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Nearly fifty years ago George Romero changed the landscape of the indie horror films forever with his debut feature Night of the Living Dead. This tradition has continued as emerging directors have used horror to launch their careers, consistently breathing new life into the genre—from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1980) to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).

This generation introduces a new wave of indie horror films that play with cultural influences, horror clichés and self-awareness within their work. Here are ten indie horror films that are redefining fear.

The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Budget: $2 million
Summary: The Babadook is about a troubled young boy and his mother, who find themselves tormented by a nightmarish creature that appears in their home via a mysterious pop-up children’s book. Following the film’s release, William Friedkin, the legendary director of The Exorcist, announced: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film.”

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Director: Eli Craig
Writer: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson

Budget: $2 million

Summary: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is an incredibly entertaining twist of perspective, following two hapless rednecks that are mistaken for backwoods killers by a group of preppy college kids. This film is a romp in ‘meta-horror’ territory, slashing its way through tropes and emerging covered in blood and gore and a whole lot of heart.

Creep (2014)

Director: Patrick Brice
Writer: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Budget: Unknown

Summary: Creep is unlike anything you’ve seen before: a mumblecore found footage endeavour that treads the water between comedy and psychological horror. Director/writer Patrick Brice plays a naive videographer who answers a cryptic online ad, and begins documenting the charming and increasingly unhinged Mark Duplass, who produced and co-wrote the film. This film truly a testament to what two people can do with talent, a camera and a rubber wolf mask.

The Orphanage (2007)

Director: J.A. Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Budget: $4 million

Summary: If you prefer your horror films to come with a pedigree, rest assured that The Orphanage not only opened at the Cannes Film Festival, but also received a ten-minute standing ovation from the audience. The film centers on a woman who moves her family into the orphanage that she grew up in, her hopes to reopen it abruptly halted when her son goes missing under mysterious circumstances.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall
Budget: $2 million

Summary: Before director Neil Marshall released his critically acclaimed feature The Decent (2005), he first tested the waters of horror with Dog Soldiers, a film that wholeheartedly celebrates the low-budget comedy-horror genre. In the Scottish Highlands a group of soldiers is forced to barricade themselves in a farmhouse and fight off a wave of bloodthirsty werewolves.

Resolution (2012)

Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Budget: Unknown

Summary: A disarmingly funny genre-twisting film that opens with a man’s aggressive attempt to help detox his meth-addicted best friend, and switches gear when a mysterious entity begins targeting them. Exploring a barrage of classic horror-film clichés, Resolution is a breath of fresh air for those who feel they have thoroughly OD’d on the genre.

Lake Mungo (2008)
Director: Joel Anderson
Writer: Joel Anderson
Budget: $1 million

Summary: Presented as a faux-documentary about the death and secretive live of a sixteen year old girl, Lake Mungo feels like something you might stumble across while watching late night television, blurring the line between reality and nightmare. This is a gem of a horror film that blends the complexity of grief, memory and the afterlife.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Budget: $1 million
Summary: The critically acclaimed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a stylish cross-cultural black-and-white feast for the eyes that can be summed up by its tagline, ‘The first Iranian Vampire Western’. The result is a film that was clearly made with excitement, passion and a true love of the cinema.

Honeymoon (2014)
Director: Leigh Janiak
Writer: Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak
Budget:   $1 Million USD
Summary: A newlywed couple finds their brief marital bliss shattered when the bride begins sleepwalking and acting increasingly erratic. This film plays on the very relatable anxiety that goes along with intimacy and commitment, taking it to a chilling extreme.

The Loved Ones (2009)
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Budget:   $4 million
Summary: A future cult classic, The Loved Ones feels like an absolutely horrific mashup of Carrie (1976) and Misery (1990). When a socially awkward young woman is turned down for a date to the prom by the high school heartthrob, she and her father take things into their own hands to give her the night that she so desperately desires.

Not since watching “Being John Malkovic,” have I been blown away by a film that combines comedy, satire and absurdism all in equal measure. Director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” “21 Grams”) works us over with his black comedy Birdman, a satire that details the high-wire act of living a fulfilling life after superstardom ends.

birdmanposterIt was reported that Michael Keaton turned down 15 million dollars to play the lead role in The Dark Night Rises, part 4 of the Batman series franchise. This endearing backstory shrouds this film and makes you want to pull for Keaton even more. After years of wallowing in relative obscurity, Keaton is back on top, playing an older washed-up version of himself in Birdman.

