For some of us, this might be the spookiest Halloween ever. After months of minimal social contact amid a worldwide pandemic, I know my mind is quite a scary place right now. Time is a broken Scalextric set, and we are all bound for the foreseeable in a toy car careering off the rails, away from our families and communities into a grubby grey carpet of a winter. But at least this weekend is Halloween, a perfect opportunity to exorcise the sense of creeping horror and loneliness that has been ubiquitous with 2020. Since so many of us will be spending this ordinarily raucous occasion without the public events that usually accompany it, why not sit down with this list of movies that will ignite your imagination and make you feel slightly better about being alone. From murderous doppelgangers to psychotic ex-lovers, these are warped portrayals of infatuation, passion and family you could only live without.
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Kicking off our list is Black Box, a dark maze of psyche that evokes recent hits Get Out and Inception. Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) wakes following a car accident that killed his wife unable to recall anything about his life, including his ten-year-old daughter, Ava. Desperate to step up and provide for his family, he signs up for an experimental treatment to recover his memory that casts his past into doubt. Expect less jump scares and more emotive conundrums, carried well by the cast; for how long should we carry a hurt, and how can we let it go when it is tied to our blood?
Marriage fraying after a tragic loss, a Swedish couple’s camping retreat in the woods quickly disintegrates into a terrifying ordeal. Their Groundhog Day-esque nightmare is orchestrated by a gang of three antagonists, led by a dapperly dressed sadistic old gentleman who seems to have no shortage of methods to torture the beleaguered spouses, regardless of where they run. A surrealist parable of unexpressed grief, Koko-di Koko-da’s refilling smorgasbord of misery will frustrate some and intrigue others, but indisputably it is maddeningly compelling viewing.
The Duke of Burgundy
An emotionally frank and compelling take on the complexities of kink, told through the relationship of two lesbian entomology academics; in other words, a yes from us. Unlike director and screenwriter Peter Strickland’s other cinematic offerings, this film errs on the side of drama rather than horror, but it’s intensity in portraying the contentious dynamics of Cynthia and Evelyn is at times discomforting. The chemistry of the two leads – Sidse Babett Knudsen as the older and compliantly dominant Çynthia, and Chiara D’Anna as her former student and eager sub Evelyn – is sensational, the competing pull of their own sexual desires and mutual need for the other played out quite beautifully.
A truly haunting tale of misplaced identity and celebrity ownership, Perfect Blue follows J-Pop star Mima Kirigoe as she attempts to pivot her career from girl group member to actress. However, some obsessive members of her fanbase believe that her moves to get away from her squeaky-clean image are proof of an imposter and will stop at nothing to protect the ‘real’ Mima. This anime film is a classic psychological horror that’s filled with second glances and spurious intentions, perfect fodder for not leaving the house.
The much anticipated second offering from horror’s new wonderkid Jordan Peele came swiftly after 2018’s wildly successful Get Out, and cemented his status as one of the coolest, creepiest auteurs in the game today. Everything is a tool at his disposal to build an unrivalled atmosphere of foreboding, and he does so with aplomb. From the score to the costume, Peele makes every detail a star, creating a space for the cast to become supernovas. The plot centres on Lupita Nyong’o’s Adelaide, matriarch of a middle-class family tormented by twisted mirror-image counterparts with nefarious intentions. Tongue-in-cheek and irreverently political, Us is a film that calls into question the comforts kinship affords many of us.
Otherwise known as the film that gave the world the legend of siren Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct will make you wary of ever sharing a bed again. Sex and murder is this neo-noir’s bread and butter, a fact embraced by cast and production to controversial lengths. A detective played by Michael Douglas while investigating the gruesome passing of a rock star meets and subsequently is enraptured by Stone’s Catherine Tramell, a bewitching writer and bisexual icon who seems to draw out the most intensely human reactions from everyone she encounters. You might side-eye your Tinder date after watching, but if they’re as enigmatic as Catherine maybe it’s worth it?
Killing of A Sacred Deer
This offbeat psychological horror is staccato in its delivery, and all the more impactful because of it. Supernatural forces descend on the family of Steven and Anna Murphy (Colin Farrell and Nichole Kidman) after Steven, a doctor, meets Martin, a teenage boy suffering after the loss of his father in a car accident. Barry Keoghan is refrained and sinister as Martin, and long-time Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator Farrell delivers in the heavy role that grapples with the weight of a life.
This grisly and frequently disturbing addition to our list, penned during the director’s own divorce, portrays a couple whose marriage rests on the teetering brink of madness. Everything about this film is intended to provoke the audience, from graphic depictions of an abortion in a U-Bahn station to frenzied murders. Insipid reactions are unlikely, but if you can stomach it Possession is an uncompromising analysis of two deeply engrossing characters dressed in the gratuities of horror; simply, well worth a watch.
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