A Tale of Two Sisters
Writer-director Kim Jee-woon burst onto the K-horror field with this fractured retelling of a traditional Korean folktale. Siblings Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) chafe under the tyrannous yoke of their aloof stepmother (Yum Jung-ah). Or do they? Because A Tale of Two Sisters is nothing if not unclear: Kim calculatingly blurs the boundaries between past and present, dream and reality, bombarding viewers with a kaleidoscopic blur of spectral apparitions and sudden violence that’s likely to leave viewers as terminally confused as young Su-mi. Mining the same vein of menstrual horror as the far more streamlined Carrie, Kim’s film doubles down on De Palma, cheekily suggesting its various haunted recesses—a linen closet, the dank space beneath the kitchen sink—as metaphorical vagina substitutes. Wilkins
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Many horror films from the 2000s are so eager to splatter and slice their way into our hearts that they end up covering their canvases in bloody clichés. Not so with Sam Raimi’s masterfully paced throwback, which is smart enough to withhold its more disturbing visceral elements until the very last moment. This directorial restraint allows the perfectly calibrated sound design and dread-inducing mise-en-scène to drive the viewer mad with anticipation. Anchored by Allison Lohman’s brilliant performance as a loan officer fated for Hades’s gallows, Drag Me to Hell is as much about greed as it is culpability, or more specifically our arrogant attempts to cover up sin even when the devil herself is staring us down. Heath Jr.
Oculus begins in dreams before freely hopscotching between Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites) present-day sleuthing and the horrors that, 11 long years ago, sent her to foster care and him to a mental institution. Through a mini-triumph of montage, what begins as run-of-the-mill backstory vomit is thrillingly repackaged as an almost-Lynchian duet between warring states of consciousness. The story’s antique wall mirror, as it tightens its grip on the brother and sister, forces them to waltz alongside their younger selves during their parents’ last days, and subsequently the depth of the siblings’ fraught relationship to their shared past is put into poignant focus. Throughout, Mike Flanagan’s keying of his formalist frights to his characters’ subjectivities makes Oculus both a scarier and wittier haunted-house attraction than James Wan’s The Conjuring. Gonzalez
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
With Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Spike Lee considerably ratchets up the sex and violence from the relatively chaste Ganja & Hess, ultimately dwelling on them, as is his wont, as mutating transmissions of power, which are further altered, evaded, or surrogated by vices (blood, booze, drugs) that nurture cyclical addictions that are hypocritically and alternately enabled and punished through all institutions: work, hospital, and even church. These intensified exaggerations poignantly dwarf this film’s Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams), an outwardly milder, aloof man who lacks the working-class masculine grandeur that Duane Jones brought to the role—a revision that deliberately plays into Lee’s obsession with success as a potential emasculator. Lee satirizes, and indulges, that preoccupation in Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, which follows Greene as an African curse literally empowers/imprisons him as a destroyer of pointedly lower class women. Bowen
As rabble-rousing talk radio host Grant Mazzy, Stephen McHattie has a voice like a baritone snake, equal parts silky and sinister, and it’s very pointedly the main attraction of Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool. When his A.M. gig reporting school closings and interviewing clownish local theater troupes is interrupted by reports of unruly mobs tearing people to shreds with their mouths, he and the radio station’s producer and technician must sense of the apparent mayhem brewing outside, the cause of which eventually turns out to be the spoken word itself. Talk Radio by way of George A. Romero, the film implyies that terms of endearment, baby gibberish, and military-related talk—all of which seem to be particularly contagious—have been so misused as to have dangerously lost all meaning. Schager