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My 12 for ’13: Honorable Mentions

Over the next few days, I’ll be revealing my favourite twelve films of 2013. I suspect that it will be a slightly quirky and eccentric list – I doubt anybody but myself will agree on every choice, but I hope that encapsulates the diversity and brilliance of the year that we’ve had. Indeed, I was actually quite impressed with the quality of films that were released in 2013, from large tentpoles through to more intimate and low-key film-making.

In fact, I was so impressed that I thought I’d put together a list of brief honourable mentions of the films that didn’t quite make the cut for my top twelve films of 2013.

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Non-Review Review: Predator

Predator is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. It’s elegantly constructed, beautifully directed and cleverly written. Perhaps the smartest thing about Predator is the way that it so fantastically plays on audience expectations, offering the perfect bait-and-switch, teasing a jungle adventure in the style of Schwarzenegger’s Commando before morphing into something else entirely. It’s so well handled that the film’s reputation and prestige has done little to dampen its thrills.

A predator stalks...

A predator stalks…

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Non-Review Review: Insidious – Chapter 2

Horror sequels are tough to execute, particularly where you have a returning cast. After all, strong horror films typically work by ramping up the pressure on the central character, building inexorably towards a climax. It’s very hard to follow on from that – where do you go? It’s very difficult to wind the tension back down and start ramping up from scratch, and the same trick is never as effective the second time.

Insidious: Chapter 2 faces these challenges, and – to its credit – it tries to work around them. It embraces an almost camp aesthetic to help compensate for the fact that it effectively kicks off at maximum volume, relishing the sheer absurdity of its demonic co-stars. It splits the main cast up in order to allow it to try to maintain a constant sense of pressure, while also delving into back story and origin. It subtly shifts its frame of reference from movies about possession and haunting toward a different sort of horror film.

However, these attempts aren’t as successful as they might be. While there are moments of wit, the humour and heightened camp occasionally causes tonal confusion. Splitting the cast up is too convenient a narrative device and diffuses (rather than maintains) the tension. Slasher and serial killer movies are hard to get right at the best of times, and the movie’s climax feels awkward grafted on to a possession story. Insidious: Chapter 2 has moments where it works very well, but also spends a significant amount of its running time groping in the dark.

Well, at least it's an amicable haunting...

Well, at least it’s an amicable haunting…

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Non-Review Review: The Conjuring

The Conjuring feels like a culmination of the nostalgia trip that we’ve seen with recent horrors like Insidious or Sinister, a conscious attempt to move away from the gore-laiden or found-footage-heavy approach to contemporary horror. Indeed, The Conjuring owes a fairly sizeable debt to director James Wan’s previous horror effort, Sinister. Not only does the film inherit leading man Patrick Wilson, it also follows roughly the same structure, right down to “paranormal investigators explore the house in a briefly humourous interlude.”

However, The Conjuring flows a lot easier than Insidious and is spared the third-act problems that plagued Sinister. The film is stronger for the honesty of its nostalgia. Even the title card is rendered in a font that looks like it could have been used for a forgotten seventies possession horror. The Conjuring doesn’t really push the boat out, and there’s nothing that will startle hardcore horror veterans, but there’s a very clear skill in its construction, an honesty to its affection and a sincerity to its charm that helps the film rise above so many contemporary horrors.

They ain't afraid of no ghosts...

They ain’t afraid of no ghosts…

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Non-Review Review: Citadel

Citadel marks a promising feature-length directorial début from Ciaran Foy. It’s a very grimy and gritty horror, evoking the sort of trashy horror aesthetic of the seventies or eighties video scene. It’s unpleasant and nasty stuff, which is exactly what you’d expect from a horror film. On the other hand, it occasionally seems too nasty. Horror films, by virtue of their genre, often wind up feeling a little reactionary. Citadel is an urban horror film, reflecting the concerns and the nightmares of inner-city living, turning happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs into literal monsters.

I got you, babe...

I got you, babe…

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Non-Review Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead does has a bit of a quirky charm to it, serving as perhaps the best-made horror throwback I’ve seen in quite some time, much more effective than most of the recent splurge of exorcism movies. As far as competent execution of classic horror movie tropes go, complete with the sense of “something gruesome’s gonna happen” dread and a healthy amount of gore, Evil Dead succeeds admirably. There are some issues in the final act, but Evil Dead checks all the necessary boxes, and does so with a minimum amount of fuss or pretension, which makes it a surprising enjoyable watch for those looking to enjoy a good old-fashioned video nasty.

That said, it can’t help but feel a little awkward, through no fault of its own. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was a genre classic which worked in a large part because it eschewed all but the most basic tropes of horror storytelling, refusing to dress a video nasty in anything too fancy. The movie came to embody a particular subgenre of horror, and it wore its grotesqueness on its sleeve. Last year, Cabin in the Woods offered a fitting follow-up, a capstone to that approach to horror. As such, through no fault of its own, this version of Evil Dead feels like it arrived a little late.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

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Non-Review Review: The Thing (2011)

The reflexive reaction to a film like the 2011 version of The Thing is one of scepticism. There’s something very strange about seeing a movie that had been relatively unloved on initial release garnering the remake/prequel treatment, an attempt to cash in on its cult success by turning it into a franchise. And, to be fair, a lot of that cynicism is justified by The Thing. There are times when it seems like – despite the obvious affection for the original horror master piece held by the writers and the director – that nobody really has any idea why John Carpenter’s The Thing has become such an iconic piece of cinematic horror.

There are some nice touches here, and it seems like director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is genuine in his love of the classic body horror. Unfortunately, it feels like the finished product is more the result of mechanical number-crunching than honest enthusiasm.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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