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Released: 2017
Directed by: F. Javier Gutiérrez

The Ring franchise has been lying dormant for some time in the US market, likely discouraged by the poor performance of The Ring Two upon its release over a decade prior. After the revival of the film series in Japan, with the recent release of Sadako Vs Kayako, a third film in the American series was rescued from development hell and unleashed onto the world – but was it worth the effort?

Rings tells the story of Julia, a teenage girl whose relationship with her boyfriend Holt begins to crumble once he moves away to college. After a cryptic comment about doing an extra credit assignment for his professor, he disappears and refuses to answer her calls for several days. After receiving an unnerving message from a stranger regarding Holt, Julia travels to his school find him, and in doing so, uncovers much more than she expected.

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The Forest

The Forestthe-forest
Released: 2016
Directed by: Jason Zada

The Aokigahara forest in Japan is quite infamous, and has long been surrounded by an air of mystery. The name itself means “sea of trees”, but it is colloquially known as the “Suicide Forest”. Upon entering, the density of the forest cuts off almost all outside sound, creating a sense of isolation. There are signs strategically placed at the entrance, urging visitors to seek help rather than take their own lives. It is estimated that an average of 30 successful suicides take place there annually, and more attempted. It is a place of deep sadness and cultural significance to many.

Of course, Hollywood had to try and find a way to make it about white Americans.

There is a natural fascination with foreign locations and curiosities, and Aokigahara certainly does have a unique history. It’s understandable that there’s a draw to this location, and a desire to tell stories about it. But using this location as an “exotic” backdrop for a rather mundane story does not do it justice. This is a location that could be deeply frightening and unsettling given the respect and attention it deserves in a horror film, but this film ultimately did not come close.

The Forest begins with Sara, a woman who is constantly bailing out her perpetually troubled twin sister, Jess, getting a sense that something is amiss with said sister. When she discovers that Jess is missing and was last seen going into Aokigahara, Sara immediately flies to Japan on a mission to save her sister’s life. However, once she arrives and begins her search, it becomes apparent that it may not just be Jess’s life that is in danger.

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We Are What We Are

We Are What We AreWe_Are_What_We_Are_2013
Released: 2013
Director: Jim Mickle

When thinking about cannibalism in fiction, most people will immediately draw from the image of Hannibal Lecter and his unique brand of imbuing terror into his presence. Make no mistake: Hannibal is scary, but he represents a very particular kind of cannibal, one that glides with such ease through social convention that he can easily hide in plain sight. There is something to be said, however, for the flip side of the coin: the characters who are truly misfits.

We Are What We Are tries its hand at representing such characters in the Parker family, a cannibalistic family unit that have been outsiders from the very start. Their situation only intensifies once Frank Parker’s wife is found dead from mysterious causes, and he becomes consumed by grief. In his grief he commands his two daughters, Rose and Iris, to take over the religious duties of the family, which were previously their mother’s responsibility. The girls are reluctant, and begin to question everything they’ve been taught up to this point.

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The Witch

The Witchthewitch
Released: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers

The Witch has been receiving vast amounts of praise leading up to its release, and so it’s difficult to imagine that the film could possibly live up to its reputation. Even Stephen King, considered one of the premiere crafters of horror in our time stated that the film terrified him. It’s a tough act to follow up on. One thing I did know going into this film, however, was this: the less you know when you go to see the film, the better your experience will be. So I did just that, hoping that my expectations would be met.

I didn’t know what to think when going in; I didn’t consider that my expectations would be exceeded entirely.

The Witch deals with a Puritanical family living in the 1600s; they lead a relatively simple life, though one that is isolated due to their expulsion fro their community for differences in worship. While the family struggles, they hope to make ends meet with their crops, and eventually prosper, even in their solitary life. All of this seems to be undone with the sudden disappearance of their infant child, setting off a chain of fear and paranoia that seeks to destroy everything in its path.

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Released: 2015
Director: Michael Dougherty

It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to warm up the fireplace, pour yourself a glass of eggnog, and stay in during the cold weather, enjoying some of your favorite holiday movies. Usually these holiday classics are more heartwarming fare, filled with hope and belief, with life affirming messages. Recently, comedies have started going the more cynical route, with more dysfunctional characters and relationships highlighted. Christmas horror films, however, have still been seemingly sparse.

