• Happy Death Day (2017)

    Happy Death Day tells the story of the condescending, dismissive and self-centred student Theresa who gets killed by a masked assailant on her birthday. However, she doesn't die and wakes up in the morning of the same day. Theresa quickly realizes that she must uncover her assailant's identity to survive her birthday and therefore break the curse of experiencing her own death over and over again. Along with a male acquaintance she spent the night with, she starts investigating her potential enemies, their motives and alibis. While doing so, Theresa realizes how her own flaws have let to this tragic situation and she attempts to become a better person.

    Happy Death Day is one of best horror movies in recent memory. Instead of focusing on gore and special effects, the film works with a desperate, gloomy and mysterious atmosphere and a few efficient jump scares. 

    However, the film has much more going for it. It focuses on a stunning character development as a superficial, rude and egocentric teenage girl slowly becomes a profound, joyful and empathetic young woman. This film can be considered a coming-of-age drama and it's one of the best of its kind.

    As if those elements weren't enough, Happy Death Day also tells us an interesting love story that becomes more and more profound as the film progresses. 

    It also deals with family and friendship issues in a dramatic way. 

    To lighten things up, the movie also includes humorous parts which mostly consist of absurd situation comedy and a few quirky dialogues. 

    However, this movie succeeds where films and franchises like Evil Dead and Scream have failed before: the humorous elements never take away from the sinister moments as Happy Death Day feels perfectly balanced. 

    The movie is genuinely entertaining from start to finish and once it's over, you simply feel like watching this roller coaster ride again and embrace this movie's unique atmosphere. 

    Some critics and viewers have slammed the movie for having a plot that borrows heavily from the concept of Groundhog Day. This is true but Happy Death Day is executed with so much energy and originality that it simply doesn't matter. Even if you are familiar with the concept, this film will still keep you guessing from start to finish. You probably won't see this movie's outcome coming either.

    In the end, Happy Death Day is among the very best movies of the year and massively exceeded my expectations. If you like clever horror and coming-of-age movies, you can't get around this film. Happy Death Day is best enjoyed around Halloween with your friends.

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  • The Ravenous / Les Affamés (2017)

    Les Affamés, also known as The Ravenous in English, is a French- Canadian survival horror movie. It manages to stand out because it focuses on strong characters and their will to live instead of the usual stereotypes. As a matter of fact, the term zombie isn't used once in this movie.

    The film actually starts several weeks after human beings have transformed into flesh-feasting creatures. The movie never tries to explain how or why this happened to avoid genre stereotypes that would only artificially stretch this movie. The movie also avoids to explain how the zombie apocalypse might end and doesn't come around with a surprising deus ex machina. This fits the calm, realistic and serious vibe of the movie. The film focuses on about half a dozen characters and their fight for survival from start to finish. The core of this movie reminds me a little bit of M. Nght Shyamalan's The Happening. I know this movie got very negative reviews while Les Affamés is critically acclaimed which doesn't make any sense to me. I really like both films because they take their audience seriously and don't offer shallow explanations for supernatural phenomenons.

    The movie actually follows three different groups that end up getting together towards the middle and last third of the film. We follow a young man with a bad sense of humour who is trying to fight those creatures and save the few survivors by driving through the countryside in his truck. After losing his best friend in a trap set by the flesh-feasting creatures, he joins forces with a resilient woman who claims to have been bitten by a dog. Can he really trust her?

    A young mother has lost her entire family to the hordes of zombies while she had an appointment with her beautician. She is driven by the will to kill as many of those creatures as possible. In the beginning, she is alone on her suicidal mission but ends up meeting two elderly women who have transformed their property into a fortress. Can the two elderly woman trust the vengeful lone wolf?

    A teenager has also lost his family to the zombies and even had to kill some family members who had been bitten by the zombies. He strolls through the woods, desperate and not knowing what to do and where to go. There, he meets an old and injured man who had to kill his own wife who had been infected by the zombies. Can the two soulmates stick together despite their difference in age?

