Agony Inc 27/11/2018

Throughout the opening weeks of publication, Agony founder and horror fan Andrew Nicholls will be contributing a list of what he believes to be the greatest horror movies released since the year 2000. This list will be published in five parts, with films listed in no particular order.

Obviously, as with all lists of this nature, plenty are bound to disagree with the movies chosen and it would be a little upsetting if that wasn’t the case. If you’re one of those people, please do offer your own suggestions in comment form at the bottom of the page. Or just tell us the films you loved yourself. Enjoy!


THE GREEN INFERNO (2013)

Director: Eli Roth

Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns

 

Cabin Fever told you to stay out of the woods, and Hostel away from Eastern Europe’s darkest depravities. In the final chapter of Eli Roth’s Travel & Punishment trilogy, The Green Inferno warns that down in darkest Amazon, “Fear will eat you alive”. Tourists should just stay home. 

A homage to the “cannibal boom” horror movies of the 70s and 80s, The Green Inferno sees a group of college students and self-proclaimed activists leave the safety of their white privilege to travel to Peru and protest against a timber industry that is flattening the Amazon. On their return their plane explodes and crashes into the forest where doom awaits them, as they are abducted by a tribe of cannibals with a craving for do-gooder flesh. 

There’s little here that you won’t have already seen. The design of the natives- complete with bones through their noses, loin cloths and red dye covered skin- was more likely based off of stereotypes than creative thought, and there’s the usual gaggle of masturbation and sexuality-based gags that viewers come to expect from horror movies these days. But still, the film manages to survive, much like the activists at least attempt to. 

As offensive, savage and gory as one would expect from an Eli Roth flick, The Green Inferno is critical of the first world’s ignorance towards the unknown, and is almost satirical in its portrayal of white, middle-class kids on gap years to “save the world”. Those with weak constitutions and a faint heart might find themselves looking away as eyeballs are gouged out, vaginas are threatened, and best friends are eaten alive. 

Sure, it’s nowhere near groundbreaking but, if nothing else, The Green Inferno proves that while most isolated, indigenous tribes are peaceful people in need of protection from the encroachment of the Western world, others are just arseholes. 


FINAL DESTINATION (2000)

Director: James Wong

Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Seann William Scott, Tony Todd

At first glance Final Destination might appear little different to most teenage horror movies; it begins with a group of adolescents from the usual varying social cliques like wasters, jocks, mean girls, and outsiders, and eventually dooms them all. But there’s no knife wielding psychopath, no savage beast, no demon. Instead there’s power lines, leaking toilets, faulty ladders, jagged shards of metal and all manner of nasties choreographed by fate. It’s death that kills these kids, death itself, and “you can’t cheat death.”

Following an opening sequence of signs and omens hidden in plain sight, the movie begins as a high school class board a plane for a class trip to Paris. One of them, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a vivid and horrifying vision of the aircraft exploding and freaks out, insisting it’s going to happen for real. After an altercation with another student he, along with five other students and a teacher, are ejected from the plane. Angry and upset, they watch in horror as, moments after takeoff, it explodes in mid-air.  

The lucky six survived the crash due to Alex’s premonition, but as they soon find out, they’re now on borrowed time. They cheated death once, and he isn’t happy. 

Final Destination is a modern horror classic. It melds together perfectly the existential crises and guilt its characters feel for even surviving their friends, with the carnage and bizarre twists and turns that follow them as they’re stalked by a sinister force wherever they go. The movie takes the cliche of killing teenagers, and spins it into something fresh. The death scenes are genuinely horrific, with the actions of the characters and the environment around them offering cleverly crafted, shadowy foretellings of what’s to come. You’ll keep guessing and looking away, until it’s too late. 


BLAIR WITCH (2016)

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Valorie Curry

It was a trip no one really expected to end up taking, but more than a decade-and-a-half after the original, director Adam Wingard takes us back into the woods near Burkittsville in Blair Witch.

The movie attempts to do the impossible by resurrecting and reinventing a film that managed to net nearly $250 million dollars off a budget of only $60,000, despite it seemingly being filmed during a hurricane by Michael J Fox. The original was the Marmite of movies. It defined the found footage genre, and still causes debate today. Some people hate it, feeling it’s hard to watch, ugly and slow. While others see it as terrifying and claustrophobic, inventive and riveting. So, what does this sequel do that the original did not? What’s different about it?

Well, for starters, it definitely makes the most of its increased budget. Blair Witch has retained the intense claustrophobia and darkness of the original movie, but it all feels cleaner and crisper. It’s not quite as believable as found footage as the first was, yet that doesn’t take anything away from the film’s quality as a whole. It’s also greatly modernised, with a drone even being used to demonstrate just how vast the wilderness really is.  

The film takes place in 2014- that’s more than twenty years after Heather Donahue, Mike Williams and Josh Leonard fell victim to the spirit of Elly Kedward-, and follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune) as he and three friends venture, armed with 21st century camera tech, plain venture into the dark, dark wood in an attempt to find out what happened to his sister. Before setting out they meet up with Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who claim to have been the ones that found the original footage taken by Heather and her friends. In return for being allowed to tag along, the couple agree to help James and co. get where they need to be. 

At first the mood is hopeful. James truly believes they’ll find the evidence they need to locate his sister. But soon they realise they’re lost and isolated, and noises at night, mysterious symbols and a menacing presence lead them to realise that the Legend of The Blair Witch is as real and terrifying as all the stories said it was. 