Krampus, a film that is seeking an audience with both the cynical holiday crowd, as well as fans of the now-cult-favorite Christmas demon, is an attempt to give you a little bit of everything – with mixed results.

Krampus is the story of a family that is pushing its way through the general holiday dysfunctions to try their best and have a pleasant Christmas. Tom and Sarah are trying to keep things together while their children, Max and Beth, have their own concerns. Despite all of this, Max has a profound love and respect for the holiday, which he shares with his grandmother. Things are complicated when Sarah’s sister arrives with her family, and tensions rise. Angered by the actions of his family, Max defies his belief in Saint Nicholas and makes a wish – one he will soon come to regret.

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Dark Tarot

Dark Tarotdarktarot
Released: 2014
Director: David Landau, Jim Cocoliato

Usually when I come across a particularly low-budget attempt at a horror film, I cut the filmmakers a break. Even if it’s a failed attempt, I admire the spirit of it, the ambition involved, and the creativity needed for trying to work with so many limitations. And often enough, there’s a competent story in there, somewhere, obscured by the restrictions a lack of funding can cause. Giving films like this a bad review feels more like bullying; these films will more than likely fade into the background based on their own merit.

When films are bad and offensive, I’m somewhat less gentle with them.

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Inner Demons

Inner Demonsinnerdemons
Released: 2014
Director: Seth Grossman

Are you looking for something different in your movie watching experience – such as the glorification of Nice Guy syndrome, to the point where the line between “I’m just doing what’s best for you” and outright stalking is uncomfortably thin? Where the exploitation of a teenage girl’s mental anguish is a secondary plot to the way our male hero feels about her mental condition? Then do I have a treat for you.

For your enjoyment, I present Male Privilege: The Motion Picture.

Now I might sound like I’m being facetious in the previous statements, but I’m being honest: it’s really only a mild glossing over of the events in this film. I don’t think I can overstate how awful this story’s attitude is towards women, its romanticization of stalking, and its lack of respect towards consent. I sincerely felt dirty after watching it; it’s that bad.

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Cube 2: Hypercube

Cube 2: Hypercubehypercube
Released: 2002
Director: Andrzej Sekuła

Cube is a little bit of a guilty pleasure movie of mine. It’s a fun, if deeply flawed, film that utilizes two rather interesting concepts: survival horror, and a sort of take on a “bottle episode” (minimal use of sets, and minimal cast, used to semi claustrophobic effect). It had a sense of creativity that its sparse narrative required, and was inventive with the way it killed its characters – while preceding the torture porn genre by several years.

However, it also suffered from a major lack of character development, most of its characters falling into mostly archetypal roles, with predictable arcs. My hope when going into watching Hypercube, the sequel film, is that it would recognize the strengths and flaws in the first film, and seek to improve on them. In this regard, Hypercube ended up being a big disappointment for me.

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I Am a Ghost

I Am a Ghostiamaghost
Released: 2012
Director: H. P. Mendoza

Stories told from the point of view of a haunting spirit aren’t a new concept – it’s been explored in films such as The Others, Haunter, and the like. However, they haven’t yet reached a level of frequency to have exhausted their storytelling potential. I Am a Ghost uses this point of view to create a claustrophobic and emotionally charged character study as its central focus.

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Released: 2013
Director: Mike Flanagan

Mirrors have a long history of superstition and lore surrounding them – some cultures believe in their ability to trap souls, and others believe they can be a gateway into another realm when used correctly. On a smaller scale, I believe most of us have had at least one encounter with a mirror game as children; Bloody Mary was one of the most common ones in my memory. All things considered, it’s no surprise that the horror genre has latched onto the mirror as a tool for conveying terror and supernatural activity, to the point where it’s almost shocking when a film does not make use of a mirror gag.

Oculus takes the next logical step in this fixation, and makes the mirror itself the central focus of the horror in the story. Rather than allowing the mirror to take a secondary position as a gateway, or a form of communication, it makes the mirror a vessel of evil in and of itself. In doing so, it attempts to play on the characters’ and audience’s sense of truth, perception, and reality – and twist them all into unrecognizable shadows of themselves.

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