Movies

Published on January 10th, 2023 | by Richard Gary

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Richard Gary’s ‘Favorite’ and ‘Not Favorite’ DIY Horror Films of 2022

Every year, writer and DIY horror lover Richard Gary gives us his ‘Favourite’ and ‘Not Favourite’ microbudget horror and genre picks. Here’s his 2022 list!

As always, I will first republish the rules I have about such lists as these:

I have an issue with ‘Best of’ and ‘Worst of’ year-end lists for the following reasons: most are chosen from either those that play in theaters. For me, I like to watch the DIY ones, for these tend to have more heart. My list consists of films that I saw and reviewed in 2023, not necessarily ones that were originally released in that year.

As for Best and Worst, I never liked those terms; art is just way too subjective, which is why I called them ‘Favorites’ and ‘Not Favorites.’ That being said, even the ‘Not’ films have redeeming qualities, and the fact that I felt they had issues means nothing. I have hated films that have won tons of awards, and liked some that other find abhorrent, so don’t take anything I say, good or bad, as the definitive. It’s just opinion, and I welcome you to agree or disagree. It’s all good.

These two lists are alphabetical, rather than ranked (another thing I don’t believe in). Here we go!

Favorites:

All Must Die (aka Utdrikningslaget; Alle må dø)


Directed by Geir Greni
Thanks to Google translate, as the film is in Norwegian with subtitles, I know the original title of the film (the long, single word above) translates to The Bachelorette Party. The original name makes perfect sense because you will never guess what is the focus of the film, at least at the start: Gina Moen’s Bachelorette Party! But hold on there, I know there are some reading this thinking this is going to be silly, but the thing is that Gina is a fan of all things horror. So, guess what the Bachelorette Party is going to be when it comes to a theme? And as things being what they are in the genre world, that is a good thing for the audience, but it certainly will not be for Gina and crew. After an ominous start, including a flashback of an argument with her fiancé Even, Gina and her pals are off to a – you got it – secluded farm house surrounded by woods, miles from anywhere in Heggelia, to celebrate. But, anyway… If you think all Norwegians are pale and blonde, the cast is quite diverse, which is more accurate. Good choice on the director’s part. Including Gina, there are six women: Camilla, who wears a Brooklyn tee and drives the van, Ida, who is Even’s sister, Stine in a checkered shirt, Marte, who is the Maid of Honor, and co-worker Elise, who is overdressed for the occasion (work clothes), considering the locale. As is common for this getting-away-to-a-remote-location genre goes, basically the first 20 minutes or so is the car ride, as we get familiar with the half-dozen so the viewer can get an idea of their personalities and some social dynamics. Normally I find these rides boring, but I like the characters, so my interest remained focused. But there are also a bunch of clues in there, on a second viewing of the film (yeah, I watched it twice). Things dissolve quickly at this point and follow some directions I was not expecting (always a good thing). For me, the oddest thing was the plan to have all of Gina’s ex’s come to the house, as well. That felt icky to me. That Gina is a horror fan, and there is a similar theme to the get together, this leads us to not be sure at times what is part of the party and what is not for quite a while. What this does is add a dimension to the story that most genre fans watching this might connect to on various levels. In that vein, I was totally wrong on my guess on the killer, but that is because so many red herrings were weaved into the story, and that was part of why I liked this so much. Also, the cast is quite engaging. The SFX appear to be all practical, and they look great. There is lots of carnage, most seen after the fact, but enjoyable nonetheless. I also enjoyed the pace the film, and how the reveal is nearly the entire third act. Though I had some issues, which seem to have stuck with me, I found this to be enormous fun that takes some standard motifs and throws it on its ear a bit. At the end, as the credits rolled, I found myself smiling with satisfaction. I hope there is a sequel.

