Nate von Zumwalt
There seems to be a faction of horror flick aficionados who loathe anything less than gratuitous violence in their films. A caveat for those fans: while this list may not be for you, our prior years’ Haunted Collections do pander to your macabre desires—check them out here and here. For Halloween this year, we’ve culled our selections strictly from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, which featured a dynamic group of what we’ll call “horror-adjacent” films across various program categories—Competition, Spotlight, and of course the Midnight Section. All of these films are currently available in theaters, On Demand, or for purchase on DVD/Blu-Ray.
We’ll kick off with a film from the Spotlight section, which highlights Sundance programmers’ favorite picks from other festivals, and in this case, Cannes. Jeremy Saulnier’s consuming thriller displays his acumen for constructing stark, convincing environments, which he first exhibited as the cinematographer on 2013’s I Used to Be Darker. Blue Ruin adopts a different world, but one equally enveloping and that follows an enigmatic man’s pursuit of vengeance after he learns that his parents’ murderer will son be released from prison.
What We Do in the Shadows
Longtime friends and collaborators Taika Waititi and actor Jemaine Clement—of Eagle vs. Shark and Flight of the Conchords, respectively—reconvene for this peculiar bit of droll humor. The pair has unabashedly christened the film a “vampire mockumentary,” and it delivers on that promise and then some. What We Do In The Shadows chronicles the anything but quotidian lives of Viago (379 years old), Deacon (183 years old), Vladislav (862 years old), and Peter (8,000 years old), a group of vampires who have chosen to share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. Waititi and Clement share writing, directing, and acting duties in this hilarious corrective to the ubiquitous vampire romances of our day.
Life After Beth
Jeff Baena, writer of 2004 hit I Heart Huckabees, made his directorial debut with Life After Beth, a film that walks a fine line between zombie thriller, madcap comedy, and poignant romance. Naturally, any narrative attempting to fuse those disparate components would need to solicit a cast that could deftly walk those genre lines. For their lead roles, Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan offer a pair of revelatory performances. Beth (Plaza) dies unexpectedly and leaves her boyfriend Zach (DeHaan) miserable and despondent, until she stumbles back into Zach’s life as a mercurial zombie.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night can feel hypnotic in its in ability to lure audiences. The 2014 NEXT section film transports viewers to the film’s fictitious Bad City, a home to debauched drug users and other degenerates where a subdued vampire stalks the denizens. However improbable, our vampire “Girl,” stunningly portrayed by Sheila Vand, only changes her ways upon being seduced by a debonair romantic named Arash. At the Festival in January, director Ana Lily Amirpour’s indelible choice of words about the film’s anamorphic and black-and-white qualities still ring true: it provokes a “separation from reality.” Indeed, the spacious, shadowy confines of A Girl are among the film’s greatest offerings.
For a film out of the sometimes-overlooked Midnight section, murmurs about The Babadook swept through Park City with surprising energy last January. Perhaps it’s because the film—digesting the trailer alone takes some mental fortitude – is a multilayered and terrifying experience. The narrative is one so unsettling that it surely engenders questions of where the creator’s mind travels to gather such material. That’s a topic for another time, as director Jennifer Kent is brilliant in conveying this hybrid horror/mindbender that sees a mother and son fending off a bogeyman incarnate named Mister Babadook. Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are a convincing mother-and-son duo in this cerebral effort that will have you questioning what’s real and what’s imagined.