It’s been a scary year all round, but at least that means we’ve got more and more spooky stuff seeping into the otherwise normal fare showing ’round the local multiplex. To that end, 2016 has been a hugely healthy year for the burgeoning sub-genre of Not Quite Horror.
Although special mention must go to Westworld for making some of the most frightening television of the year, movies are still where it’s at when it comes to NQH. From crime to drama, adventure and even westerns, there was no escaping it this year. Nowhere is safe anymore, which is good news for horror fans but bad for everyone else.
These are my picks for five must-watch movies, released in 2016, all of which employ attributes of Not Quite Horror:
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Tarantino is yet to take a swing at a full-on horror movie but, for the moment, The Hateful Eight will do quite nicely. A whodunnit of sorts, set primarily in a single location during a blistering snowstorm, the flick takes in on-the-nose references to everything from The Thing to The Last House On The Left. Horror fans will also enjoy the escalating tension between a group of yet another well-cast Tarantino deplorables, the standout of which being Jennifer Jason Leigh’s no-nonsense queen bitch and her wonderfully horrible dynamic with captor Kurt Russell. It’s gory as hell and really funny. And its dark ending packs a real punch. Hopefully Tarantino won’t wait too much longer before giving us the good stuff for real.
Daniel Radcliffe continues to turn heads post-Potter in this based on a true story tale of a young FBI agent who goes undercover with a bunch of white supremacists. Much like the majority of other movies in this vein, Imperium‘s scare appeal comes from the idea that Radcliffe’s Nate could be outed at any moment. Toni Collette co-stars as his no-nonsense superior, but Radcliffe’s casting here is genius. In the opening sequence, he’s dwarfed by other officers, his frame squashed between them in the back of a packed car. As the story progresses, we see him physically transform before our eyes and, suddenly, spouting racist rhetoric in the midst of a White Pride march, he looks six feet tall. Swiss Army Man was Radcliffe’s big, take-notice role this year but Imperium sees him utilise his diminutive stature and still-soft young looks to maximum effect. Chilling and uncomfortably real.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
West Texas is no stranger to the horror genre, but in Brit director David Mackenzie’s us-against-them tale of two rogue brothers and the seasoned cops on their trail, the area has never seemed darker or more isolated. Chris Pine and Gil Bermingham provide ample support for the two biggest performances here, that of Ben Foster (finally gifted a role worthy of his talents) and the inimitable Jeff Bridges, who can do this kind of drawling, toffee-chewing role in his sleep. The flick has Mackenzie’s (who helmed fellow NQH alum Starred Up) fingerprints all over it, but he is helped in no small way by a cracking script from Sicario‘s Taylor Sheridan. The ending is devastating chiefly because it rings so true, and Bridges sells it right up until the final, dust-coated seconds.
Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford has copped quite a lot of flak for his sophomore feature, and what many have termed an ugly, empty exercise in wealth porn. Aside from a stunning central performance by Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals boasts one of the most tense and riveting set-pieces in any film this year – horror or otherwise – in the form of a high speed chase on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Jake Gyllenhaal (doubling up as a real person and a character in the novel Adams’ Susan is reading throughout the movie) and his wife and daughter are terrorised by a group of no-goods led by an astonishingly grimy Aaron Taylor-Johnson in a revelatory role that should see his good guy image blasted for good. Michael Shannon shows up to give Jeff Bridges’ Hell Or High Water cop a run for his money and almost runs away with the whole show. Opulence and over-indulgence aside, this is one nasty piece of work. Double bill with The Neon Demon for maximum overload.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Billy O’Brien’s wonderfully dark, macabre little movie is one of the best Not Quite Horror flicks in years, never mind 2016, that will hopefully find a wider audience in years to come. Those who got a chance to see it will have been transported by a chilling, nuanced central performance from Where The Wild Things Are‘s Max Records as a kid struggling against his own sociopathic tendencies. After seeing something he probably shouldn’t have, Records’ John hunts down a serial killer who he believes to be his kindly neighbour (played with perfectly-judged otherness by Christopher Lloyd). This one of a kind movie is equal parts gorgeous, stark, terrifying and moving, and Records is unbelievably brilliant in the lead role. Lloyd reminds us how good of an actor he is, while simultaneously making a case for playing a real villain even at this stage in his career. A must-watch, destined to be a cult classic alongside Donnie Darko, to which it has been compared but whose lofty aspirations it far exceeds. A very special film indeed.