2014 is now over and with the new year comes an endless array of lists recapping the best films of the year that was. While I’ll be posting a list shortly that covers my favorite films and performances of the year in general, first we’re going to recap the year that was in our favorite genre: horror.
While it wasn’t a great year in general for us horror fanatics, there were some truly exceptional, mostly independent films that chilled us to the bone throughout these past 12 months. Below are my favorite horror films that were released in 2014.
6. Ti West’s The Sacrament
Writer-Director Ti West is a fairly divisive figure amongst the horror community. Making artfully-shot, slow-burn thrillers in a genre that often prides itself on extreme gore and movies centered on murderous maniacs isn’t exactly the way to find yourself in the good graces of all horror fanatics, but I personally wouldn’t change a thing about West’s filmography. His films are of a different breed, and such is the case with his latest, The Sacrament. Many won’t even consider it a horror film, but in this humble writer’s opinion, there’s nothing quite as horrifying. Centering on a group of Vice journalists who visit Eden Parish, a cult-like community run by the mysterious Father (a fantastic Gene Jones), The Sacrament is a film all about its unsettling atmosphere. It succeeds on the strength of its performances and its cinematography, not something often said about films in the genre. While you won’t find much in the way of actual scares, the horrifying nature of the film comes from the disturbing questions it poses and makes The Sacrament one of the best horror films of the year.
5. Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear
If you took the age-old addage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and applied it to film, I’d wager that Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear would be the perfect poster-child. While scouring Netflix trying to catch up on the horror films I missed throughout 2014, I came across In Fear and, based on the image provided for it, it looked like just another shoestring-budget horror flick sure to be wrought with terrible acting and even worse effects. Then I came across some reviews for it and was surprised to learn that some were ranking it among the best horror films of the year, so I decided to check it out. In Fear doesn’t sport one of the most original horror premises, as it centers on a young couple who on their way to a music festival get lost driving in the woods, but what it does have is incredible tension. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the edge of my seat throughout almost the entire length of a horror film, but that was exactly my experience with this one. Lovering smartly keeps the film simple in its approach, but through his use of close-ups and sparse lighting makes sure it’s never quite clear to the audience what is going to happen next. While In Fear doesn’t completely stick the landing in its final minutes, it may just be the beginning of a new great horror filmmaker’s career. I can’t wait to see what Lovering makes next.
4. Adam Wingard’s The Guest
Following-up their darkly comedic home invasion horror You’re Next, the writer-director team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard decided to take their careers in an interesting direction. This came in 2014 in the form of The Guest, an 80s-influenced genre flick (some may not consider it actual horror) that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. Perhaps the film’s strongest element is the lead performance from Dan Stevens, who embraces his inner-psycho to play “David”, a solider who returns home to pay his respects to the family of a friend of his who died in action. It just so happens that’s not the only reason he’s there. This is truly a breakthrough turn for Stevens who takes his unique charm and uses it as a tool for the calculating “David” to exploit, immersing himself as a member of the Peterson family with ease. Stevens has the unique ability to go from Hollywood leading man to unhinged killer on a dime, and that’s truly what makes the film so entertaining. The film also sports one of the best (if not the best) soundtracks of the year, embracing the electronic synth music that made the Drive soundtrack such a hit a few years back and combining it with a John Carpenter-esque score. While Wingard’s latest is pretty much the definition of a genre film that isn’t for everyone, for yours truly it was one of the most unique movie-going experiences of the year. And hey, the 80s always win.
3. Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Stunningly shot in black and white and beautifully acted, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the kind of vampire film that breathes new life into the seemingly over-exposed horror sub-genre. Following a lonely female vampire (Sheila Vand) through the Iranian ghost-town of Bad City, the plot to Ana Lilly Amirpour’s feature-length directorial debut is pretty simple, which allows you to soak in its unique atmosphere rather than worry about what will transpire next. A vampire skateboards. A drug-lord dances. A cat stares. You’d be forgiven if you thought this was David Lynch’s latest film foray, but no, this is something different. It’s basically a love story between our vampire and a young man (Arash Marandi), but it’s unlike any love story you’ve ever seen. It’s patient and it’s mood is hypnotic. It doesn’t aim to scare, but rather entrance. While some horror fans simply won’t choose to embrace the film, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. There’s never been a vampire film quite like this, which is ironic because…
2. Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive
…there’s never been a vampire film quite like this either. The fiercely independent Jim Jarmusch also provided audiences with his take on the genre in 2014 with Only Lovers Left Alive. Set in modern-day Detroit, the film centers on Tom Hiddleston’s reclusive and depressed vampire musician who reunites with his lover (Tilda Swinton) with whom he’s been with for centuries. What follows is a true Jarmusch film, minimal in terms of actual events taking place and more focused on its performances and dreary atmosphere. Hiddleston and Swinton are both fantastic and share a unique chemistry, which truly kicks into high-gear when Mia Wasikowska turns up as Swinton’s wild younger sister. Featuring some striking digital cinematography and yet another unique vampire love story, Only Lovers Left Alive may leave some horror fanatics out in the cold. It’s not the kind of horror film that’s interested in blood and guts, but is rather much more focused on its compellingly out-there characters. It also has one killer ending that isn’t to be missed. Sure, it’s very much an arthouse film and not typical of the genre we here at Morbidly Amusing love, but that doesn’t preclude it from being one of the absolute best horror outings of the year.
1. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook
Going into the world premiere screening of The Babadook a year ago this week at the Sundance Film Festival, not many knew just what to expect out of Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut. 12 months later and The Babadook is easily the most critically-acclaimed horror release of 2014, and for good reason. The film centers on Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother struggling to raise her son after the unexpected death of her husband. Her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is deathly afraid of monsters and is constantly acting out and making Amelia’s relationships with those around her difficult to maintain. One day, Samuel happens upon a book in their house and decides that this is what he wants Amelia to read to him before bed time. That book: The Babadook. But here’s the thing, it’s much more than just a book…
Most horror films revolving around monsters nowadays pride themselves on jump-scares, but thankfully, The Babadook doesn’t. Instead, Kent keeps the titular monster in the shadows and creates an absolutely nerve-wracking experience from start to finish. The film features perhaps the best female performance of the year. Yes, you heard that right; the best female performance of the year takes place in a horror film, and it’s from one Essie Davis. Her Amelia is a fragile, broken woman who is unraveling in front of her son, and Davis nails ever beat. While I won’t spoil the film for you here, it’s safe to say Kent asks Davis to go to some dark places, and she does so with absolute fearlessness. She’s quite simply unforgettable. The film also succeeds with its brilliant sound design and eerie visuals, and is so convincing in capturing its psychologically distraught characters that at times you may actually feel like you’re losing your mind as well. The Babadook isn’t just the best horror film of 2014, it’s the best horror film in years and an instant classic.