Sunday, January 26, 2020


In the beginning of Paddy Breathnach's film Rosie, a young woman (Sarah Greene) is in a car with three kids in the backseat and one in the passenger, desperately dialing numbers for a place to stay--for at least one night. Her husband John Paul (Moe Dunford) is working in a restaurant kitchen, almost at the end of his shift. The family, squeezed out of their last rented home when their landlord sold it, have dwindling options of a place to stay as each minute, each hour ticks by.

Taking place overall within the space of a near two days, Rosie, is a close, compelling, and breathtakingly anxious portrait of a family living out of their vehicle in Dublin. Breathnach, with cinematographer Cathal Watters, employs hand-held camera and set-ups of tight, cramped spaces to add to the feel of the movie's claustrophobic situation. Acclaimed writer Roddy Doyle's first original screenplay in years, is precise in its dialogue and devastating in its intimacy. What I appreciated about this film particularly is that while tension simmered throughout, Greene, in her rigorous, believable turn, doesn't constantly blow up at those all around her, who thwart her at nearly every turn. How many times can one scream and get anywhere? This pent-up howl is Rosie. Greene is aided by a young cast playing her children with grace and spontaneity. The film was released in limited release in the States in 2019, but has seemed to have fallen by the wayside in favor of flashier work. This is definitely another fine picture from our era in world cinema that compassionately and urgently addresses economic anxiety for those who have been ignored. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, January 23, 2020

the wild pear tree

Sometimes a movie, seemingly without much flash, can take you on an unexpected journey. This was my experience watching Nuri Bilge Ceylan's absorbing drama The Wild Pear Tree. At over three hours, thoughts of trepidation about the length of the film immediately melted away; it's a compelling study of character and societal confinements, that moves along with a slow yet economic pace, framed in eye-catching photography (by Gökhan Tiryaki). The last film of Ceylan's I've seen was the highly-praised Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which I found tedious, despite Tiryaki's incredible cinematography. Some of those night shots are burned into my memory.

In The Wild Pear Tree, Ceylan takes on the story of a struggling writer, Sinan Karasu (Dogu Demirkol), fresh out of studies and bumbling about his hometown of Çan on the eve of exams, which will, in part, determine his future. Karasu's family lives in a cramped house. Sinan's father Idris (Murat Cemcir) is a gambling addict, and from the little glimpses we get of his life through Sinan's perspective, his reputation seems to be notorious in town. Sinan tries peddling his book for publication--starting with the mayor (Kadir Çermik) and also trying to scrounge up some money to publish himself. Ceylan's more-than-meets the eye tale, interspersed with eerie dream sequences and some philosophical musings--including on religion (I was lost a bit in that aspect as musings on religion are usually a bit uninteresting to me), have a haunted, intriguing effect.

The camera stays close to Sinan, and his lumbering, blue-jeaned frame, as he moves across beautiful landscapes under varying climates (a sudden rainstorm, golden, summery sun and wind-blown greens, and bitter snow) or even inside a Trojan Horse statue. Outside of these striking visual and aural templates, what could have been a ponderous movie, feels loose and spry--perhaps in part to Demirkol's performance. Demirkol is a "non-actor," this being his first feature. He has a very ordinary appearance and body type, no frills or airs, and I think this helps add to the authenticity of the film. His character sometimes makes misguided decisions, leading to bruises and bit lips; he doesn't always listen carefully, and sometimes acts in a sort of unaffected, nonchalant way to those around him. Demirkol's loose, unstudied feel is one of the main strengths of the picture. Ceylan shows the limitations of Turkish men including the abilities to advance in any way in society--especially dreamy, creative types. Even as The Wild Pear Tree dips into some surreal, fever-dream visions, the movie stays grounded and precise. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Sunday, January 19, 2020

my hindu friend

“We’re never going to have another Fellini film. That’s what matters.” That's a line Diego Fairman (Willem Dafoe) utters in Héctor Babenco's My Hindu Friend. This is a movie about coming to terms with finality. The Argentine-born Brazilian director Babenco may be most familiar to American audiences for his Oscar-winning film Kiss of the Spider Woman. He died at age 70 in 2016. My Hindu Friend is his last film, originally out in 2015, and just now hitting limited release in America. Like Bob Fosse's 1979 All that Jazz and this past year's Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory, this is a director's unique and intensely personal vision of an artist facing their own mortality.

