Here’s my top 12 horror and cult movies (from the Cult strand and elsewhere) in this year’s 2021 London Film Festival. #1 is an all-timer. A phenomenal year for the LFF!
1. Titane (Dir: Julia Ducournau)
A psychotherapist’s paradise. Shades of Claire Denis’s Bastards meets Alain Robak’s Baby Blood, Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo, by way of the New French Extremity, the Cinéma Du Look, and Lars Von Trier… but ultimately pure Ducournau, a director whose personal vision is somehow distinct after just 2 (wonderful) features. Develops and expands on body horror themes of Raw. If she keeps evolving at this rate, what a career awaits. Currently my number one film of the year.
2. Boiling Point (Dir: Philip Barantini)
An overwhelmingly tense exercise in controlled pressure, set in and around the kitchen of a high-end London restaurant, filmed in real time in one shot as everything falls apart over the space of 92 minutes. Head chef Stephen Graham superbly anchors the drama, but Vinette Robinson as his sous chef might just be the best thing in it. Emotionally brutal, stylistically brilliant… and it gave me anxiety through the fricking roof.
3. The Medium (Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun)
One of the best exorcism movies I’ve ever seen, one of the best found footage movies I’ve ever seen, and I’d go so far as to say this is the best Thai horror I’ve ever seen. From the (Thai) director of Shutter, and the (South Korean) writer of The Wailing. Pan-asian horror royalty!
4. Dashcam (Dir: Rob Savage)
Dashcam delivers escalating found footage mayhem that plays like the very best V/H/S movie segments, but sustained for feature length. Funny, gross, chaotic, ridiculous… enormous fun. This is smartly made horror by very skilled people – great jump scares, blasts of anxiety and intoxicating chaos, and it knows not to outstay its welcome. A real rollercoaster of a movie.
5. Benedetta (Dir: Paul Verhoeven)
Paul Verhoeven’s tale of sexy convent intrigue, Benedetta, has just the right mix of deadpan-but-broad humour on the surface, and genuine theological inquiry running deeper and quieter underneath. Excellent work by Virginie Efira and Charlotte Rampling. Louise Chevilotte (also in Garrel’s Lover For A Day) also very good here.
6. Lamb (Dir: Valdimar Jóhannsson)
Maria’s (Noomi Rapace) quiet Icelandic farmstead existence upturned when one of her sheep gives birth to a very special little lamb. No spoilers, but me at 37 minutes: this better be going somewhere. Me at 38 minutes: WHAT THE HELL. This is also basically a remake of The Searchers, if you squint hard enough. An absurdist fable that ends in a horror fantasy.
7. Bull (Dir: Paul Andrew Williams)
“Spin it like you’re trying to kill us.” Neil Maskell is the titular ‘Bull’ – and all his old mates are the proverbial china shop. Full review here.
8. Earwig (Dir: Lucile Hadzihalilovic)
I loved Earwig, Lucile Hadžihalilović’s deliberately paced and Renfield-centric reformulation of vampiric tropes. Set in an anglophone Mitteleuropa somewhere in the 20th century. Jean Rollin influences; misty woodlands in the gloom of a winter light. Quiet like a dying breath.
9. The Rope (First 2 episodes of TV series)
A small group of scientists isolated in a Norway base discovers a mysterious rope, seemingly endless, which runs along their observatory and sinks into the forest. Some decide to follow it, others decide to stay. This absurdist sci-fi adjacent tale (adapted from a novel) might annoy people who seek easy answers and neat solutions, but it delighted me.
10. Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon (Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour)
Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon follows a possibly disturbed North Korean psychic as she escapes from psychiatric care and cuts a swathe through New Orleans’s underbelly in the company of her grifter/stripper frenemy Kate Hudson. The was unexpectedly very sweet. I loved these characters!
11. Encounter (Dir: Michael Pearce)
Encounter comes on like William Friedkin’s Bug remade with a dash of Midnight Special; a touching tale of paranoid schizophrenia, a cross-border manhunt and father-son bonding. But it works… apart, that is, from literally the last 2 minutes which I found to be somewhat implausible. But destination aside it’s a hell of a ride.
12. La Abuela (The Grandmother; Dir: Paco Plaza)
A Paris model returns to Madrid to tend to her grandmother, who raised her, and has had a stroke. But as the days tick by with her sickly relative, the situation starts to turn decidedly nightmarish. Gran mal, so to speak.
The 2021 London Film Festival ran from 6-17 October.