Birdman, a film about a crazy fucked up Broadway play is loads of fun and Keaton does the heavy lifting as he tries to revive his acting sagging career from obscurity. He is directing and starring in a profit losing theatrical adaptation of a little known Ray Carver novel. An aging bitter New York critic is dubious about Keaton’s motives as she vows to end this pretentious Hollywood intrusion on Broadway’s dignified acting roots.

Ed Norton, the capricious method actor who sprouts a hard-on during a love scene playsimgres-2 the charming asshole with ease and porcelain anime doll Emma Stone is superb as the recovering addict who plays Keaton’s underachieving insightful daughter.

Hardly a drop of blood spills in this film, which is a huge departure for this iconic Mexican director who killed off more than his share of people and dogs in past films. Iñárritu films the story in what seems to be one continuous take to give the real-time sensation of the tumultuous days leading up to opening night. Whatever his reason is, the long flowing takes are seamlessly choreographed. I felt myself floating through the rehearsals from a red velvet seat only twenty feet from centre stage. Ironically, the New Yorker is the only publication to give it an annoying art-fraud review, citing overt thefts from Jean Luc Godard’s earlier works.

Artistic theft is the birthright of every artist since the dawn of entertainment. Birdman is a highly imaginative film that should be embraced for all of it’s not-so-well disguised thefts and it’s inherent contemporary truths.

Boyhood is a film like no other in the history of cinema. Filmed over
a twelve year period, director Richard Linklater has created one of
the finest family dramas in recent memory. Although it is called
Boyhood, it’s actually a lengthy divorce story that engulfs four
marriages, while two siblings manage to stay normal during ongoing
family upheaval.Film Review Boyhood

Ethan Hawke shines as the loveable not-so-deadbeat-dad as does Patricia Arquette, as the imperfect family matriarch who has a penchant for alcoholic husbands. Bad parental choices often destroy kids, but not in this thought provoking film.

The dialogue is clever, devoid of melodrama, yet the message is profound
in it’s simplicity. “Sometimes we don’t seize the moment, the moment
seizes us.” The line arrives at the end of a film stated by a secondary
character and the film concludes without the obligatory climax.
Linklater is good at breaking conventional narrative structural
format. And yet, it is a perfect movie from the opening frame until
the credits roll.

I am obsessed with the eccentric director Ulrich Seidl. He is Austria’s equivalent to the blatantly creepy American filmmaker Todd Solondz. The Paradise Trilogy, a portrait of three women related by blood, is deliberately slow and includes ten-minute static scenes with mundane dialogue. But every moment feels honest, absorbing and occasionally funny. Paradise Hope, set in a militant Austrian diet camp is anything but hopeful, as a chubby adolescent girl falls for a middle aged doctor. Paradise Love features an overweight sexually ravenous Austrian cougar on vacation in Kenya. Paradise Faith, the most riveting of the three, tells the story of a dowdy middle-aged female evangelist who has romantic sexual feelings for Christ.

The exquisite cinematography is minimalist and the masterful art direction, especially in the diet camp, has a cold war East European sensibility. These critically acclaimed films are polarizing, as Seidl
is an acquired taste, so if you are expecting an uplifting experience, with a moralistic tale, look elsewhere. Seidl’s bleak and intimate portrait of three women is not searching for solutions to misplaced morals. However, it delivers unvarnished honesty and therein lies it’s beauty. 

The Paradise Trilogy is available on Netflix US.

201306_paradise3_love_object_590

still taken from Paradise: Love

Director Alexander Payne squeezes humour like a pimple in his bleakest comedy to date. “Nebraska” reveals embarrassing family truths that are hard to ignore. Shot in black and white, stark desolate farms populate the Midwest plains and Interstates forming the backdrop of this unlikely tale. The quiet, persistent landscape is home to small town folk who yearn for enchanting gossip to spark excitement and jealousy. The film’s bleak and uplifting moments are reminiscent of “About Schmidt”, another Payne road­trip saga.

11176448_oriWoody (Bruce Dern) is a luckless alcoholic riddled with vacant spells which indicate early stages of dementia. His marriage to an ego­killing bully wife (June Squibb) shows us why Woody finds a good friend in alcohol. When Woody receives a bogus sweepstakes winner letter, he sets off on a journey to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his million­dollar prize.