Higher Methods

Directed by Nathan Suher
A little talked about subgenre of the horror field is the meta “ensemble” of actors who struggle on set with dangerous minds and often knives. Be it a film set, backstage at a play, or in this case, a drama acting class, the darkness will be exposed. We meet our protagonist – anti-hero? – Matt literally in the spotlight, in a darken room, as he is interviewed in sharp patter as the room tilts and the tension is immediate. Damn, if it isn’t shot amazingly, right out of the gate. I’m hooked. Outside, the rave is raving and Matt meets Shannon, as the snuff is sniffed and the hook-up commences. Oh, not for that, but for acting classes with John Edward Marcus, of the Razor’s Edge Acting Studio. Sharp writing. This is when we meet the rest of the esoteric students for the class, as well, filled in part by a defensive woman, The Muse, and of course, Shannon. They all are subservient to Marcus’s “genius,” and we get to see his patter/pattern of mixing death threats with sage words, all designed to bring out the actor in the actor. There are a lot of subtle commentaries of what it is like to be a struggling working actor. Matt, meanwhile, has a secondary motive for being in this class, and that is to find his long-lost sister, Katherine, who took the class from Marcus 10 years earlier. But is he really there for her, or himself? There is a deep psychological undercurrent that runs through the film, which escalates at an alarming rate after Matt takes a hallucinogenic drug, and the roller coaster ride begins not only for Matt, but the audience as well as the lines of reality and psychology get on a Tilt-A-Whirl-ish mental space as the second act kicks off into literally high gear. The editing of the extended sequence that highlights the beautiful cinematography, taking this from a low budget psychological horror (with some violent scenes) to a cinematic splendor. Despite the beauty of the image and the occasional knife and drug play, this film is wordy. Some of it is pop psychology, to the fanatical ravings of Matt, and especially of Marcus. Another central theme here is honesty. The stripping down of one’s barriers to reveal the rawness underneath that even the actor themselves have trouble seeing through their own ego, history and general mishigas. Matt is a pile of inner conflict, and everyone around him is pressuring him to be “real,” in an occupation where everything is fake. This could have been tedious, but the writing is taut, drawing the viewer in while also being appalling in the treatment of the characters by others and themselves. Amid the dark and shadowy imagery is an equally dark look at the life of an actor in a very stylized form, where the person is irrelevant to what they can bring, whether it be as a marketing object or as a shell of themselves. Everything is precise in the film, from the lighting, to the costume design, and the whole minimalist art design by Michelle Parenteau. The colors are as muted as the lives they are hiding within, symbolizing the emptiness the characters feel. The director, Suher, has obviously taken some amount of care to get everything to line up to be a piece of art cinema that could be talked about in classrooms. But to just watch it on the screen on one’s own? Well worth it if you like a mind fuck of a film. And I mean that as a positive.

Nocturna: Side A – The Great Old Man’s Night (aka Nocturna: Lado A – La noche del hombre grande)

Directed by Gonzalo Calzada
This is an intense study, focusing on a 100-year-old man, Ulises (actor and playwright Pepe Soriano), facing his mortality, and working his way through remembrances and forgetfulness, as his age tugs at his present and past, and the holes of memory in between. His past is represented by a childhood self from the day he met his wife, Dalia, that is also represented by her younger version. It almost appears as time is fluid in many ways, as the film plays with the reality of the moment and the tricky bits of memory and its holes. For example, an event might be mentioned, and then it happens. While this is purposefully unsettling and occasionally confusing at some points, it shows the mind of this older man, and his relationship with his wife. While the film rolls out in its own time, getting the viewer a chance to get to know the characters a bit, what stands out is the emotions, which flow like rolling hills, as the old man’s chest continues to hurt and things are not always as they seem. For some reason, some have categorized this a “horror” film, and on some level I understand why, but I beg to differ. Yes, there are intense moments filled with dread and possible ghosts, but is it corporeal remains of people or spirits of memories, or some level of senility? This is more of an emotional thriller that goes at its own slow, precise pace (with moments of chill thanks to the lightning storm sounds going on outside the window and the uncertainty of what is going on). The camerawork is gorgeous, especially a warped glass scene where the past and present unite in a blur of images. The lighting throughout is yellowed and dim, like an old light bulb to match the mood and perhaps to reflect Ulises’ dimmer brain functions. While most of the story takes place either in Ulises’ apartment or in the hallways of the building, it never feels claustrophobic thanks to the cinematography which is, again, fluid. Yeah, this is more of an poignant film than a fright-fest, but do not be surprised if, by the end (or at the end), you have a couple of tears rolling down (yeah, I did).

