Every year has its highs and lows and every year there are great horror films that go largely unnoticed. Most people will complain that the genre is becoming too mainstream and watered down. And the increased output of haunted house movies, which are traditionally not overly violent, has only strengthened that belief. But there are always indie movies without the limits and pressures of studio financing that go much further. They are free to go to incredibly dark places in order to make their point.
Of course, horror is a dark genre by nature. It’s intended to be horrifying. But most of that is in the name of entertainment. It has come to the point where it’s almost surprising when a film truly disturbs a seasoned horror fan. And we’re not just talking about the most generally disturbing movies here, nor the most shocking. These are the films that left us with a hollow, empty feeling inside as we sat and wondered what in the hell we had just watched.
In the simplest terms, Proxy is a movie about how terrible everyone is. These people all feel real and natural but have done and continue to do awful things that cannot be justified. Our heroine, for example, got pregnant and then orchestrated for her baby to be bashed in with a brick just before she was due because she wanted the attention that a pregnant person got without the burden of raising a child. And in Proxy that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone is hiding an absolute monster below the surface. The film was advertised as something almost supernatural, but that’s not the case. There’s nothing supernatural about Proxy. If anything it’s all too real.
A large part of what makes The Sacrament scary is just how much of it is true. It doesn’t label itself as based on a true story, but it sticks very close to the events of the Jonestown Massacre, which was one of the largest mass deaths of U.S. citizens in history. So many people died that we actually need horror films like this to make sense of it, because it doesn’t feel like something that could actually just happen. Like the event itself, there are two separate things that make the massacre terrifying: The amount of people who died willingly and the amount of people who were gunned down without a moment’s hesitation. There’s a hive-mindedness about people that we don’t like to admit, which is exactly what The Sacrament explores. Most people truly love this commune, this society away from the rest of the world. They think it’s paradise. Those that don’t love it are terrified every waking moment, because not agreeing with everybody else and not acting like everybody else is enough to get them killed. It’s almost sick how relevant that is, and it probably always will be. The entire film builds to its climax that anyone remotely familiar with the events of Jonestown knows is coming. Nonetheless, once it reaches that point it’s absolutely horrific. So much of it actually looks real, which is rare for a found footage movie, especially one as darkly cinematic as this.
Tusk is a surprising movie from Kevin Smith, who is known mostly for his comedic prowess. Even after his first horror film, Red State—which was disturbing in its own way—nobody expected him to go this far. Tusk is a comedy right up until the moment it stops being funny. There’s a moment of changeover when things get incredibly dark, when the plot is pushed into motion, and even though the movie tries, it never fully recaptures its sense of humor. Which is fine, in some respects, because the goal of Tusk is to terrify, first and foremost. The plot sounds hilarious on paper, it’s a true credit to Smith’s directing ability that it becomes so sick in practice. This is an old-school body horror film, as unnerving as Cronenberg’s early exploits. It’s not as expertly handled as The Fly but it reaches the same disgusting, visceral effect.
Now, Oculus is a movie that admittedly had its share of problems. It also wasn’t disturbing in an overly gory or visceral way. The torture in Oculus is entirely mental. There are few things scarier than not being able to trust what is real, what you feel, or even what you’re thinking. The movie does a good job of encapsulating the anxiety and utter hopelessness of the people in its situation, which is something people with actual, serious mental illness experience every single day. The movie even makes the viewer doubt whether it is actually a supernatural story or not. The true credit for Oculus goes to its fantastic, incredibly dark ending, which is not something that is generally seen in a mainstream horror movie.
This movie should have been awful. I mean, it’s not great. But it should have been completely forgettable because it essentially boils down to nothing but a gimmick. The entire film plays out on a laptop screen. It’s told in a series of web chats, almost like it’s trying to be Omegle: The Movie, which it actually kind of is. The horror gradually creeps its way in. One of the random people our heroine meets turns out to be a girl getting killed live on camera and now, having seen it, she’s found herself in a lot of trouble. The Den is not expertly made but it is easily the most disturbing movie of the year, because every single moment of it feels real. This is an incredibly dark movie with a stunning ending that makes the entire film that much more disgusting.