    Aside of really profound, diversified and authentic characters, the movie also convinces with stunning landscapes shot in Ham-Nord, the hometown of director Robin Aubert. It's obvious that he was familiar with every bunker, farm, forest, meadow and mine in the region as each location is used very efficiently throughout the movie.

    Even though this movie is everything but a superficial zombie flick, genre enthusiasts will still get what they can expect from such a movie. The duels between humans and zombies are quite graphic, intense and violent. The film comes around with a few jump scares as well. Despite a few minor humorous elements, the overall mood of the film is quite gloomy.

    Despite its low budget, this movie is one of the better zombie films in recent memory. The atmosphere, characters, dialogues, landscapes and mystery of the film make it both an entertaining and unique experience. Genre fans should definitely give this movie a try. Even though the dialogues in French are only subtitled, they are short and concise and overall easy to follow, so don't let that little detail scare you off.

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  • Raw / Grave (2016)

    Raw, originally titled Grave, is one of the most controversial and interesting horror movies in recent memory. In times like these, it's quite difficult to push genre boundaries and shock people but this film certainly achieved both. Some critics praise this movie as being almost revolutionary, others find it repulsive and bizarre. During screenings, some people stayed until the very end, others ran out of the cinema in the middle of the movie and some had to throw up. One thing's for certain: this movie isn't for the faint-hearted. And no matter what the rating in different countries might say: this movie is only for adults. Watching this movie with your underage children, even if they are seventeen years old and very mature, would be irresponsible in my book and I'm certainly not a conservative mind. You have been warned.

    Without giving too much away, this film is about cannibalism and shows some very graphic scenes. However, there is more to this movie than people eating people. The film criticizes stupid initiation rituals at universities and sends out a very clear message: If you don't like something, don't let anyone force you to like it. Stand your ground and stand by your convictions. This movie also tells us another truth: you can choose your friends but you certainly can't choose your family. I know a lot of people who blindly worship their families no matter what but this film shows that those people can be wrong. The family members of the protagonist are no examples to follow and she would have been better off without them. The third element this film criticizes is how many vegans and vegetarians still face prejudice day by day. I'm certainly everything but a militant vegan but it is important to respect the choices people make even if you might personally disagree with them. The movie shows some problems without preaching anything. This is positive. Some people might become vegans after watching this film but that isn't the intention behind it. By the way, I enjoyed some excellent salmon with capres, mushrooms and pasta after the movie.

    As you can read, this film offers some interesting elements to think about. Another strong element are the settings of the movie. This French-Belgian movie takes place in the beautiful city of Liège but you won't see any of its beauty. The film introduces us to exchangeable university buildings and student apartments which add to the movie's gloomy vibe. These settings also make the movie more authentic and show how the story told in it could happen anywhere. 

    The general vibe of the movie makes me think of the video game Life Is Strange. The movie takes place in a small town with a lot of students where everybody starts to know one another quickly and where something gloomy is lurking behind the surface. This film might offer some slices of life in the beginning but the sinister atmosphere really keeps it together.

    The acting is also quite strong, simply because the actors don't overact and convince as fairly normal people. On the other side, it takes guts to play what the two main actresses are performing in this film. Despite the raw images, lead actresses Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf have their own distinct personalities and remain human despite the inhuman things that are going on.

    While most horror movies have weak explanations or illogical sequences, Raw comes around with a minor twist at the very end that puts things into perspective as it explains why the things we have witnessed actually happened. There are still some illogical passages here and there but let's keep in mind that this is a low-budget production and also a work of fiction. Despite some errors, I didn't have any trouble getting into this movie.

    Raw isn't a particularly suspenseful or scary movie. It starts like a coming-of-age drama and slowly evolves towards a body horror movie. The movie's unique approach alone keeps its momentum going until the very end. Despite all the graphic violence, it's well-made and you just can't take your eyes off the screen.

    In the end, you should watch Raw if you have a strong stomach and sympathize with the body horror and teenage drama genres. Raw is certainly a unique experience. As strange as it sounds, I liked the film for the reasons mentioned above and it certainly is a movie I won't forget anytime soon.

