Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. Happy Birthday to AICN HORROR which celebrates its fifth year in October! Always hoping to pass on new and exciting films for all of you ravenous readers, I have once again compiled a list counting down to my favorite horror film released since last October and covered in this here AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Some of these films might be new to you since there isn’t a lot of horror in theaters these days that aren’t toothless remakes or watered down sequels. The theater just doesn’t seem to be the place where the horror is at these days, I’m sad to say. Some of these films have only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD/BluRay or digital download.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year since October 1st, 2013 (which happens to be the birthday of this little column five years ago!) and worked and reworked a list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth noting or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know how you liked the film I chose, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#4: UNDER THE SKIN!
You can find UNDER THE SKIN on Amazon here and on Netflix here. Below is my review of UNDER THE SKIN from July!
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Written by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer (screenplay), Michel Faber (novel)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong, Alison Chand, Ben Mills, Oscar Mills, Lee Fanning, Paul Brannigan,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
UNDER THE SKIN is an ambitious film unlike any I’ve seen in quite a while. The film is obtuse, open for interpretation, and utterly patient as far as storytelling, and while it is definitely a film I am glad I saw, I know it’s definitely not going to be a film for everyone.
<br< UNDER THE SKIN follows an alien that wears the skin of a human who assumes the form of another alien laying dead on the side of the road (both played by Scarlett Johansson). Aided by a mysterious biker who seems to be the alien’s guardian of sorts, the alien steals the clothing of a prostitute and then drives around Scottish countrysides and suburbs picking up random individuals and harvesting them for what looks to be their skins.
There’s more to UNDER THE SKIN. The film is actually quite nuanced, but for many, I think it’ll be hard for folks to stick with the film in order to see just what transpires. Moving at a snail’s pace, the alien picks up one person after the next, taking part in the same ritual over and over which entails the alien (Johansson) disrobing as she walks across a mirrored black floor. Behind her, follows her victim who, thinking he’s going to have him some sexy time, who disrobes as well one article of clothing at a time. What the victim doesn’t notice is that he is sinking into the floor and soon sinks completely into the mirrored surface and disappears. This scene is repeated numerous times through the movie, revealing a little more info about what’s going on every time it occurs. Still, even after we find out what happens to the victims under the surface, it’s still not completely clear.
Now, I’m not someone who needs everything explained to me. The surreality of this ritual was engrossing for me. Sure it’s awesome to see Johansson disrobe over and over, but the reflective surfaces, mixed with the bizarre gravity of the situation and the hypnotizing music make it all feel as if I was witnessing some type of upside down dream through the eyes of something that doesn’t follow by the same rules of physics as I do. Director Jonathan Glazer who offered up his fair share of memorable imagery in SEXY BEAST, tops himself and then some with this visual smorgasbord. Glazer definitely channels his inner Kubrick as everything about the opening and these erotic death sequences feel as if they are the next evolution of the visuals seen in 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. From the long silences to the unnatural music used, the film feels as if it were some kind of long lost film Kubrick hid away and Glazer found.
Now storywise, I think the film comes up a bit lacking as it’s not until an hour in that we really see anything resembling a conflict in need of a resolution until Johansson starts feeling some kind of empathy for her victims. Those with little patience will definitely have tuned out by then. Johansson is amazing in the role, offering up an inscrutable façade for most of the film and shifting this look only slightly once she begins to realize what she is doing might be wrong when she picks up a man who is terribly deformed. Still, even when the emotions start to creep in, Johansson plays it pretty blank; emoting only in small ticks and quivers. Yes, there has been much said about her nakedness in this film and those scenes are bound to excite men and women alike, but her performance here is much more nuanced than sheer cheesecake and shows a talented actress under all of that sexy exterior. I was surprised at how much she says simply with her eyes alone as much of this film is following her silently pursuing her victims, while the other half is her running away from the chaos she has caused.
One thing that needs to be mentioned here is the music of the film by Mica Levi who makes everything feel unnatural and gives every scene its own theme song. The crude yet sexy music that showcases the grotesque way Johansson lures in her victims feels as if it were made by instruments made on another planet. Reminiscent of the soundtrack to THE SHINING, the off-kilter feeling I got while watching this film had a lot to do with the musical accompaniment. While I’m not one to notice soundtracks that often, Levi makes the music another character that lingers in the dark corners of every frame and tells us more about Johansson’s alien that she ever does in words.
The ending, when it does arrive at just shy of the two hour mark, is pretty intense. Again, as Glazer did throughout, it is filled with shots I had never experienced before. Again, it’s a quiet, yet utterly deafening barrage of imagery and sensations. It takes things to a logical place, though the rest of the film feels highly foreign to logic and resolves things in a tragic and awful manner. UNDER THE SKIN got a lot of press because of Johansson’s nudity, but that’s the least interesting part of the film. What really makes it work is the unique eye of Glazer and the bizarre story by Michel Faber. At times, it’s so grotesque you’re going to want to turn away, but the inundation of sights and sounds are going to grip those who allow themselves to be engulfed by the film.
Worth Noting: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW!There’s a lot to love about ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW. It’s a bizarre trip down the rabbit hole and while I was prepared for twisted and warped images, I wasn’t prepared for the detailed and oftentimes horrific plot of the film which focuses on a man having a nervous breakdown. Sure this film takes the supposed happy imagery of Disneyland and flips it all on it’s head, but it also tells a deeply potent tale of what it’s like to realize you can never go home again and reliving this fantasyland through one’s children may not be the wholesome experience often thought of. This is well done and well dark stuff.
Check out my full review of the film here and you can check it out here on Amazon and on Netflix here!
#30: STALLED (worth noting: CHRYSALIS)!
#29: RIGOR MORTIS (worth noting: I AM A GHOST)!
#28: GHOST TEAM ONE (worth noting: HYSTERICAL PSYCHO!
#27: THANATOMORPHOSE (worth noting: CONTRACTED)!
#26: LIFE AFTER BETH (worth noting: EVIL FEED)!
#25: AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR (worth noting: THE DEVIL’S MUSIC) !
#24: CHIMERES (worth noting: THE RETURNED) !
#23: AFFLICTED (worth noting: DEAD WEIGHT) !
#22: TUSK (worth noting: BENEATH) !
#21: FOUND (worth noting: RABID LOVE) !
#20: DEVOURED (worth noting: CRAVE) !
#19: DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (worth noting: THE HUNTED) !
#18: THE MACHINE (worth noting: BLOOD GLACIER) !
#17: GRAND PIANO (worth noting: OPEN GRAVE) !
#16: WILLOW CREEK (worth noting: WOLF CREEK 2) !
#15: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (worth noting: THE SEASONING HOUSE) !
#14: THE SACRAMENT (worth noting: HOLY GHOST PEOPLE) !
#13: CRAWL OR DIE (worth noting: BENEATH) !
#12: PIECES OF TALENT (worth noting: EVIL IN THE TIME OF HEROES) !
#11: PLUS ONE (worth noting: THE DEMON’S ROOK) !
#10: CHEAP THRILLS (worth noting: THE POISONING) !
#9: THE GUEST (worth noting: TORMENT) !
#8: BLUE RUIN (worth noting: THE BATTERY) !
#7: THE CONSPIRACY (worth noting: THE BANSHEE CHAPTER) !
#6: HERE COMES THE DEVIL (worth noting: ASMODEXIA) !
#5: HONEYMOON (worth noting: ALMOST HUMAN) !
See ya tomorrow, folks, as I count down the best of the best covered in AICN HORROR since October 1st, 2013!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
Be sure to tell your comic shop to order his new comic PIROUETTE (out now!) from Black Mask Studios!