The Best and Worst of 2007
Although it got off to an incredibly bad start, when it was all said and done, 2007 wasn't such an awful year for horror films. Sure, the lows were incredibly unpleasant, but the highs were pretty magnificent. In fact, limiting myself to only five top films turned out to be impossible (sorry, Butane). Thus, this Woman's list is as follows:
1. 28 Weeks Later - While some have accused the film of being too heavy-handed in its metaphorical references to the Iraq War and others didn't buy into the Robert Carlyle character's ability to track down his loved ones wherever they went, there wasn't another 2007 horror film that resonated so deeply with me. I adored both Rose Byrne's and Jeremy Renner's characterizations of Scarlet and Doyle and rooted for them throughout. The kids are a welcome anomaly in movies in that they are unannoying and highly sympathetic. The night vision scenes leading up to the end of 28 Weeks are some of the most edge-of-your-seat, bite-off-your-nails I've ever seen. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's and DP Enrique Chediak's work here is brilliant and well deserving of the No. 1 spot. A rare instance of a sequel surpassing its original, 28 Weeks Later is a film that will stick in your memory long after its credits have rolled.
2. Grindhouse - The faux trailers alone make this a worthy entry on anyone's list, and I honestly can't remember having a more fun time at the theatre this past year than when watching the Rodriguez/Tarantino double bill of Planet Terror and Death Proof. Yes, it's too bad more horror fans didn't get out there and show their support, and while a lot of blame can be placed on Dimension and the Weinsteins for their abysmally misguided marketing efforts, it truly is our own fault for not taking the bull by the horns and ensuring the Grindhouse experience got the box office numbers its creators and cast warranted. But that's all moot as the DVD's have been available for quite some time. If you haven't watched these two fabulous films in your own home and dug the hell out of them by now, then I just don't see how you can call yourself either (a) a horror fan or (b) a devotee of great films, and on top of that I probably don't want to know you since it's obvious we are of such vastly different mindsets.
3. Bug - Forget about Blanchett, Knightley, Foster, Christie, and Jolie. These five fine ladies may have been nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press for best dramatic actress of 2007, but the award really belongs to Bug's Ashley Judd. Is her raw and riveting, no holds barred portrayal of the lonely and obsessed Agnes White the only reason to see the film? Absolutely not. She is equally matched by her co-stars Michael Shannon and Harry Connick, Jr. In addition, Bug marks the triumphant and welcome return to our genre by William Friedkin. I was fortunate enough to see a stage version of the story prior to the film, and while some of the differences were to the detriment of the theatrical adaptation, it still packs a powerful punch and shouldn't be forgotten amidst the more mainstream offerings of 2007.
4. Sweeney Todd - While we're on the subject of powerhouse, tour de force performances, the biggest surprise of 2007 for me was how absolutely perfectly matched Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter were as co-conspirators Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett in Tim Burton's masterful adaptation of this hit Broadway musical. Of course, I had faith in the abilities of the holy triumvirate of Burton, Depp, and Carter to do the play justice and had also read all the glowing reviews (including the New York Times', which *gasp* used the "h" word not once, but twice); but I must admit even I was a bit taken aback by the sheer brutality of it all and can't remember when I've seen blood gushes look more bright red and lovely. All the supporting cast is wonderful as well, and London has never looked so appropriately Goth and gloomy in both tone and texture. Sweeney Todd is 2007's most gorgeous film and its most spiteful. Considering I'm not typically a fan of revenge flicks, I'm surprised by how much I loved it, but loved it I did, and I'm utterly delighted to include it in my Top 5.
5. The Mist and Sunshine (tie) - This may seem like an odd pairing, but I see these two films as two sides of the same coin, that coin being the human emotion "hope." The characters in the latter are full of it, whereas those in the former could definitely use a bigger helping of it to combat the despair that overwhelms them by the end of their journey. Both movies are buoyed by a strong cast of characters who must deal with the very real possibility of the world as they know it ceasing to exist. While The Mist tackles its subject matter on a more inherently human level (despite the presence of numerous monsters of various shapes and sizes), Sunshine takes us into deep space and the realm of metaphysics. It detours rather distractingly into very much the same territory covered by Event Horizon somewhere around the 2/3 mark, but then it regains its way and has one of the best endings of any film of the past year. As does The Mist I might add -- despite its polarization of just about everyone who saw it. I thought the conflict it engendered was one of the best since M*A*S*H decided to kill off Henry Blake, which is why it's here on this list even if a few of the characters are poorly developed and some the CGI is substandard. Both of these films overcome their shortcomings in such stellar fashion that I wholeheartedly recommend them as a perfect double-feature to enjoy this spring once they've each been released on DVD.
