Every year, major film festivals around the world host the premieres of many horror movies that may take time to reach larger audiences. For example, Osgood Perkins’s directorial debut February played festivals in 2015 but isn’t being released until January of 2017 under a new title (The Blackcoat’s Daughter). This can be frustrating for horror fans, but keeping up on festival films is the best way to find the best new films the genre has to offer in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future. Here are 5 horror movies to watch for in 2017 that made big impressions at film festivals in 2016.
Countless Blair Witch Project hopefuls have hit the big screen and home video since that film’s massive success, leading to a glut of “found footage” horror movies from big studios and independent filmmakers alike. The time has come for someone to give “found footage” the kind of treatment Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon gave to slasher movies: a smart, funny satire of the form that happens to double as an excellent example of it. Found Footage 3D follows an independent film crew trying to make a “found footage” movie that will stand out, so their producer comes up with a gimmick. But while shooting the world’s first 3D “found footage” movie, the lines between reality and the movie they’re shooting blur as tensions mount between the frazzled cast and crew. In addition to being very funny and having a fantastic cast, Found Footage 3D features some brilliantly inventive uses for its 3D. This is a 3D movie that absolutely must be seen on the big screen for maximum effect. The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival and was a hit at a number of other festivals around the world. Here’s hoping in 2017 more audiences get a chance to see the ultimate (and only) experience in 3D found footage horror!
While visiting cult filmmaker James Bryan to work on new releases for some of his films, the folks at horror zine and VHS/DVD label Bleeding Skull happened to find the tapes with the footage for Jungle Trap. Bryan informed them that he had completed shooting the film, but was never able to secure funding to finish it. Eager to help him get the film out into the world, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money to complete the film in 2015. And so the finished version of Jungle Trap had its epically delayed world premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Bleeding Skull commissioned a completely original score for the film that is absolutely note-perfect for this style of movie, and the result is a real treat for fans of 80s and 90s shot-on-video horror. Bryan’s frequent collaborator Renee Harmon stars as the head of a research group sent to retrieve a priceless artifact from a native tribe wiped out by industrial development. When they arrive they find a strange hotel deep in the heart of the jungle, and soon they learn the tribe may not be extinct after all. On top of all that, she also has to deal with her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Jungle Trap is a weird, wild time capsule of a different era of independent horror filmmaking. Bleeding Skull will be releasing Jungle Trap in 2017, likely on DVD and limited edition VHS.
It’s seems like a very long time ago now, but there used to be a time when cosmic horror was actually scary. Now we live in a world where you can learn your ABCs with Lovecraft and his creations or snuggle up with a Hello Cthulhu plushy. Enter The Void, the latest feature from Astron 6 members Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (Manborg). While Astron 6 is mostly known as a comedy group, much of their humor is exceptionally dark and unsettling. It makes perfect sense that when they decided to go all-out for their first serious horror film, they really went for it. Trapped in a mostly abandoned hospital, a small-town deputy and the hospital’s skeleton crew have to deal with a horrific supernatural force beyond human understanding. The Void plays out somewhat like a familiar siege thriller, but its phenomenal practical effects set it apart from other modern independent horror films. Gillespie and Kostanski also have a firm grasp on what makes the best cosmic horror so effective, making this one of the best horror films of its type since From Beyond. After a successful festival run in 2016, The Void was acquired by Screen Media Films for U.S. distribution and will hopefully be hitting big screens in early 2017.
A Dark Song
There are countless horror films about the occult, but A Dark Song may be the first to approach the subject so methodically. Sophia (Catherine Walker) enlists the reluctant occultist Joseph (Steve Oram) to assist her in an extremely complicated and dangerous magick ritual that will require the two of them to be sealed in a remote home together for several months. As the two perform a seemingly endless litany of mentally and physically exhausting rites, reality begins to break down and their fragile partnership threatens to splinter. With incomprehensible forces bearing down on them, Sophia and Joseph must push through and complete the ritual or risk failure and a fate far worse than death. A Dark Song features a pair of spectacular lead performances by Walker and Oram, whose characters are put through grueling rites that test them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s a slow burning, powerfully affecting horror drama that marks an impressive feature directorial debut for Liam Gavin. A Dark Song had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2016 and has been picked up for distribution by IFC Midnight, who will hopefully be releasing the film sooner rather than later in 2017.
This was a great year for debut feature directors: Raw is the third film on this list after Found Footage 3D and A Dark Song to be directed by a first-time feature filmmaker, and it’s one of the best horror films of the year. Garance Marillier delivers an amazing performance as Justine, an incoming freshman at the cut-throat veterinary school where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf, also excellent) is an upperclassman. Their family raised Justine and Alexia to be strict vegetarians, but part of Justine’s hazing requires her to eat raw, bloody meat. What would normally be a more or less harmless gag triggers a physical change in Justine, who begins to crave blood and flesh–including other people. As Justine tries to keep her ever-increasing lust for raw meat under control, the relationship between the formerly close sisters curdles into a bitter rivalry. In some ways, Raw plays as an updated version of Ginger Snaps, another film that used violent, uncontrollable impulses to explore how burgeoning sexuality can cause rifts between close female siblings. Raw is more complicated and nuanced, though, shot through with a wicked streak of black humor but also more intimately observed. It’s a brilliant debut feature, and Focus Features will be distributing the film in 2017. Don’t miss it.