Post Mortem

Directed by Péter Bergendy
In the early years of photography, It was common to hire a photographer to take pictures of the recently deceased, propped up sitting in chairs, either by themselves, or most likely the corpse is surrounded by the entire family. It was the final memento to remember those who had passed on. This Hungarian film takes place in, well, rural Hungary (but dubbed into English) in 1918, at the end of the Great War and in the midst of the Spanish Flu. People were dropping like flies around the world, and Europe was hit hard. It was also an extremely cold winter, and it was hard to get bodies buried, so they were piling up. Into this situation comes photographer Tomás, whose near-death experience during a battlefield explosion gave him a vision of a face. Now recovered (physically), he travels around and photographs the dead. In this capacity, he meets ten-year-old orphan, Anna, with whom he strikes up a platonic (yet still pretty cringeworthy to me) friendship, convinced she was the vision he saw after the explosion. But in this village, things just ain’t right. Noises in the attic and shadows on the wall hovering over Tomás’ bed on his first night have him unsurprisingly rattled. Amid the noise and such, he befriends the owner of the local Inn, Marcsa. As Tomás photographs his subjects, in every picture there is a grey shadow behind them that is only seen in the image. Many times, we, the audience, get to follow their inky movements, which vary in speed. Over the course of the film, the presence of the ghosts increase dramatically, as does their anger and their violence. They throw furniture, reanimate the dead, sometimes almost like the photos Tomás takes, throw people around like rag dolls, and do not seem to hesitate to make others join them through ferocious means. It is an interesting touch that these ghosts are previous inhabitants and relatives of the village, and yet their anger and viciousness does not stop with family members. Everyone is a potential victim. And Tomás is determined to get to the bottom of it, with the aid of Anna, of course. Tomás and Anna also feel the effects of the ghosts as they are dragged by the feet through town, held in place unable to move, or levitated. The SFX, both practical and digital, is so basic and at the same time incredibly stunning throughout. While the ghosts are nearly always seen as shadows, and occasionally crawling on all fours, their effects on the town was fascinating to me, especially the wire work as numerous people are tossed about. The image is washed out (remember, this takes place during the days of sepia, previous to black and white), and while it is not monochrome, it has a dark tone. One might say it was arty, but it does not make it harder to see. It has a nearly gothic undertone. This is one of the better ghost stories I have seen in a while, and I happily found much of it unpredictable. It also takes some risks in the plot that improve the story. There are a lot of nice jump scares, but it is the malevolence of the spirits that make the story. Usually, I balk at films that are nearing two hours, but with the way the story and images twist and turn, my interest was easily kept throughout. If you get the chance to check it out, I say do just that.