As Diego, Dafoe plays a version of Babenco, a formerly famous director, rail thin and bald from chemo treatments, his roping bones close to skin. He doesn't want to die in a hospital, but at home. But he spends much of this story in a hospital in the first hour of the film, undergoing the process of a painful transplant--"new blood" creating a new system--a new life. Dafoe, always a compelling thespian, plays his moments of pain and fear with his usual exactness. He's a man "going on a trip... not sure there's a way back." The hospital scenes are full of drudgery presented in a matter-of-fact way tinged with dry humor, like signing papers and listening to teams of doctors, specialists and nurses explaining risks. Among the bland and miserable setting, little visual juxtapositions occasionally flourish: a surfer on TV, coasting waves--so very far removed from Diego's physical condition; a stuffed gorilla on the floor, a Disney tie on a doctor, a poodle on the shirt of a nurse; medical machinery suddenly filmed with starry splendor.

These visual cues and the striking shots throughout by Mauro Pinheiro Jr. and also Zbigniew Preisner's very pretty score that drifts in and out, adds to this movie's peculiar beauty and are the main strengths of My Hindu Friend. When it goes for more plot-driven mechanics like Diego's brother asking for a million dollars for the transplant, or Diego's relationship with his wife Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido), the film feels less interesting. The film unsuccessfully strains of the significance of the titular character. What I appreciated though was how messy the movie was--like the little frank, wine-soaked vignettes of his friends' conversations near the beginning of the film at Diego's wedding.

Eventually we see Diego in a stage of healing, but knowing the director's eventual end, we know this is a portrait of a man who seems to be hurriedly trying to get out as much as possible in his final years--including hallucinatory (complete with fade-outs) scenes with a mysterious man and glimmers of women in various stages of undressing (breasts are a-plenty) that he seems to be deeply attracted to. It is indeed Fellini-esque (and also Fosse-esque) to have this ravishing "much-ness," this striving for profundity in the face of death. And also a nostalgic, pounding love for old entertainment--a bedroom set from an Astaire / Rogers picture figures, as do songs like "Cheek to Cheek" (belted by Dafoe with irony in his hospital bed). Or a visit to an empty studio sound-stage--reliving some filmic glory in the cockpit of a plane. The backyard lightning storm scene set to "Singin' in the Rain" is in particular a stunner and one that finishes out this director's vision, in joyous, dangerous ecstasy. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, January 17, 2020

a hidden life

There’s an early moment of joy in Terrence Malick’s rambling epic A Hidden Life where an Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner), and young daughters are playing a game. “Up in the clouds” on the verdant hills of their land, Franz is blindfolded, trying to capture one of his kin as they lightheartedly try to misdirect him with the sounds of soft metal clangs. Encapsulated in this sweet, brief moment is much of the themes and motifs of the picture. Set during WWII, this idyllic village is removed from the horrors of war. Yet the tensions of a world “stronger than me” trickle into their existence. Franz was a real-life conscientious objector who would later become a martyr of the Catholic Church. His and Frani's story is portrayed here with elegance and reverence by Malick.

I am one who can endure even the weakest of Malick's pictures, which he delivered in a row over the past few years (Knight of Cups, To the Wonder and Song to Song). If nothing else, I can luxuriate in their beauty--those swooping cameras capturing sun-drenched fields and sky. In A Hidden Life, he employs cinematographer Jörg Widmer, who was a camera operator on some of Malick's past projects. The sweeping landscapes of this setting are undoubtedly breathtaking to behold. But what makes A Hidden Life more than just pretty pictures is how we see the townspeople turn against Fani as Franz refuses to serve. The landscape, once idyllic and raptrously beautifully, and so connected to the humans who live there, sours. We see the mud and grueling work that Fani has to undergo to keep her family and farm alive while her husband is off imprisoned by the Nazis for his resistance. And while we are in her unsettled but beautiful world, we know outside there is rampant destruction. Even Franz's grim prison-life is cut-off from many of the worst atrocities of the time. This limited perspective drawn some scorn and has caused a rift in reactions to the film, but the close scope is both symbolic of the failings of humankind and the impossibility of an all-encompassing view.