Woody cannot be persuaded by his soul­searching son (Will Forte) to abandon his road trip to Lincoln. The sweepstakes winning ticket is an obvious marketing fraud ­- obvious to everyone except perhaps, a senior with a failing mind.

Father and son eventually hit the road and the journey turns into a family road trip that stops in Woody’s old hometown, Hawthorne. Woody’s spirited determination is laudable; all he wants from his winnings is to buy a compressor and four­wheel truck for his kids. These are modest aspirations for a man who was often written off as a financially unstable alcoholic who scrambled to repay debts by fixing automobiles. Dern inhabits such a complex role with an uncluttered and gentle performance, and deservedly earned the award for best actor at Cannes.

Despite the critical praise, this subtle film will not be universally praised. The laughs are low­key, the pacing deliberately slow but the characters, particularly Woody and his wife are indelible. Director Alexander Payne was once described as the compassionate thinking face of American humour. Unremarkable heroes beating the odds has never felt so real.

Based on a true story, Fruitvale Station has won numerous awards since it began the festival circuit at Sundance this year. The film tells the story of Oscar Grant III, a 22 year old from Hayward, California who was shot dead by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police (BART) on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Fruitvale_Station_posterDirector Ryan Coogler has said that he wanted to make a film about Grant’s last day: “I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean?”

Based on audience reaction in the theater, Coogler has emphatically succeeded. The majority of viewers likely know how it will end – but that only makes the build up to the climax all the more heartrending.

Coogler approaches his subject matter with a steady gaze. Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan, is depicted as neither a hero nor a villain – he has his faults, as we all do, but he also has the self­-awareness to recognize them.

At the center of the film is his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (played by Melonie Diaz), with whom he has a four­ year ­old daughter. We understand that Grant has let them down in the past – yet Sophina acknowledges Grant’s willingness to be honest with her, and they spend New Year’s Eve with his family before heading out for the night.

Grant’s relationship with his mother, played by Octavia Spencer has also seen strain. One of the most striking scenes in the film takes place in a flashback when she visits him in jail. Jordan truly excels here – we see Grant’s vulnerability contrast with the harsh necessity of maintaining a tough exterior ­something that Jordan conveys with just a subtle shift in his gaze. Grant’s deep affection for his family is evident here too. He is visibly upset after learning that his daughter doesn’t understand why he isn’t around, and when his mother states that it’s the last time she’ll be visiting him in jail, he has to be restrained by prison guards.

As the film reveals Grant’s last hours, we’re left with a compelling portrait of a life that ended far too soon. The intelligence of Fruitvale Station lies in its ability to touch on something deeply human: those small moments of tenderness and understanding that occur in everyday life and that, in the end, are also what connect us to Oscar Grant.

Every now and then a film is mistaken for a masterpiece and achieves international acclaim despite an unimaginative and tedious plot, such as “Amore”. Then there is the case of the hidden masterpiece: warmly embraced by festival audiences only to disappear without a flicker of publicity shortly thereafter, such as “Like Someone In Love”.

LikeSomeoneInLoveFilm-300x251Like Someone In Love, set in Tokyo, is directed by Abbas Kiarostami, a man who barely speaks a word of Japanese. He doesn’t have to speak Japanese because he is too busy inventing a new cinematic language that relies on tone and subtext rather than plot. This is a director confident enough to spend twelve minutes in a taxi while Akiko, a fashionable college aged, call­ girl listens to eight phone messages while staring blankly at the neon lit Tokyo streetscapes. The repeated messages are from her visiting grandmother politely wondering why Akiko is a no ­show for their meeting at the train station.

Akiko is on route to visit her next client Takashi, an unassuming eighty­-one­ year ­old widower. He is a lonely man in search of a one­ night girlfriend experience, an elegant dinner companion. Takashi is flawlessly polite. Sex is the last thing on his mind. Akiko rejects his homemade eel soup and slumps into bed waiting a further call to action. Sex never materializes. It’s a polite film, even by Japanese standards. All of the characters, even Akiko’s ruggedly handsome mechanic boyfriend are painfully polite, and painfully lonely.

Loneliness is at the heart of this film, a feeling we all must face. It’s a hard thing to crush. There is little moralizing about prostitution and a multitude of gaps that leave the viewer pondering the subtle actions by these luminous characters. “Like Someone To Love” is a complex stylized film, by a gifted director.