Row 19

Directed by Alexander Babaev
Hmmm. Sometimes one must separate art from what is going on in the world. In the prologue, a woman and her preteen daughter are sitting in a near empty airliner, which crashes in South Central Russia. The daughter is the only survivor. For the main crux of the story, it is 20 years later, and the girl is now a woman, Katerina, who has her own preteen daughter that is about the same age she was when she crashed, Diana. Of course, for our story, a similar situation occurs: Katerina and Diana are on a nearly empty plane that needs to be de-iced traveling to the center of the country, sitting in the same seats (the titular Row 19) in the same order (mom on aisle, daughter in center). We start to get to meet others on the flight. But there are also strange things happening on the new flight, like the cryptic acting and blank stares of the stewar… I mean flight attendants, to there being someone named Evgeni, as there was on the one that crashed. Some of the others on the flight are an ex-reporter, Alexey, who sits across from and befriends Katerina and Diana, and an uptight, whiskey-drinkin’ right-wing business man, Nikolay, the seemingly psychic bearded “hipster” Pavel who is constantly drawing frantically in a notebook, along with an elderly couple, which includes Evgeni, whose wife, Galina is afraid to fly. With horrifying dreams and flashbacks, things seem to be repeating for the now adult Katerina that echo 20 years ago, or is it all in her head as the plane flies through a lightning storm and bad turbulence? I can empathize the fear. One by one, the people on the plane start to perish in sometimes gruesome ways, all reflecting on a “witch” who was on the first plane 20 years before. Is this some kind of Final Destination deal, or are they all really dead or in Purgatory already like in Carnival of Souls (1962) or Jacob’s Ladder (1990)? Whatever it ends up being, it is effectively creepy as hell, and plays well with memory, imagination, and/or destiny. How much of it is real and how much is in Katerina’s mind? And what is the darken shadow person(s) that keeps popping up, and the little prescient girl (Katerina’s past self?) that Diana keeps talking to that only they can see, individually? Katerina says it clearly that her visions are “becoming more and more real. I’m starting to confuse reality with my nightmares.” The tube of the plane is claustrophobic, and yet due to the lack of people, it also feels quite roomy at times. But no matter what, there are feelings of déjà vu and that there is nowhere to escape whatever fate has in store for the survivors, which decrease as time goes on. There are a lot of really nice effects and even some blood, and it all works well in the story, which is taut right to the end. The acting is solid all the way around, including the two young girls who hold their own with the adults. The cinematography flows well, and the effects, which are quite complex considering all that is going on, are outstanding. This may not be for people who are afraid to fly, or are politically triggered by what is going on in the world, but as a piece of art on its own, it is quite thrilling. I understand there is also an English version floating around somewhere in the sky.

Saul at Night

Directed by Cory Santilli
With conspiracy theories, there is a contingent of people who believe that the government is trying to control our lives. Of course, this is mostly nonsense, but this film takes it as reality in a dystopian, twisted way. No, there’s no martial law, no Big Brother monitors. It’s all sort of mundane, really. And it is expressed in the opening shot of sheep, which could be referring to sleep, or… In this version of society, sleep is mandatory from 10 PM to 6 AM. For everybody. Well, everybody except the titular Saul. For he is alone, in the words of Rhonda Sheer, up all night, for the same 8 hours everyone else is in sleepyville. While he sleeps, the world goes on around him, including his wife, Kathyrn and their early teenaged daughter, Cleo. Sleep is enforced and controlled, so you fall asleep and wake up on the dot, and do not wake up in-between. For him, there is no television, no radio, no open stores – though everything seems to be unlocked as he wanders about, since no one else is awake to steal anything; and like a vampire, no sunlight. There are only handwritten notes passed between Saul and his family. In this world, there are no home computers, and cell phones will not work for him since there is no one awake to talk. When he’s not at home, he’s roaming around an empty Providence, RI, until he suddenly meets someone else who is awake, French-only speaking Amalur. After being essentially alone after over 800 days with no one to talk to, or hug, this is a blessing, and a curse. Until they meet, there is perhaps only a dozen words spoken in the film. When Amalur talks, there are very easy to read big, yellow subtitles. For the longest time, this is a personality study about loneliness, and the lack of mutual spontaneous affection. Even though Saul and Amalur don’t understand each other’s monologs, talking past each other, the sound of another’s voice draws them to each other, even though they both have families. There is a very subtle commentary on propaganda and mind control, as we see the rare television commercial (there is no new programming, apparently, as all we see is a clip from the politically safe The Dick Van Dyke Show from the early 1960s; MAGA?) and a billboard, both promoting sleep. It’s interesting, of course, to see the slow burn relationship between Saul and Amalur, but not necessarily how one might imagine. The film does not take the easy or obvious road, but perhaps a more realistic one. Emotions and nerves are close to the edge for all involved, not just for Saul and Amalur. With a future where technology is controlled by the government, the alterations would be in shades of difference from our current reality, rather than some grand Zardoz (1974), Logan’s Run (1976) or even Orwell’s 1984 perspective. There is an old bon mot that states that films about the past and future are really about the present. This one is especially true. Considering this is the director’s initial feature after a few shorts, it is quite the impressive debut. The acting is all top notch, though considering the history of the talent that is hardly surprising, and despite the slow and steady pace, there is still a feeling of tension and urgency among the angst. A beautiful and moving film, as well as a warning of what may be around the corner.

