BETTER WATCH OUT
A wonderfully subversive take on the home invasion subgenre, Better Watch Out shares the kind of joyfully anarchic anti-Holidays vibe which has made the likes of Gremlins such an alternative Christmas favourite. Spoilt and precocious 12 year-old son Lukas (Levi Miller) has been left in the capable hands of his regular babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) when his parents head out for a yuletide bash. As the duo settle in for an innocent evening of popcorn and TV, it soon transpires that all is not right and there might be unwanted guests lurking both outside and within the house. Imagine Home Alone remade by Michael Haneke and you’re somewhere close to the twisted delights on display here. Miller is a revelation as the teen who may not be everything he seems, and the bloodletting and violence is as far removed as humanly possible from the kind of cartoonish slapstick made famous in that seasonal Macaulay Culkin megahit.
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THE NEON DEMON
A film which failed to find a Drive-sized cult audience in cinemas, 2016’s The Neon Demon see’s director Nicolas Winding Refn refusing to play it safe after the similarly impressionistic and esoteric God Only Forgives. But what seems to have been lost on some disgruntled viewers is just how humorous this film is. There’s some genuinely laugh-out loud moments amongst the more provocative content. The ending in particular will either have you reaching for the sick bag or marvelling at just how much Winding Refn delights at putting his audience through the wringer. Make no mistake, The Neon Demon is divisive as hell, but if you’re up for a dark and perverse fairy tale-like parable of the modelling industry (complete with a stunning synth score by the director’s regular collaborator Cliff Martinez) this is definitely the film for you.
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When is a vampire film not a vampire film? It would be wrong to label The Transfiguration as fantasy cinema and even calling it a genre film feels a little disingenuous. Remove the scenes of blood-drinking and what The Transfiguration resembles most is a fascinating, if disturbing, slice of authentic street-level social realism. Troubled teen Milo (a wonderfully understated turn by lead Eric Ruffin) has a growing obsession with vampire lore. After meeting and bonding with the equally damaged, self-harming Sophie (Chloe Levine) Milo’s behaviour becomes increasingly troubling as he fails to separate fantasy from reality. The Transfiguration is solid proof there’s still plenty of bite left in the cinematic exploration of that particular horror mythos, and that well-worn material can be mined and remodelled into something entirely fresh and thought-provoking.
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The long-awaited big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s popular mid-eighties novel succeeds in shifting the original’s setting forward a couple of decades to create a mildly Spielbergian/Stranger Things vibe – accentuated by the casting of that show’s Finn Wolfhard in scene-stealing form here as crude motormouth teen Richie Tozier. This is a fun and frightening mainstream horror effort which did huge business at the box office last year. It also manages to achieve the seemingly impossibly task of making you forgot Tim Curry’s now iconic interpretation of the supernatural harbinger of doom in clown form, Pennywise, from the nineties TV miniseries. Aided by some inventive digital work, Bill Skarsgård is absolutely terrifying here as the villain. Chapter two arrives next September, so here’s your opportunity to revisit or even familiarise yourself with King’s supremely creepy rite of passage yarn.
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LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Like The Transfiguration, this is also a vampire film with a difference. A more literal take on the legend of the undead, Let the Right One In is a chilling twist on the boy-meets-girl tween romance. For starters, the girl-next-door is more interested in procuring blood than the latest kid’s fashion accessory. Set in a wintery Stockholm suburb in the early eighties, Tomas Alfredson’s acclaimed 2008 horror received the remake treatment with Matt Reeves’ 2010 Let Me In. The original remains the superior adaptation, however (it’s derived from a 2004 novel of the same title). When a young outsider called Oskar meets his mysterious new neighbour Eli, she brings him out of his shell and encourages him to stand up to the bullies who make his school life a living hell. Problem is Eli is a little sensitive to sunlight and she may be involved with the recent spite of grisly murders around the neighbourhood. Let the Right One In is an unforgettable blend of coming-of-age drama and horror movie.
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