Best of the Rest: While my Top 5 list encompasses films that received wide theatrical releases, I can't ignore a few others that represent the best of their respective subgenres:
a. Hands down the No. 1 indie feature and also the best damn ghost story I've seen in I don't know how long was director Oren Peli's debut Paranormal Activity. Those of us here at Dread Central who have seen it can't sing its praises loud enough. Suffice to say that if it comes to a film fest anywhere near you within driving distance, get in your car and see it. I guarantee you won't be sorry. I also guarantee you won't be able to sleep afterwards without a night light and your teddy bear.
b. The Best Zom-Com of 2007 award goes to Andrew Currie's bitingly charming Fido. Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, and Dylan Baker shine as inhabitants of an alternate 50's style universe in which zombies have become a sort of household pet. This one's been out on DVD for a while now; if you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?
c. As I mention every year when compiling my Best/Worst list, slashers are my least favorite subgenre since they've been done to death -- often very badly -- but this year there were two examples that managed to rise above the fray with a fun, fresh approach: Hatchet, which gave us icons Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, AND Robert Englund in memorable roles along with a tasty sample of the big, bad Louisiana bayou, and Wrong Turn 2, which offered a reasonably likable group of mutant fodder led by consummate badass Henry Rollins and opened with an American Idol wannabe's evisceration. Honestly, does it get better than that?
d. Lastly, in the "defies description" category we have Albert Pyun's cinéma-vérité and sci-fi/horror hybrid Invasion. To answer the question I received after originally reviewing this film -- yes, that Albert Pyun! It's far from perfect, but Invasion's ballsy approach of telling its entire story via a surveillance camera mounted on a police car resulted in (to quote my own review) one of the most compelling pieces of filmmaking I've seen in eons and cemented its position among the year's most innovative films.
I also have to give a quick shout out to the best DVD boxset of the year -- Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition. Whether you're a hardcore fan of the series or a newbie, you're bound to fall in love with this set. It is indeed the embodiment of the word "definitive."
Now we come to the worst. Rather than go into the type of detail lavished on my top choices, I'll limit my comments to just two or three sentences since that's all these shitfests deserve:
1. The Invisible - Talk about bait & switch! The trailer looked promising, but the finished product was the biggest disappointment of the year. It's everything the anti-PG13 crowd goes on and on about (for its polar opposite, check out Disturbia), and yes, I'm still in denial that David Goyer was in any way connected to it. He has a lot to make up for.
2. The Hitcher - As soon as I saw this abomination, I wrote on the spreadsheet I was keeping for 2007 films: "Worst of the year so far." Well, it would have kept that title had it not been for Sean Bean. Only his presence was enough to elevate The Hitcher above The Invisible, but it still ranks as my No. 2 stinker.
3. I Know Who Killed Me - Thank the gods for that aforementioned spreadsheet; otherwise I would have no memory of most of the crap I endured last year. Here's what I wrote for IKWKM: "Horrendously bad; stripper who doesn't strip; Art Bell best part; poor Neal McDonough!" Seriously, if a cameo by Art Bell is the best part of your movie, you are in sad, sad shape. You can't even really blame Lohan -- her performance was equal to the level of the script she had to work with. As for McDonough, if he didn't fire his agent after appearing in both The Hitcher and this stinker, then he doesn't deserve to work in Hollywood again!
4. The Hills Have Eyes 2 - Why they even bothered with this sequel I'll never know. The concept was a good one, but the end result was dull and boring and a completely wasted opportunity. Nothing was memorable about either the humans or the mutants -- zero, nada, zilch. I fell asleep in the theatre for about 20 minutes and didn't miss a thing.
5. Captivity - I almost feel a little guilty for piling on the derision for this film, but it can't be helped. Its headache-inducing music sealed the deal. It's a shame, really. The first 1/3 was actually decent; it looked good (thanks to DP Daniel Pearl) and had all the right gross-out elements for exploitation fans; but then it fell apart. Acts 2 and 3 were horrendously bad and totally nonsensical, ruining all that had gone before.
I won't beat any dead horses by recounting more of the duds of 2007. Just think "February" and "Foy" -- that's all you need to know! But I will say I absolutely do not understand all the venom directed at Rob Zombie's Halloween and AVP: Requiem. I certainly wouldn't place either in my Top 5, but neither do I feel they belong in the Bottom 5, especially considering the other rubbish that befouled multiplexes last year. They were, in a word, mediocre. Nothing more and nothing less.
And with that . . . Here's to a great 2008! We're rooting for you!