While Malick's visions often feel of deep religiosity, in A Hidden Life, there's hints of complexity in its views towards the church--especially the way its followers turn their back on Franz and Fani. Besides the soft clanging sounds of the at-play scene, bells abound throughout the picture--signifying arrays of meanings: mourning, warning, fear, the passage of time. There's also a contrast between the church's hushed rooms, with its gorgeously painted ceilings, and its spectacular failings to address the horrors of humankind. We even hear some philosophizing from the church's painter on how people want to see their deities: gilded, high and pure. Maybe it's a reflection too on Malick's own aesthetics, how his standards of capturing high beauty sometimes leaves little beyond its visual allure.

Unlike his uneven rout of recent films, Malick has found a subject here of clarity and is close to his heart. The principal players here are deeply moving and committed and keep the film from floating entirely away. Also adding to its more grounded quality is James Newton Howard's score, mixed with operatic classical pieces, which features an enveloping, coalescing theme. One flaw that continues however is the burgeoning running time. The length here seems excessive and I wondered how shattering its impact would have been with a shorter length, especially with the repetitious nature of the story. Yet, there's only one Malick and his singular vision and telling of this tale is appreciated. ***1/2

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, January 16, 2020


So Selena Gomez's new album Rare is providing the pop music solace I need currently.

Here's the music video for the title track.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


By happenstance, two well-done films about the death penalty, in particular about black male lives lost to this system, have been released over the past week. Just Mercy is a stirring Hollywood studio social drama based upon Bryan Stevenson's advocacy on the behalf of the incarcerated. Clemency, a sobering tale directed with precision and little flair by Chinonye Chukwu, moves in closer to the cogs within the system, centering upon a Warden named Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). The name Bernadine is of French origin, meaning "strong as a bear." We are introduced to her simply and evocatively on the night of an execution. Dressed in a dark navy suit, she is poised, unemotional, and yet seeming to bear the weight of years of wearying witnessing. In the tick of the clock and a beeping heart monitor, the execution turns out to be botched; this is a lethal injection that does not go in the "smooth way" Bernadine is perhaps accustomed to. Suddenly her bearish strength is seemingly shaken. The death sets the stage for the spare title card and Bernadine's character study. Upon the lead-up to the execution of another man, an accused cop killer Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), we see moments of Bernadine's resolve and when she occasionally breaks. Her marriage to her benevolent husband (Wendell Pierce) is stilted, she sleeps poorly, she gives into drinking. She, as another character says, is living in "fragments."

Considering its subject matter, I feel trepidation in calling Clemency a "dull picture." Yet capturing "dullness" is Chukwu's strength in this particular study. With the aid of cinematographer Eric Branco, the film is either darkly lit or somberly gray: a white-gray patch of sky covered by a chain-linked fence. The movie is often deathly quiet with some intrusions--the snatches of the sound of protesters outside Bernadine's office, the muted music of a bar, the shadowy metal sounds of the prison, or the warbling electronic score that comes and goes by Kathryn Bostic (one cue, with a breathy, desperate vocal hovering above droning synths, is especially akin to Bernadine's predicament).

We never quite reach an emotional catharsis with Bernadine as maybe we as an audience hope for. Unlike Just Mercy, this film purposely thwarts any sense of hope or uplift. What's done is done and can never be undone. But Woodard brings a subtlety and unique beauty to her turn that's quietly extraordinary. The tenor of her voice, every glance, even a quick little backhanded wave, is flooded with pathos. There is ultimately no actressy, teary, river-rush release, but instead a constant, stringent holding-back. When she breaks into a smile within a drunken state, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of joy, but also sadness, knowing the alcohol would drown Bernadine's stress and pain only temporarily. In a showier role, so to speak, Aldis Hodge brings forth an array of depth and emotion to his character. Both are quite powerful as a duet--characters both entrenched in a sad system from very different angles. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, January 10, 2020

