are horror flicks that play like rollercoaster rides, there for the audience to cheer and holler at, and Barbarian, another sleeper hit in the US (raking in US$45 million from a measly US$4.5 million budget), is one of those.
This is one of those films that delight in wrong footing the audience with plenty of twists and turns and of course some red herrings as well, so the less I tell you about the plot, the better your experience of it will be, but if screaming at the screen because a character is about to make a bad decision is your thing, you’ll find plenty to scream at here.
Films about middle-aged loners/losers suddenly finding out that they have a child/teenager knocking at their doors are a dime a dozen, especially in the US indie scene.
But what if that middle-aged loner/loser is a vampire? That is the seemingly simple premise of Blood Relatives, the writing-directing debut of actor Noah Segan, who also plays that lead character, Francis, here.
That child is 15-year-old Jane (a wonderful Victoria Moroles), and their chemistry together, as they get to know one another and he teaches her the ways of the vampire is what makes this such a sweet and endearing film.
Simple and unpretentious, this is low-key one of the cinematic joys of the year.
If you’re not much of an Ultraman fan, you might wonder what the big deal is about this, which is probably the same reaction a non-Godzilla fan had to Shin Godzilla, from the same guys behind this new reboot called Shin Ultraman.
But if you’re an Ultraman fan (regardless of which era), you’ll find plenty to love here, right from the film’s episodic narrative structure (which kind of plays like watching four episodes back to back as each ‘episode’ in the narrative has Ultraman dealing with different respective villains) right down to the charmingly and cheerfully retro special effects, not to mention the filmmakers’ extra personal touch, filming from all sorts of unique angles and punctuated by all sorts of fast cuts, paying tribute to Akio Jissoji (most famous for directing the original Ultraman series and his visually stunning Buddhist Trilogy films This Transient Life, Mandara and Poem).
A sheer delight from start to finish.
After two hit horror flicks of deep significance and plenty to say about the state of race relations in America, I think Jordan Peele has earned the right to just make whatever genre flick he wants as his third film.
And even though Nope still has a few things to say about the Black experience in America, claiming that the jockey in what is commonly thought to be the first moving image, is black, and is the ancestor to a family of Hollywood horse trainers that are the subject of the film, you won’t find as many clear signposts as clues to unlock the meaning of this movie.
Like his previous two films, there are things you can sink into here when it comes to social allegory, but Nope finds Peele first and foremost in full entertainer mode, paying tribute to the likes of Hitchcock and Spielberg and conjuring one thrilling, suspenseful set-piece after another in what is one of the most entertaining genre films of the year.
Christmas Bloody Christmas
Writer-director Joe Begos is one of my favourites of the new crop of horror directors out to make a name for themselves in the US indie horror scene in recent years.
Although Bliss is still my favourite Joe Begos movie and The Mind’s Eye his most purely entertaining one, Christmas Bloody Christmas is probably his strongest and most well-executed film yet.
Introducing a fresh new variation to the killer Santa movie by making the one in this film a robot (and one produced using US Army technology to boot!), Begos also inserts another wildcard ingredient into the mix by making the movie’s first 30 to 40 minutes or so a talky buddy movie (but with flirty opposite sex dynamics, as it involves a male and a female character) a la Quentin Tarantino or S. Craig Zahler.
So, if a killer robot Santa movie filled with entertainingly wisecracking dialogue is something that might interest you, do seek this one out.
The Big 4
This might not be my favourite film from Indonesian director Timo Tjahjanto film (that honour belongs to The Night Comes For Us), but that just tells you of the high standards he’s already set for himself that The Big 4 still ended up as one of the year’s best action comedies.
At two hours and 20 minutes, the film is admittedly a wee bit overlong, but this is a madcap action comedy that I think no one would be able to resist, thanks to an “everything, including the kitchen sink” approach on the director’s part that’s probably motivated by the fact that this might just be the last Indonesian film he’ll be making for a while since the next few projects that he has lined up are all in Hollywood (a Hollywood remake of Train To Busan, and a reboot of that beloved Steven Seagal action classic Under Siege).
For two and a half hours of non-stop, pure entertainment, which ranges from slapstick high jinks to crude Asian comedy to superbly choreographed fight scenes and shootouts, you won’t find anything better this year.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.