As we all have some extra time on our hands these days I figured why not dig into the A24 vault and pick out which genre films I consider to be their best efforts. A24 is notorious for producing divisive films. They have been producing consistently great genre film for almost 10 years now, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea.
So let’s see how different our opinion’s are.
10.) Tusk – 2014, directed by Kevin Smith
It took me watching the YouTube video last night to be reminded that A24 even produced Tusk, Kevin Smith’s wacky podcasting body horror weirdness. It’s certainly an outlier for A24, although in 2014 they weren’t quite the indie juggernaut they are now. Tusk stars Justin Long, a neckbeard podcaster whose “Not See Party” podcast pokes fun at online content. When a planned interview in Canada goes sideways, Long has to improvise. He ends up meeting and interviewing a retired seaman named Howard Howe, who tells him the story of Mr. Tusk. A few drug cocktails later, our hero is strapped to a wheelchair and is missing a leg. Without spoiling too much, that’s the least of his problems.
Tusk is weird as fuck. You have to prepare yourself for a dose of lunacy anytime Kevin Smith is behind the helm, and this one is no exception. It’s gross and depraved, and funny? Kind of? I’m not a big fan of Kevin Smith, and while I admire his love of film, his support of the indie scene, and his generosity towards his fans, I can’t help but feel like he just phones it in. But hey, at least it’s better than the movie I kept off the list, the horribly dull It Comes at Night.
9.) The Monster – 2016, directed by Bryan Bertino
The Monster swept me up in its hype. Bryan Bertino wrote and directed The Strangers in 2008, which I contend is one of the scariest (and best) horror movies of the aughts. And shit, y’all, who doesn’t like a good monster? The Monster is the story of a mother/daughter road trip from hell. When their car breaks down in a secluded wooded area, mom “Kathy” (played by Zoe Kazan) and daughter “Ellie” (played by Ella Ballentine) soon fall prey to a menace in the forest. An introspective peek behind the curtain of their lives reveals substance and physical abuse has occured between the family, and maybe the real monster is inside us all. But also there’s a big fucking monster outside which goes buckwild about three-quarters of the way through this movie.
So, I didn’t love it. I think my biggest problem is that the movie is so dark. And I’m not talking thematically, I’m talking visually. Like holy shit, I have to wear glasses but I really had no idea what was going on on the screen half the time because of the muted, drab, darkness of it all. It was also pretty boring, an example of why some micro budget concepts deserve a short, and not a feature. Pass.
8.) Midsommar – 2019, directed by Ari Aster
I’ve dreaded writing about this one. Oh Midsommar, you son-of-a-bitch. This is where I’ll likely lose some of you, and I’m expecting at least one “MidSoMMAr Iz tEh BeST mOVie EVer!!1!” in the comments. So buckle up, kids, this is where the ride gets bumpy. Midsommar is horror it-boy Ari Aster’s sophomore offering, hot off the success of the (far) superior Hereditary. It tells the tale of broken Dani (played brilliantly by Florence Pugh, who is the saving grace of this movie and only reason it’s on the list) and her experience with her loser boyfriend and researcher friends on the Midsommar rituals in Sweden. Drugs are involved. It gets weird. There’s a fire. And a bear. And a man-bear in a fire. You’ve seen it.
I have to credit the hilarious Jenius McGee for his take on Midsommar. “If all this happened in the dark, would anyone give a shit?” I tend to agree. It’s pretty to look at, sure. It’s technically sound, well-acted, disturbing, etc. For me it just didn’t have any heart. It was overlong, over-stuffed with metaphorical garbage which came off as pretentious instead of thoughtful, and just, well. . .not for me I guess. I feel like people wanted to glean more from it than what’s actually there, grasping for the sophisticated inside the sophomoric.
7.) The Killing of a Sacred Deer – 2017, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
This is where we split hairs. In my opinion, Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most exciting directors in the world. He’s like if Wes Anderson got trapped in the upside-down. It’s all dark, it’s all darkly funny, it’s all technically impressive, and it all has something to say in its weirdness without beating you over the head with it. In this movie, family man Colin Farrel is a surgeon haunted by the relationship he has with a dead patient’s son, played by Barry Keoghan, who wreaks havoc on the family and insists that Colin must atone for taking his father’s life by taking the life of one of his own family members.
Here’s where I ask the age old question: is this a horror movie? Well, yeah, it is. To me, horror is a blanket term that encompasses any film where a theme is horrific. In this case, loss of control, and being forced to make a horrible decision. But I also think it’s a drama first, a comedy second, and a horror movie somewhere near the bottom. Absolutely worth your time, but there’s six better horror movies on this list.
6.) Climax – 2018, directed by Gaspar Noe
I will never watch Climax again. Ever. It belongs in that special place in my subconscious populated by films too disturbing to revisit. This film, directed by the always controversial Gaspar Noe, explores the concept everyone has always thought about: what happens when you lock a half-french, half-American dance troupe in a strange gymnasium/dormitory, have them perform for about 20% of the movie, spike their punch FULL of LSD, and trap them there in blizzard like conditions to watch anarchy unfold? What, just me?
