I went around asking some folks to recommend some horror or suspense movies that focused more on atmosphere and character than shock and gore. I got a few good hits. Here is what I thought of four that I watched.
The Witch (2016)
The Witch is a quiet little movie that didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. It recounts the story of a Puritan family who is banished from their settlement and has to try to make it out on their own. When the family’s baby son, Samuel, disappears, the movie takes a dark turn. The mother becomes depressed, the children seemed possessed, and the father does his best to hold things together with his faith in God.
The horror aspects of the movie are muted and intimated throughout. Is there really a witch out to hunt the family down or is it all strange hallucinations – possibly from hunger or some disease? The dank atmospheric tone and slow pace reels one in as the mystery unfolds to a tense climax which should leave one questioning the movie’s true intent as the credits roll.
I wish more big Hollywood horror films would take their time to tell a story as concerned with their characters and details as in The Witch. What frightens is not simply the payoff – but the build-up on which a payoff is buffered. Creating suspense, tension and mood are essential ingredients to this formula and director Roger Eggers proved that he has a talent for this. I am not sure if he will continue in the horror genre, but if he does, we may have quite a splendid writer/director in the making.
While The Witch is far for perfect, it deserves a viewing. I highly recommend this little film.
Event Horizon (1997)
This is another movie that, like The Witch, did not do well in the box office. Although given its larger budged it can be considered more of a bomb. I remember skipping it myself when it first came out, but I am glad I went back to watch it on a recommendation, it’s pretty damn spectacular.
The plot centers around an expedition to recover a ship, the Event Horizon, that was lost in outer space, but then suddenly reappears on the edge of our solar system. Once our travelers manage to reach the ship, a mystery unfolds as to its true mission and whereabouts in the years that it was missing. The Event Horizon may have traveled into another universe or dimension, and, more importantly, it may also have brought something back with it which spells doom for anyone who dares to leave the ship once they have boarded.
This movie is famous for its many production problems, and the version we see is not the R-rated version (this movie is PG-13) that director Paul W. S. Anderson and writers Philip Eisner and Andrew Kevin Walker had in mind. They wanted a more brutal movie, that would up the ante on the sci-fi/horror tropes of movies like Alien.
Still, the story works. There is a psychological element to the film which reminded me a bit of Micheal Crichton’s book Sphere (the movie adaptation was released only a year later to a slightly better box-office reception). The horror elements in Event Horizon are stronger than in Sphere though, and there is good amount of blood that spills on the old wayward ship. Lawrence Fishburn and Sam Neill also play wonderfully off of each other and manages to keep the tension going nearly up to the last minute.
The ending was a bit over the top for me, but it fit into narrative. I just wished it had kept the same level of suspense that had been simmering for most of the movie. It decided to go out with a Mortal Kombat style bang instead. However, the ending wasn’t bad enough to ruin what had come before. I definitely recommend taking this movie out for a spin. It still looks great and may give you the right amount of chills.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
I can’t believe I skipped this movie when it came out. It was a wonderful, suspenseful, and thrilling roller-coaster ride.
Three bandits decide that robbing a blind man is the brightest idea they have ever had. Things don’t exactly go as planned when said blind man is an Army veteran with combat skills to make Chuck Norris blush.
The premise is simple, get out of the house alive after the robbery is botched. The only problem is that the house is the blind man’s territory, and he knows every nook and cranny to keep his unwelcome guests trapped inside.
The tension is palpable and each scene kept me guessing how it was that these kids would manage to escape. Furthermore, there is a secret that the blind man holds in his basement which brings the second half of the movie to a whole different level of terror and suspense.
Director Fede Álvarez plays the camera well and utilizes the old house where the majority of the action takes place like a wizard. Just when I thought that there was nowhere else to explore, the movie took me upstairs or downstairs and hit the reset button on thrill ride.
I highly recommend this movie. It should keep your heart rate high throughout, and make you think twice about messing with someone who looks like an easy target.
The Void (2016)
I enjoyed the first ten or twenty minutes of this movie, but it slowly started losing my attention. It’s an ambitious project that begins in what seems to be small town occult activity, with cloaked figures appearing out of the dark, and ends up dealing with parallel universes.
The story centers around Deputy Daniel Carter who takes a hurt man he finds on the side of the road to a nearby hospital. The rest of the movie is set in this hospital where strange things begin to happen. For starters, one of the nurses murders a patient and later transforms into some strange tentacled creature.
It was around this point that the movie didn’t have enough fire power to keep me going. I watched on but only half paid attention to what was happening. The characters weren’t all that interesting and the plight they were in didn’t quite grab me either. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t in suspense, and I sure as hell wasn’t concerned with what happened next.
I did make it to the end where things get very monster-rific and pay homage to the horror movies of the 80s with the tons of practical effects. The payoff, where the mastermind tells his tale of why he was doing what he was doing made me chuckle a bit too. Needless to say, I wasn’t very much impressed.
I know a lot of people enjoyed The Void, though, and it came highly recommended. The plus on this one is its ambition – I appreciated the fact that it started on a very small scale and then brought itself into a very large scale. So, though I didn’t enjoy it, you may love it.
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