Throughout Blair Witch is a real feeling of dread. The movie is a slow burner, with the scares gradually getting bigger and bigger until chaos ensues and the chaotic camerawork and sound editing of the first movie come into play. The more the audiences watches, the more fear they feel as they wait for the terror that’s waiting in every shadow and behind every tree. 

Blair Witch brings The Blair Witch Project into the 21st century. It breathes new life into the legend, and gives a new generation of horror fans something to fear. Is it an equal to the original? Perhaps not, but as a continuation to what came before it’s truly refreshing.


DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2017)

Director: Caradog W James

Starring: Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran

“Knock once to raise her from her bed. Knock twice to raise her from the dead.” In Caradog W James’ undeniably creepy horror yarn Don’t Knock Twice, Jess (Katee Sackhoff) and Chloe (Lucy Boynton) learn just how much demons hate to answer the door, but leave a few questions unanswered; Why does a demon require a second knock to rise from the dead after being woken up by the first? Are demons always killed by a first knock, only to be resurrected by a second? And what strange power do door knockers have? Should we as humans be using them in the fight against hell’s demonic horde? Would a doorbell do the same job? The questions are almost endless. 

Mocking of its title aside, Don’t knock Twice is good. It isn’t ground breaking and it’s not gonna jump out at you from many top one hundred lists (or maybe it will, it’s on this one), but with some legitimately scary moments, its got enough sprinkles of novelty and decent enough performances from its cast members to make it definitely worth watching more than once. 

Kate is an artist, a sculptor amongst other things, with a difficult past that once gave up her daughter, Chloe, because of a series of nasty drug issues. Nine years later, that child is now a teenager in care, thick-skinned and quite unforgiving, and a long time friend of Danny (Jordan Bolger). One night, after rejecting the offer of moving back in with her mother and wealthy stepfather, Ben (Richard Mylan), the pair go out to a spot from their childhood to a neighbourhood now empty of homes, except for one. The house, legend has it, is home to a demonic witch, and the origin of the rhyme that gives the film its title. After joking around and talking about their childhood friend that went missing, the two knock twice on the door and leave.  

Upon returning to their separate homes, both experience chilling disturbances and, after being frightened, Chloe decides to take up her mother’s offer and moves in with her and Ben. Things only get worse. 

Don’t Knock Twice’s biggest strength is not necessarily its ability to scare, but the strong performances of Sackhoff and Boynton. Their complicated mother daughter relationship due to Jess’ drug-addled past and Chloe’s unhappiness in foster care really add weight to the movie. Sackhoff delivers an impressive performance as a mother truly trying to make up for her mistakes, and with Boynton we experience a transition between a typically snotty and bitter teenager to a likeable and easy to empathise with young lady. 

As said before, on the surface Don’t Knock Twice may play out at times as the sort of horror film many movie fans have seen before, but it’s the small details, the nuts and bolts, that really make it impressive. It’s genuinely creepy, with a musical score that keeps the audience in ominous suspense and some quite beautiful cinematography. Credit must also be given to Javier Botet (who you may have seen since as the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2) who, in some truly creative makeup, is just so freaky as the legendary witch, Baba Yaga, that won’t stop haunting the mother and daughter. It is those elements, and a slowly unfolding mystery at the hands of Detective Boardman (Nick Moran), that give the movie the life that makes it memorable.

Don’t Knock Twice. In fact, don’t even knock once. Just run away and leave the door alone.


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009)

Director: Oren Peli

Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

What’s scarier than a haunting within your very own home?

Paranormal Activity, unlike many films in the found footage genre, is quite ingenious, although you could initially be fooled that it’s simply more of the same. Claiming from the start to be the real thing, the movie opens with the usual statement supporting that fact. In this case a title card thanking “the families of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston” and the police department for providing the footage. All of that footage was was shot by Micah (Micah Sloat) himself. The personal nature of the filming makes it all seem a lot more real, and a lot scarier. Or at least that’s the idea.

Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah have been together three years and seem very much in love, having moved into a house together in San Diego that looks almost like a show home. It’s immaculate and barely looks lived in. That’s easily overlooked. The couple have been bothered by indications of some sort of spooky goings on in an upstairs bedroom. It’s Micah’s idea to film the house in a search for proof, leaving cameras running constantly in the hope that they’ll catch something sinister. 

Paranormal Activity focuses on the mundane and the couple’s everyday life, with the activity captured by the camera increasing as the film goes on. It’s undeniably creepy. Micah’s cameras are left on constantly, with one even positioned on a tripod at the end of their bed. It’s that camera that’s most revealing, allowing the audience to see what goes on as the couple sleeps. 

The events captured by the cameras are as eerie as it gets, mainly because there’s no obvious trace to be found of the special effects that made them happen. In fact, some of the goings on seem almost impossible without some sort of tampering. They just seem to happen by themselves, as though they’re real and not faked for the purposes of cinema. 

Acting is also something that’s nowhere to be found, and that’s not said to be negative. It just isn’t there. Micah remains off screen, behind the camera, for much of the film, leaving Katie on her own in frame. She’s incredibly believable. It’s no wonder so many people believed Paranormal Activity was genuine.

Look on Youtube and you’ll find videos of audiences in fits of real terror while watching the movie. It’s disturbing to watch. For long periods of time nothing happens, nothing at all, but don’t expect to be bored. Those quiet moments merely prolong the inevitable. 

Paranormal Activity is genre-defying. That can’t be disputed. It took the found footage genre, one that’s often been a cause of annoyance for movie fans, and made it something that actually had potential. The film isn’t as scary in its content as it is as an idea. These people are haunted, and you could be too. Who hasn’t wondered what’s going on in their own home?


Read more on page two.

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