Friday, December 29, 2023

Fifteen 2023 Horror Films with Great Performances

This is Ted Geoghegan's fault.  Ted and I were talking about the great horror performances this year and about how some of the year end horror lists were made up of just the big hits or festival favorites. Everything was the typical horror films with typical performances, no one it seemed to be discussing how the films this year were containing performances that did more than check off boxes on the horror film cheat sheet. Any talk of good horror or horror performances on the net was focused on your typical EVIL DEAD, SAW, scream queen sort of thing. 

As we talked, I started to drop titles of films with magnificent- and often unexpected performances- performances that are not typical horror performances but very real to the point that they make the films something greater-sure they are horror films, but they are also life. The bad things in these films are happening to real people and not just cut outs for horror directors to move around and slaughter. Many of the films I was truly impressed by transcended the genre to be something more (though some are just great scary movies).

Why were people taking the road most traveled, and not looking at the grand field of horror in 2023?

Since I did the work already, I decided to add a couple of films to get it up to 15 and then post my list of what I consider great horror films with great performances.

A few quick notes: 

First - I am not going to name a lot of names. Not because I am lazy, but because I picked films where the whole cast kicked ass. These are films where there isn't a bad performance anywhere in them. (Also, I did this on the fly in the spur of the moment and I wanted to get it out and up before I had time to forget what I wanted to say)

Second - I have included three short films. Honestly, I could have done a piece of just short films that was two or three times as long as this whole list made up of just shorts because there were so many that were that good. For this list I simply picked the first shorts that came to mind.

Lastly - there is no real order to this list. Yes, Ted's film is the best of the lot because it is truly has Oscar worthy performances, but honestly the casting of all of these films are as good as BROOKLYN 45 since there isn't a bad performance in any of them.

Fifteen 2023 Horror Films with Great Performances.

BROOKLYN 45 - This is as perfectly cast a (horror) film as you will see all year. I have been championing the film and the performance of Anne Ramsay in particular since I first saw it. Ramsay gives a performance for the ages as a torturer who wants to forget what she did in the war. The moment where she agrees to use her skills to find out if someone was a Nazi spy is one of the most crushing moments in any film this year, while also being the most terrifying, because her demeanor is now cold and monstrous.  The typical horror movie monsters are not as chilling as this woman doing evil for her country.  What makes it all the more chilling is that she is backed up by a cast to kill for. Kristina Klebe as her victim breaks our hearts, as does Jeremy Holm as a man doomed by his own actions. The rest of the cast crush us as they reveal the depths that basically good people have sunk to in the name of preserving freedom. Thanks to the performances BROOKLYN 45 transcends the genre and becomes a blistering social commentary that is more chilling than the occasional ghost that drifts through the film.

WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS - The Adams family strikes again with a chilling tale of horror carnies with the devil's heart. As with all of the films from the Adams family the characters are front and center. Sure, there is some spooky stuff, but mostly in their films the effects are at a minimum and what we react to is the perfectly rounded characters. While this film has more blood and guts than their earlier films, the characters are still what makes the films. And while the characters are well drawn, the fact that the performances are flawless makes the film all the more disturbing.

IT LIVES INSIDE - A young woman unleashes an ancient evil and we are terrified. While the fact that this is an Indian centric tale might make it's ability to connect with a wide audience seem uncertain, most, but the fact that the performances are so good never have us question as to whether this could ever happen to us.

WHEN EVIL LURKS - Sure the evil that is unleashed in this film is icky, and disturbing, but at the same time if the performances weren't perfect, the over the top nastiness would be funny and not stomach churning horrific. No one is a cartoon, they are just real people we know sliding off the table into unspeakable evil. Hell, where in most horror films we chuckle at the doomed doing something stupid, here we are just crushed at the start. We know they are fucked but we can't laugh. Why? Because the performances make the characters people we know.

TRANSYLVANIE - horror short film is one of the greatest vampire films ever made. What seems like a jokey film seems at first that this is a light an airy film, but the "goofy" performances of kids ends up turning into perfection as the film reaches its conclusion and we realize what we were watching.

GODLESS THE EASTFIELD EXORCISM - the story of a couple dealing with the weird experiences of one of them seems like a typical mental health drama or a typical horror film, but then the film turns into something black and unexpected. That it works is the result of actors selling their experiences. We aren't in a fake horror film but something very real. Possession is frightening again.

HUMANIST VAMPIRE..... horror comedy romance  should have fallen off the ledge and into parody, but the cast sell the charmer in ways that you don't see in horror film, namely creating characters that are more than just vampires.

DEADLAND - months on I am still haunted by the characters in the film. The story of a border agent who finds a dying man and has his world turned upside down shouldn't work. Or rather in different hands wouldn't work. The weirdness and the paths the film take shouldn't be as compelling as this.  We accept the weirdness because the actors give us people we can relate too, and as such we'll buy what they are experiencing.

ABRUPTIO - Yes I know the characters in this film are puppets. However the manipulation of them and the vocal performances make them very real. Frankly I remember them more than many real actors.

YOU'LL NEVER FIND ME - a woman shows up at a trailer home in a pouring rain storm and dark magic happens. Sure the plotting doesn't work to the  end, but god damn this two hander is absolutely riveting. It's just two people interacting for 90 minutes with no effects. Pure movie magic.

COFFEE TABLE - horrifying tale of the events around a coffee table will turn your stomach. Why? because once it gets going it's simple the interaction of characters orbiting a black hole of the soul. This could have been the wrong sort of funny, but it's not, it's just soul crushing.

PRYING EYES - the reason this short is as chilling as it is is simply because, like BROOKLYN 45 this is a ghost story about the people. As it is the film's horror isn't about the ghost but the ugliness hidden in people.

OUTWATERS - I am not a found footage fan. However there are exceptions, this is one of them. This story of something evil in the dark shouldn't work. So much of this is dark and impenetrable, but the performances, often just vocal, sell this. We feel the fear, if not in the words and images but the inflection in the screams.

UNDER BUG - social commentary horror film about the cost of hate works because we accept the characters. We buy who they are going into the house and we are moved by the karmic events they are forced to endure. Sure we are frightened but at the same time our hearts break.

WHITE NOISE- final film and final short is the story of a woman with a hearing problem undergoing a procedure that goes wrong. Sure the film has a kick ass sound track, but it wouldn't work if Bahia Watson's other worldly performance didn't knock it out of the park.  She is the film and it's terrifying.

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