We’re not even a full two months into 2017 and already we’re seeing some masterful celluloid creep into our lives. What the remainder of the year will offer remains to be seen, but with roughly 50 days in the can and 10 top notch films already at our disposal, the year looks wildly promising. Get a look at 10 of 2017’s early primers below.
CRUEL SUMMER slides comfortably into a crime/thriller categorization, but it’s horrific. Ah hell, it’s extremely horrific. Even worse, it’s a heartbreaking true story which sees an autistic and extremely innocent teen beaten savagely and eventually stabbed to death by a trio of ignorant teens who feel they’ve been wronged (sorry, no big spoilers on that front). The acting is alarmingly organic and the very, very long, drawn out death scene enters exploitative territory, though no calculation is made with cheap intention. CRUEL SUMMER is powerful, saddening and ultimately, a hopeless piece that hammers at the human psyche.
Jeff Ferrell isn’t a famous filmmaker yet, but if he can continue to assemble riveting features like DEAD WEST, we’ll all know his name in a few more years. The film delivers a stellar spin on the serial killer revenge concept, and it’s anchored by top notch performances from Jeffrey Arrington (a man out to settle a score) and Brian Sutherland (who I’m convinced might really be a serial killer) and some of the most natural dialogue you’ll hear on film. This one may not have been assembled on a staggering budget, but it is high caliber filmmaking that hopefully catches on with audiences who deserve to see greatness.
CAPTURE KILL RELEASE
Found footage is moving in a great direction. After a multi-year stretch of uninspired and cliché handy-cam flicks, filmmakers are finally respecting the art, and they’re dumping passionate work into these productions. Recent months have given us gems like HELL HOUSE LLC, BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE, #SCREAMERS, and CAPTURE KILL RELEASE keep that upward trend in quality alive. This film features one of the most disturbing murder and dismemberment sequences you’ll see on screen. We’re talking rivaling the legendary HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER scene. Even more good news about this one? The finale gives us a great little twist that proves extremely satisfying.
The name Christopher Smith should ring a bell with dedicated genre followers. He’s the evil genius that gave us sublime pics like CREEP, SEVERANCE, TRIANGLE and BLACK DEATH. Smith’s latest, DETOUR, isn’t an outright horror film, but it has enough genre influence and nods to be recognized as a genre installment. A damn good one, at that. It’s all about a young kid who’s been devastated by a serious injury his mother suffered, and his confidence that his step-father is responsible. Naturally, he gets himself into some heavy shit, and escaping that heavy shit may mean death, for a lot of people.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
It’s hard to find a terrific zombie film these days. TRAIN TO BUSAN (we’ll talk about that in a few) was genius, and RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER proved to be a lot more entertaining than I’d anticipated, but outside of those two films, the sub-genre has been growing stale in recent years. Enter THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (which, I suppose is technically more of a “rage virus” film than a zombie, though both styles of film fit hand in hand), an extremely emotional tale of a world that’s become an unwavering threat, with a passionate little lady, infected, but entirely pure of heart. The details are often intricate, so we’ll avoid speaking on the nitty gritty, but we will give this one an enormous recommendation. It’s a great picture.
GET THE GIRL
Eric England enjoys telling straight-forward stories that put protagonists in nearly impossible positions. He successfully did so in ROADSIDE, he successfully did so in CONTRACTED, and now he’s successfully done so in GET THE GIRL. The story is outlandish, but thoroughly entertaining as a timid young man goes to dangerous and unfathomable degrees to gain the attention of the girl he loves. He’s so dedicated to his mission that he’s willing to stage her kidnapping, just so that he can emerge the hero who saves the day. Unfortunately, there are a few surprises that throw his plan into a bloody tailspin.
With SPLIT being such a brand new, and scolding hot film, I’m particularly leery to share any details of the flick. We all know it’s about a man with a slew of (23) personalities who likes to engage in a little kidnapping in his free time. But what most don’t know is the man’s 24th personality, The Beast, and just how much that personality is going to rock the viewer. James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy play off one another faultlessly, but it’s really M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form that’s going to leave you absolutely mystified. Despite a few shaky films, Shyamalan has again proven he’s one of the most important cinematic visionaries of our generation.
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
Oz Perkins inherited his father’s (Anthony Perkins, of PSYCHO fame) knack for film, to put it mildly. The truth is, he’s a filmmaker with an undetectable ceiling, and if he can consistently create films as powerful of THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER, his legacy may very well surpass that of his father’s. This film takes beauty to new heights, and Hitchcock’s (coincidentally) influence on Perkins is both fitting and a true gift, because like Alfred Hitchcock, Oz Perkins successfully utilizes the slow burn, shadowed imagery and nurtured antagonist style that made Hitchcock so amazing. Perkins hasn’t quite mastered the protagonist just yet, but his understanding of the disturbed mind and the terror that a disturbed individual can unleash is a thing of beauty. Oz Perkins is one to watch, and THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is one of the absolute best of 2017, and won’t likely relinquish that position by the time 2018 rolls around.
TRAIN TO BUSAN
TRAIN TO BUSAN enjoyed some time on the festival circuit in 2016, and appeared in a very small handful of theaters in 2016, as well, but the film didn’t officially hit DVD and Blu-ray here in the US until 2017. And we’re thankful that it’s here. Korean filmmakers often create stunning films, and TRAIN TO BUSAN is yet another. On the surface it’s just a zombie movie on a train, but when you iron out the wrinkles, and you look beneath the sheet, there’s a powerful subplot about a broken family and an internal struggle to be selfless. It’s smart, it’s fast paced and it’s stuffed with some remarkable characters. On that note: respect to Dong-seok Ma, who plays the film’s true show-stealer, Sang Hwa.
Anthologies are rarely hit and miss as a whole, because we typically see a decent short or two mixed in with some subpar content. XX doesn’t present that problem, it’s a success from start to finish. Each of the four tales (including the eerie wraparound) are wildly unique to one another, yet each share the theme – to a loose extent – of familial troubles. The manner in which Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent and Jovanka Vuckovic assemble their pictures is highly stimulating, and often forces viewers to deal with an assortment of emotions. But even if you’re looking for some brainless entertainment, you’re going to get your fill here: there are monsters, corpses, agonizingly slow death and even a child born of something purely evil. There’s something here for everyone, and it is a joy to see 2017 open with a refined and engaging anthology like XX.