The most feted horror film of the year, The Babadook is an exercise in psychological horror that mixes elements from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Delving into the fraying emotional states of a woman and her special-needs son, director Jennifer Kent spins a harrowing yarn about the terror that accompanies the pleasures of motherhood — the fear that you will be unable to do enough, to muster all the spirit and goodheartedness that are required, to care for your child.
Dark Skies has the kernel of a really interesting genre twist — parts of it play like a retelling of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a coming-of-age story from the point of view of an adolescent whose indulgence of hormonal urges manifests in part through a willingness to be abducted by aliens — where instead of a henpecked Richard Dreyfuss abdicating family responsibilities by boarding that mothership, its a horny teenager leaving the nest. Unfortunately, Dark Skies is not quite that movie, opting instead for a variation on haunted-house tropes anchored by a pair of dipshit suburban parents whose ever-so-slowly dawning reaction to supernatural phenomenon dates to the kind of 70s movies this pays homage to — The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and of course the aforementioned CE3K. Seriously, Dark Skies told from the teenager’s point of view could be the horror-movie response to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 Spielberg pastiche. The film we got is more of a mess, but I’m glad I saw it — mainly because of my fondness for the movie that I’d like it to be.
As films go, The Tree of Life is a huge thing — a movie by a man with the audacity to take as his apparent subject all of human existence. “I know something about the cosmos,” Terrence Malick seems to declare, “because I grew up with two brothers under the parentage of a gruff father and a beaming, adoring mother in sun-dappled environs of Oklahoma and Texas.” He’s not wrong. The greatest filmmakers have shown us again and again that there is no story that cannot, in the right hands and with the right gestures, be spun out to dimensions that encompass questions of love and faith, life and death, regret and longing.
Whatever else its merits may be, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void immediately enters the canon of first-person cinema. The highly subjective camera that depicts an experience from the point of view of one of the characters in a film has been a source of fascination and frustration in cinema for decades. Executed well, and in short bursts, it can be an effective tactic. For instance, there’s a memorable sequence in Carl-Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) in which the camera seems to be placed inside a coffin and then carried through the streets. But 1947’s The Lady in the Lake, a feature-length film noir shot entirely with a subjective camera, is an oft-discussed but somewhat goofy curio that is seldom actually dragged out into the light of day.
Over the course of the two years that it sat on the shelf following a planned-but-aborted fall 2007 theatrical release, the Halloween-themed anthology film Trick ‘R Treat was embraced by genre fans who caught it at festivals and other special screenings starting that December. I think I can see what captured their sick little hearts — in an era when the state-of-the-art in popular horror films is split between the practiced cruelty and borderline hostility of neo-gore exercises like the Saw and Hostel franchises and the incidental soullessness of Friday the 13th and Last House on the Left remakes, this film, in its straightforward, low-concept fright-mongering, feels downright fresh. In fact, except for a couple of gratuitous tit shots, Trick ‘R Treat is earnest, uncynical, and nearly wholesome. What it’s not — and it pains me to say this — is very much good.
This Henry Selick stop-motion fantasy is the story of young Coraline, a girl just moved into a multi-family house with her busy parents. Coraline is peeved that her parents don’t have extra time to spend on her, or on the formidable task of homemaking, and she’s more than a little lonely. When she explores the house, she finds a portal into an “other” reality where her other mother seems eager to dote on her night and day, fixing up calorie-rich breakfasts and keeping her dorky other father at bay. But the other world isn’t as lovely as it seems — Coraline’s other mother is scheming to trap her in the other world, where she will sew up Coraline’s eye sockets, replacing them with buttons, and hold her captive.
Set in a neighborhood outside Stockholm, largely in and around a nondescript apartment complex, Let the Right One In is, first, a coming-of-age tale about Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a slight, pale boy with a shock of blond hair and good humor that belies his general beat-down wariness and barely contained anger. He’s the target of menacing schoolyard bullies and, as the film begins, we see him practicing with a knife, imagining that he’s jabbing it into the flesh of one of his tormenters. Oskar has a new neighbor, the similarly tiny and wary Eli (Lina Leandersson), who has moved into the flat next door with Hakan (Per Ragnar), an older man who seems to be her father. Hakan covers the windows with cardboard — perhaps to block out the sunlight. At one point, we hear Eli snarling, “You’re supposed to help me!” Horror-movie fans will no doubt suspect something sinister is going on, and they will be correct. Let the Right One In is certainly a horror movie, and it brings the pain in genre fashion. But it’s also a kind of Scandinavian gothic — a love story between 12-year-olds, one of whom has been 12 for a very long time.