Not Favorites:

The Expat


Directed by Gregory Segal

This film is a murder mystery, but a really seedy one that actually made me feel uncomfortable at times. Right away, we are introduced to the titular expat, Nick Spiro. He’s an ex-Marine who has moved to the Philippines “to do things.” And what does this representative of the US do, first-thing? He goes on the hunt for women for sex, through a local website. Ugh, gives masculinity a bad name. And this isn’t even 5 minutes in, he’s walking around hitting on every attractive local female he can find. He is also not kind to the women who agree to his bed. The next morning, he’s “Okay, get up, time to get out, I’m busy.” But he’s not. We don’t see him doing anything other than roaming around. I already don’t like this guy. As his ridiculously large amount of “conquests” builds, something strange is happening in that his partners are turning up dead in alleyways with slit throats. This guy is prolific in the bedroom so the body count builds up. On the case is Detective Cruz, who is a weird mix of likeable, but has no compulsion in whacking a guy about the body to get information, including Nick. Thought he was going to be the good guy, but I don’t think there is a “good guy” in the story. One of the things annoying me is the total disregard for the women involved. As the bodies stack up, Nick is more worried about himself and keeps on keeping on, knowing the danger he is putting these women into without a care. Even Cruz is more concerned about the effect on the “community” than the women themselves. But I would also add Segal, who wrote and directed this, as being complicit in this attitude. With rare exception, (such as the one woman who has any substance in the film at all and possible love interest, Delilah, for example), most of the females are seen as expendable, occasionally topless, with no character behind them except as sex objects to be killed off after moments on the screen. Even with Delilah, Nick treats her more like a servant that a potential girlfriend. He has her cook for him, won’t help her with chores (“Laundry isn’t my thing”), and at some early point when she asks if he’s coming back, he just leaves without answering. Total toxic masculinity on display, and just not a nice person. That being said, my favorite character in the film is the Mindoro Police Chief, who does the frustrated comic relief, dealing with incompetent underlings. Other good points are that there is some beautiful scenery as there is a large use of b-roll around Manila and Mindoro. I’m not certain if it was shot for the film, or is stock footage. There is an attempt to show both the touristy areas of bright lights and beachheads, but there is also a wise emphasis on the poverty that is there, as well. To me, this was the strongest message of the film, which was secondary to the actual story and often not explained, just placed there. There are minor rumblings around some possible geopolitics and local ones, but the film’s conclusion fizzles out into a nothing burger. Considering the number of people who are killed (yes, all women), there is no blood seen, the bodies are at a distance, and we only see them after the killing. There is hardly any action onscreen other than a couple of moments here and there. I found this release totally frustrating. It moves at a snail’s pace with way too much dialogue where nothing of substance is being said, there is hardly anyone to really like, especially the main character, and it goes in circles.

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About the Author

grew up watching and enjoying horror films, especially those made independently and on a micro-budget. Most of the movies he reviews play either at festivals or private screenings, rather than having a national theatrical run. Using his years of studying media theory, he looks at each one with a critical eye that goes beyond the superficial, as he believes they deserve the respect of such a viewer’s eye. He is open to receive links to your films at rbf55@msn.com, and he promises to always keep an open mind and be honest.



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