just mercy

Despite having the cozy flatness of a mid-1990s film adaptation of John Grisham, Destin Daniel Cretton's Just Mercy ultimately emerges as a powerful polemic on racial injustice, incarceration, the flawed legal system, and the death penalty. Based upon Bryan Stevenson's acclaimed bestseller, Just Mercy hones in upon the story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) a tree removal business owner who is on death row for the murder of a young woman in Alabama. After graduating from Harvard, Stevenson (played with understated, sturdy conviction by Michael B. Jordan) travels to Montgomery to help defend men like McMillian, who had been wrongly imprisoned. Unlike past defense lawyers, Stevenson cares to and is able to instantly bond with McMillian's family. Its this bond that helps sustain Stevenson through the rough patches that thwart his causes and the fits and starts of pursuing McMillian's exoneration. It becomes apparent from the opening that the case against Walter is extremely flimsy, rooted in racial bias and coercion. This is a town that flaunts its surface-level historical pride of "non-threatening" strides in civil rights--like being the birthplace of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird--in order to mask its ongoing inequity.

As he did in his piercing breakthrough Short Term 12, Cretton is able to bring out a wide array of strong performances from an eclectic cast. Many of the players from Short Term 12 were barely known at the time, and are now strong presences in the industry: Brie Larson, who also figures well in Mercy as Bryan's co-hort Eva Ansley in organizing the Equal Justice League, LaKeith Stanfield, Rami Malek and Kaitlyn Dever. I like the way Cretton's casts are unusual, as if you wouldn't normally fit them together in a film, and yet they work so symbiotically. In Just Mercy, the casting by Carmen Cuba and Cretton's direction of the actors, help emphasize the social impact of the picture. Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe SpallDarrell Britt-GibsonO'Shea Jackson Jr., and Rob Morgan are among the excellent supporting players.

Because they are so familiar and sometimes limited in what they can do, courtroom drama movies can be inert and underwhelming. Despite its engaging  cast, Just Mercy is very plainly told, with a grainy filmic quality, and the turns it takes are never too surprising. However, it probably helps that Stevenson's real experiences and his on-going work with the Equal Justice Initiative--seen here in the movie in its first stages of being established with underdog grit (just finding an office to set-up in was a barrier; soon after the events of this story), shapes its urgency and impact. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

portrait of a lady on fire

I had to go back and read my 2011 review of Tomboy, before writing this review of director Céline Sciamma's deceptively uncomplicated and breathtakingly beautiful new film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. In Tomboy, Sciamma was able to express deep naturalism and a flair for coming-of-age that felt palpable without falling into familiar tropes. She returns with another singular vision here, a ravishing little tale set around 1770 of an artist, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), commissioned to paint a portrait of a reluctant aristocratic countess Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) who is soon to be married off. Immediately enamored with one another without expressing it through words, the two develop romantic feelings. On daily walks together by sea, Marianne observes Héloïse, trying to absorb her every gesture and expression. Sciamma's slow pacing, deliberate pausing, which can be cloying in most films, really works here in establishing the halting, building passion between the two.

As the story simmers, it's the tactile nature of the movie's aural and visual world which add to its atmosphere. There are distinctive sounds throughout--waves, a fire crackling, brushstrokes and charcoal marks against canvas. As this is a tale told through memory, these sounds indicate the powerful way sound can conjure remembrance. The photography by Claire Mathon (who also shot another compelling-looking pic from this year--Atlantics) institutes a clean, piercing vision. We stay close to Marianne's point-of-view--her eyes on Héloïse, from her back turned in the beginning to a striking profile finale shot. The look of the film is helped in part by the barren sets, seaside landscapes and the two leads, standing out in their exquisite costuming (by Dorothée Guiraud). The paintings in the film were done by Hélène Delmaire. It's really gorgeous work to behold. Just seeing the finishing touches on a green dress were quietly thrilling. ****

-Jeffery Berg

Sunday, January 5, 2020

one sweet day

Remixing a ballad is tricky, especially a chestnut like Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day," but Soulboss nails it.


Undoubtedly, even if his films tad to err on the side of the overwrought, Sam Mendes has always been a director of terrific craftsmanship. With the aid of cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes has constructed another technically masterful work with his WWI drama 1917. British Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) embark on a perilous journey across enemy countryside under orders to halt a battle that could potentially save 1,600 soldiers. Like most studio war pictures, the dangerous trek is storied like an adventure / action movie, with many tense moments. However, because of the nature of the mission within the film, the movie lacks grandiose, sweeping battle scenes that have titillated audiences for years.

