A History of Violence
Unconditional love and true evil are both core family values in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, a cinematic shotgun blast to the face that splits the classic American dream in half. After effortlessly dispatching two wayward thugs, father, husband, restaurant owner, and gangster-in-hiding Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) finds himself physically and emotionally cornered like a classic western outlaw. As Tom’s splintering identity sheds an outer layer of artifice to reveal a snakes skin underneath, brutal physical violence becomes his only communication device. But the real horror resides in the deafening silence of the film’s aching final shot: a quiet dinner table standoff foreshadowing years of familial hell to come. Heath Jr.
Let Me In
How fitting it is that the vampiric Ronald Reagan makes a cameo in Let Me In, the most unexpectedly tender, affecting film of its kind since Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. The creatures of the night and the anguish of a generation raised by hypocrites and yuppies fit right into Matt Reeves’s heartfelt depiction of ’80s suburbia, a society that’s ravaged itself on a steady diet of fear. Distinctly warmer in tone than the Swedish original (and featuring a newly conceived carjacking sequence as nail-bitingly prodigious as anything in Hitchcock), this justified remake nonetheless finds equal levels of unrest and hurt among its cast of characters, eschewing traditional notions of villains and heroes with a dramatically ambiguous push-and-pull of overlapping, conflicting motivations. Kids, cops, bullies, killers, and even a vampire seem to share the same twisted soul. The bloodshed is tragic regardless, while a deceptively upbeat tone guards the true nature of the sinister conclusion—the end of this story, but more importantly, the beginning of another just like it. Rob Humanick
The Strangers is practically an abstraction, an old-school spooker spun from the blood splatter on a wall, a nearby record player scratching an oldie, a CB radio in the garage, a creaky swing set in the backyard. First-time helmer Bryan Bertino is beholden to genre quota, skidding the relationship of pretty young couple Kristen and James (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) before subjecting them to an after-dark home invasion. But he offers no profound rationale for why she refuses his marriage proposal; like the shadowy stranger that comes knocking at their door (eerily asking, “Is Tamara home?”), it’s something that just happens. Plying an old-school artistry that begins with a creepy montage of bumblefuck houses and holds up almost without fail until the strangers offer a creepy non-justification for their transgressions, analog-man Bertino teases with the unknown until he’s left no pimple ungoosed. Sometimes avoiding the synapse-raping bad habits of splat packers Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja is its own reward; doing so without also submitting to Michael Haneke–style hand-slapping is nearly monumental. Ed Gonzalez
Frank Darabont pulls off an impressive coup with The Mist, making the human monsters more unnerving, vile, and volatile than the genetically mutated creatures stalking their every move. After dense fog suddenly blankets a Northeastern coastal town, many of the citizens band together inside a local supermarket to wait out the crippling weather. As time passes, collective annoyance and unrest turns to fear, dissent, and ultimately divisive rage, creating a tenuous moral landscape driven by shifting mob mentalities. Extreme ideology becomes the characters’ sharp-edged weapons of choice, and the result is pure savagery, a Lord of the Flies-style community apocalypse that leads to a blunt-force ending both resolutely depressing and bravely fitting. In the face of collective doubt and panic, even the best of us are beasts of burden. Heath Jr.
Hoody-clad sadists attack a couple, alone in their country home. That’s all the setup that co-writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud need to dredge up some uniquely discomfiting chills. You won’t be able to shake Them after seeing it because it’s scary without being grisly or full of cheap jump scares. Instead, it’s a marvel of precise timing and action choreography. The silence that deadens the air between each new assault becomes more and more disquieting as the film goes on. Likewise, the house where Them is primarily set in seems to grow bigger with each new hole the film’s villains tear out of. To get the maximum effect, be sure to watch this one at night; just don’t watch it alone. Abrams