This movie is 100% style over substance. There’s essentially no plot. The script literally has no written dialogue, meaning total improvisation from a cast full of dancers, not actors . There’s an unbroken 40 minute take. It’s bonkers. Critics hastily drew comparisons to Dante’s Inferno or the Tower of Babel parable in the Bible. Honestly, I think that’s all bullshit. What I do know is that the cinematography is brilliant, the tone is claustrophobic and heavy, and its brutality is unflinching. I’ll never watch it again. I’ll never forget it. Great stuff.
5.) The Blackcoat’s Daughter – 2015, directed by Osgood Perkins
It took a Netflix release of an inferior film (the often boring, but pretty I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House) to get this film off the ground. While it was filmed in 2015, it sat in production hell until its late 2017 release. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (once known as February) is the directorial debut of Osgood “Oz” Perkins. It’s the story of two girls (Kiernan Shipkin and Lucy Boynton) shut-in at a boarding school, and the seemingly unrelated story of Emma Roberts’s trek out of a mental institution.
I’m a sucker for a slow build up if the payoff is solid. Man, does this one nail that. The sense of oncoming dread is palpable here. To me, this is a close second place for scariest movie on the list. What’s scarier than the unknown? Our imagination is way worse than anything that is conjured up on screen. If this shut-in has you jonesing for some heebie-jeebies look no further.
4.) The Lighthouse – 2019, directed by Robert Eggers
You stuck around after I talked some shit on Midsommar? That’s so kind of you. Here’s where I lose whoever stuck around. To me, this is the most divisive film on the list. The Lighthouse is spectacular. Robert Eggers, former art department guru turned director, literally built a lighthouse and threw the extraordinary Willem Dafoe, and equally great ex-vampire Robert Pattinson together for a boys trip gone horribly wrong.
Gorgeous black and white cinematography (deserving of its Oscar nod) coalesce with isolation and desperation, substance abuse and insanity. It’s not an easy watch, and if you bash me for talking about Midsommar being pretentious but not mentioning it here you’re probably not wrong. Probably. In my opinion, The Lighthouse is the most technically well-crafted film on this list. It’s high art, and one of the best movies last year.
3.) Hereditary– 2017, directed by Ari Aster
Now begins my Midsommar apology tour. Mr. Aster, I’m sorry for the hate parade I generated a few pages ago. I just loved your first movie, and I hated hating your second. Okay, now that that’s out of the way let’s talk Hereditary. A meditation of grief and loss wrapped up in a demon-possession epic, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Toni Collete.
It’s not often that a movie shocks me. I’m too jaded. I rarely make it to the edge of my seat, my jaw rarely drops. But that scene. That scene. Holy shit. I believed the raw emotion. I felt their grief, their fear, their uncertainty. Plus it was scary as hell. Here’s the deal. I didn’t dig Midsommar. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t immediately seek out the next Ari Aster movie based on Hereditary’s brilliance.
2.) Green Room – 2015, directed by Jeremy Saulnier
In Green Room, a hardcore punk band led by Anton Yelchin (RIP) is held hostage by a bunch of skinheads led by Patrick Stewart. Let that sink in. Skinhead. Patrick. Motherfucking. Stewart. This movie rests squarely in the siege subgenre of horror. There’s no ghosts, there’s no monsters, it’s just people, and it’s terrifying. Jeremy Saulnier is an exciting voice in genre filmmaking. Also check out his previous effort, Blue Ruin.
Remember a minute ago when I said I’m jaded and movies don’t make me move to the edge of my seat? Nope, not with this one. This movie is pure adrenaline. I turned it on to re-watch it recently and I felt my pulse go up with the credit crawl. I had to turn it off. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, and Macon Blair are all brilliant. The skinheads are scary. The stakes are high. You feel every cut, slash, bite, and bullet deep in your gut. This movie is unwavering in its brutality, and excellent in execution. Just know what you’re getting into.
1.) The Witch – 2016, directed by Robert Eggers
Well, you made it this far. Either that or you skipped ahead to see what was number one, decided you disagree, and are about to “nope” the fuck out. To you I say good riddance, to the rest of you I say thank you for sticking around. The Witch, to quote our friend Elric Kane, is pure cinema. Director Robert Eggers transports you to 1600’s New England, where a family too religious for the Puritans exiles themselves to the great unknown. As the family begins to unravel, sinister forces start to sneak in.
Everything works in the movie. The cinematography is gorgeous. The sets are pristine. The acting is flawless. The scares are real. The first time I watched The Witch I sat there in awe. The second time I watched The Witch I was scared shitless! Like, what? Where did that come from? This movie fires on every cylinder, it cements Robert Eggers as a true horror visionary, and it is hands down the best horror movie A24 has produced, and will be remembered as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
Here’s a list of movies (other than It Comes at Night) that didn’t make the list because I haven’t seen them yet.
The Hole in the Ground
Life After Beth
Under the Skin
Thanks for reading. Obviously my word is final in this regard and if you disagree with me you’re wrong (kidding, kind of), but if for some reason you have a different opinion than me let me know. I want to hear from you. This list was fun to create, and I hope you enjoyed it.