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  • It (2017)

    IT offers an excellent mixture of a coming-of-age drama and a supernatural horror movie. What I like about this film adaptation is how the film respects both sides on a perfectly balanced level. We are introduced to the lives of outcast teenage boys and one teenage girl who have to deal with severe cases of bullying, complicated family issues and their conflicting feelings for one another. As if that weren't enough to deal with, they also realize that the fact that numerous kids have been abducted in their hometown Derry isn't a mere coincidence. Behind its peaceful, calm and boring small town appearance, Derry seems to be a cursed place with a hideous past where a mysterious supernatural entity feeds on children's fears before consuming them literally. The outcast teenagers decide to take action and stop the monstrous entity with their curiosity, friendship and perseverance as weapons.

    IT takes place in the late eighties and this movie manages to take its audience back in time thanks to the timeless small town buildings, particular hairstyles and clothes and a fitting soundtrack. The film works so efficiently because it's easy for the audience to picture itself in these settings during their childhood years. The acting performances only increase this movie's authenticity. The teenagers all have different strengths and weaknesses and are refreshingly grounded and normal which is a welcome alternative to the popular world of superheroes and super-villains. The movie also has a strong cultural and intellectual side as it includes many allusions and references to Stephen King's other works. Some examples for this would be the town of Derry that serves regularly as setting for Stephen King's novels, the friendship between outcast teenagers in the key of Stand by Me and several allusions to thrash metal band Anthrax that has written numerous lyrics inspired by Stephen King's novels.

    You won't see the one hundred fifteen minutes pass as this immersive movie is very entertaining thanks to its mysterious story, authentic settings and profound characters. Due to the fact that the film takes place in the eighties, it is quite accessible for adults who will experience numerous deja-vu moments but its timeless brilliance should also be appealing to older teenagers who might easily identify with one or several characters in the movie. IT is a late summer blockbuster you shouldn't miss.

    On a closing side-note, this movie is the first part of a duology. The content of this movie takes place in the late eighties while the second movie is supposed to show what the characters, the supernatural entity and the town have become twenty-seven years later with some flashbacks from the past. These two story lines are similar to the way the original novel was written. You can watch this movie separately from the sequel but it wouldn't be possible to watch the sequel without watching this first instalment.

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  • Snarveien / Detour (2009)

    Snarveien, better known as Detour, is a classic Norwegian horror movie. The story is quickly told. A young couple that illegally smuggles alcohol has to take a detour because of an accident and gets stranded on an abandoned road in the woods. Soon, strange things start to happen. They get into an aggressive argument with an obscene stranger at a gas station, realize that their wheels got destroyed on purpose, run into a confused female fugitive, cross the path of a mysterious police officer and meet a secluded family with an unspeakable secret.

    While the characters and the story are quite predictable, there are several things I liked about this film. First of all, it doesn't overstay its welcome with a very reasonable length of seventy-seven minutes. Secondly, the movie doesn't focus on brutal torture scenes or cheap jump scares but develops a gloomy and mysterious atmosphere from start to finish. Thirdly, the characters might be predictable but they are still somewhat interesting. Martin is a young man who tries to protect his girlfriend but can't hide that he is scared to death which makes him authentic. He gets a bonus point for wearing a cool Black Sabbath shirt. His girlfriend Lina is the heroine of this movie and turns out to be a courageous, resilient and tough pregnant woman who fights to save those she loves and everyone around her. She's a sympathetic character and viewers will care about her survival story. A special shoutout goes out to the female fugitive Lotta who manages to look attractive to me despite the incredible hardship she is going through. Only the villains are somewhat one-dimensional and their background story is poorly developed.

    Snarveien might not be a memorable or innovative horror movie but it's an entertaining average horror film for genre fans with a consistent atmosphere that doesn't overstay its welcome. I have seen far more ambitious horror movies that were much worse. It's definitely a better alternative to the numerous boring remakes and sequels that are flooding the market these days.

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