Like Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, some of our war movies of late seem to be shrinking; in 1917, there is less Braveheart grandeur and more solemn treatments of individualism. The audacious "one-take" style by Deakins lends to the film's intimacy and tension--you never quite know from which corner of the screen fire will rain from. We've seen the trickery of one-take movies as of late, notably Birdman, yet Deakins' vision is particularly distinct here, without feeling gimmicky. It's difficult however, to not be wrapped up in marveling over the bravura technical achievements more than the film's story. Unlike Kubrick's drum-tight Paths of Glory, 1917 is less cynical and philosophical, more pastoral and personal. MacKay, with his long weary face, does a wonderful job at making Schofield engaging, as he moves through many treacherous incidents. Thomas Newman's score is elegant and showy, blending well with the action and drama. You can envision him conducting an orchestra playing it in front of the reels. It's this in-and-out feeling of "this is a film" (replete with British movie star cameos) versus the carnage and devastation within 1917; this tension has always been a predicament of entertainment about serious historical incidents. Yet, Mendes and his cast and crew still pull off a very exciting and reverent achievement. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, January 3, 2020

Thursday, January 2, 2020

justin lockwood's top 10 favorite horror films of the 2010s!

We’re living in a new golden age for horror, as evidenced by how difficult it was for me to compile a list of my ten best of the 2010s. I dismiss the term “elevated horror” as nonsense—great horror movies are great movies, period, and genre classics have always tapped into timely societal fears and anxieties—but there’s no question the last few years have produced some outstanding films. May we continue to be blessed with such terrific horror in the new decade.

Scream 4 (2011) —It might seem odd to put a sequel on this list, let alone a part 4.  But Scream 4 is not only a great addition to the series, and a high note end to the esteemed Wes Craven’s filmography, it’s also a movie as clever about the state of horror and culture as the original Scream was. The hysterical, hall of mirrors opening-within-an-opening-within-an-opening alone makes this a brilliant film, but the movie goes on to riff on remakes and reboots, social media, and the relentless pursuit of fame in the Twitter era. Returning cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette are in fine form, and the newbies—especially Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere—are awesome.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)—While not exactly “scary,” The Cabin in the Woods is an absolute love letter to the horror genre.  Scream and its ilk seemed to have exhausted the self referential subgenre, but Cabin takes a different tact in exploring horror tropes and stock characters.  Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who also directs) delivered an exceptionally clever screenplay, full of fun ideas and all manner of monsters, and the cast is game—anyone who saw this knew Chris Hemsworth’s comic potential way before Thor: Ragnarok. Plus: a Sigourney Weaver cameo!

The Lords of Salem (2012)—I’m a huge fan of Rob Zombie. His movies can be uneven, but he has a truly unique vision. Lords of Salem is his masterpiece.  Taking a sharp left turn from his usual ultraviolence-and-hillbilly aesthetic, Zombie delivered a slow-building, stylish picture in the tradition of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby. He coaxes the strongest and most naturalistic performance to date from wife and muse Sheri Moon Zombie. Her recovering addict radio DJ receives a mysterious record with frightening ties to the dark history of Salem, MA. The filmmaker makes effective use of Salem locations and packs his cast with offbeat, interesting performers like Meg Foster (the sinister Margaret Morgan), Bruce Davison, and Dee Wallace. It all culminates in a surrealistic gonzo finale that again demonstrates Zombie’s knack for well-chosen music cuts.

You're Next (2013)—Home invasion movies seemed old hat in 2013, but Adam Wingard gave the formula a much-needed kick in the pants with his mix of action, horror, and jet black comedy. Working from Simon Barrett’s whip-smart script, Wingard delivers a zillion times more entertainment value than most films of this type. A terrific cast, including genre vet Barbara Crampton, AJ Bowen, and a hilariously douchey Joe Swanberg, breathe life into the dysfunctional Davison family, whose reunion is viciously interrupted by a gang of masked intruders.  Luckily, Bowen has invited his sweet Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), who, *ahem*, grew up on a survivalist compound. Vinson is phenomenal, elevating her likeable, resourceful heroine into one of the most unforgettable final girls in cinema history. Plus, the use of Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic” is one for the ages.

