In my family’s house, horror films were a staple. Fright Night, The Monster Squad, and the genre-mashing Big Trouble in Little China were family staples, fascinating as much for their special effects as for the worlds they explored. As Ben Creech once commented, horror and sci-fi are cousins to the fantasy genre, and I would have to concur. These genres, traditionally looked down upon by critics and award shows, create fantastic worlds that aren’t always welcoming, but are nonetheless amazing feats of construction.
The following are some horror and sci-fi films of 2010 that are remarkable for the ways in which they play with the trappings of their genre. In other words, they do something that’s refreshing. Gather a posse and chow down on some cool cinema. (Click on the title to read my full review)
Devil is far from a perfect film, but the premise of five strangers stuck in an elevator (one of whom is the titular character) and especially the film’s unconventional ending, make it a decent rental.
After the travesties that were the Aliens vs. Predator films* Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Desperado) was allowed to produce the latest Predator film with little studio intervention – the result is a solid sequel to the original. Adrien Brody’s performance as a U.S. mercenary, Laurence Fishburne’s fantastic cameo, the wonderful special effects (little CGI), and a story that adds to the Predator mythos all make this a must-see for action/sci-fi fans.
3. Repo Men
An Oldboy inspired action sequence, an unsettling mixture of sex and violence, an engaging premise, and a fantastic ending. Toss in Forest Whitaker and Jude Law (whom I usually find insufferable but here feels genuine as a blue collar worker), and this is going to become a sci-fi favorite. In my review I stated: “This film punched my expectations in the balls.” Hopefully you’ll share the same experience sans the ball pain.
Looking over this list a couple of common characteristics pop up: Social commentary that doesn’t bludgeon you, and fashioning something new from old tropes. Daybreakers has both of those, showcasing the minutia of a world totally run by vampires: cars that warn drivers of sunlight, news reports of vampire animals causing forest fires (by catching fire when they go out in daylight). With its mixture of iconic vampires (grotesque monsters and suave aristocrats) and its discussion of vampire cures, this will become a favorite of anyone who loves 80’s vampire films (The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Near Dark). Fun to watch and intellectually engaging, one of the best vampire films (plus it stars Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neil).
1. The Last Exorcism
Now I know, some of you may hate exorcism films or just hate Eli Roth, who produced the film. Don’t let either prejudice keep you from The Last Exorcism. From my review: “Due in part to the style and the performances of the small cast, The Last Exorcism develops textured characters, especially Cotton, who is played by a nimble Patrick Fabian. Though the film also follows Nell (another believable portrayal by Ashley Bell), this is about a preacher confronting his own snake oil salesman attitude. The first 1/4 of the film is spent learning about Cotton and his recent crisis of faith, which only bolsters the film’s verisimilitude when the creepies occur.”
*To be fair, I did kind of like the second AvP film since it did a lot of what Predators does: lots of practical special effects, an R rating, and staying closer to the tone and mythology of the original Predator film.