It Follows (2014)—Horror films frequently involve sex, often with fatal consequences. David Robert Mitchell’s masterful debut makes the connection explicit: sex is the method by which characters are afflicted with a demonic stalker, one that can only be thrown off the track by passing it on to a new partner. This inspired concept is translated into a beautiful, stylish, extremely creepy film. Maika Monroe is terrific as the curse’s latest target, and Mitchell sets his tale in the same sleepy, small town world as classics like Halloween

The Witch (2015)—Like Lords of Salem, writer/director Robert Eggers’ instant classic plays with the legacy of the Salem Witch Trials. His approach is a more “realistic” period drama that focuses the hysteria on one family of outcast Puritans living in the woods of some unnamed New England state. It takes its time, gradually introducing the possibility of diabolical forces until horrors real and imagined are tearing the family apart—with eldest daughter Thomasin (a sublime Anya Taylor-Joy) getting scapegoated for all the misfortune.  The truth behind everything isn’t revealed until the very end, but Eggers’ carefully crafted film makes a strong case for the journey being just as important as the destination. He also taps into the same bleak, repressive conditions for young women of the period that fed the real life events.

Get Out (2017)—The sudden emergence of comedian Jordan Peele as a master of horror has to be among the most welcome surprises of the 2010s. His sophomore effort, Us, is my personal favorite, but I selected his debut because it both heralded his emerging talent and commented on sociocultural anxieties in a profound way. This note perfect rebuke to the idea of a “post-racial” America is both astute commentary and just plain terrific entertainment. The pacing, brilliantly twisty script, and affecting performances—Betty Gabriel and Allison Williams were Oscar caliber—made this an all timer.

Suspiria (2018)—Remakes are a fact of life for horror fans, but this decade saw some great ones, from the fun Fright Night (2011) to 2019’s subversive feminist take on Black Christmas. None compared to Luca Guadagnino’s towering re-imagining of the Dario Argento classic about a Berlin dance academy secretly run by witches. His epic, carefully controlled film benefits immensely from the two women at its center: Tilda Swinton and the never better Dakota Johnson.  Swinton is in top form as instructor Madame Blanc and the tormented Dr. Klemperer, whose patient disappears within the walls of the school. His character wrestles directly with the legacy of the Holocaust, a heady theme Suspiria tackles along with the political climate of the 70s. Johnson stuns as the seemingly naïve Susie, who enters into an intense emotional relationship with her teacher and pushes her nascent dancing skills to the supernatural limit  (Johnson trained for years for the role, and it pays off). This is a gorgeous, confident film filled with dreamlike imagery, jarring shocks, and a muted color pallet that conveys the severity of a German winter and the dangerous forces that threaten the students. Thom Yorke’s original score and songs are tied intrinsically to an unforgettable vision.

Hereditary (2018)—Ari Aster’s debut film has been somewhat divisive, but I remain firmly in its camp. He’s got a fine eye for detail and excellent cinematography, and he elicits harrowing performances from his actors: Toni Collette was justifiably applauded for her angry, grief-stricken mom Annie, though Alex Wolff is also strong as her tormented teenage son Peter. The mixture of family tragedy and supernatural terror is unbelievably unsettling, building dread with the assistance of Colin Stetson’s score and some well-timed, unforgettable shocks. By the time the horror explodes in truly operatic fashion, the audience feels as emotionally wrecked as the helpless characters.

A Quiet Place (2018)—Another brilliant concept—monsters that hunt you based on sound—is executed in stunning fashion by first time director John Krasinski.  His harrowing tale of a family living in fear of these beasts works as both an emotional drama and a pulse-pounding thriller. A Quiet Place builds a believable world in exquisite detail, aided by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and Krasinski’s screenplay and absolutely essential sound design. The director gets an astonishing performance out of his talented wife, Emily Blunt, as the mom who has to give birth in terrifying, excruciating conditions. The sequel looks promising, but this is going to be a tough act to follow.

Honorable Mentions: The imaginative, silly The Purge franchise; M. Night Shyamalan’s clever “killer grandparents” horror comedy The Visit; the funny, unexpectedly moving Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U; the heartwarming and oh-so-much-fun slasher homage The Final Girls; Michael Dougherty’s Christmas horror classic Krampus.

-Justin Lockwood