2016 was chock-full of big blockbuster releases, many of which either failed to make a sizable profit or were incredibly divisive among audiences. But out of the ashes rose a beautiful flower: the indie film. Yes, independent movies had a wonderful year, some even breaking per-theater records and making their way onto my favorites of 2016 list, which also includes a Denis Villeneuve film, a comic book series, collectibles, an excellent comprehensive horror documentary, and more.
Arrival: Denis Villeneuve's Arrival is a beautiful take on language and how communication (or the lack of proper communication) can either doom or ensure our survival as human beings on this planet. The way Villeneuve tells a story is the perfect fit for a film like Arrival because its focus is small but the ideas are big, much like his previous works, Enemy, Sicario, and Prisoners.
My hope is that the takeaway from Arrival will be to talk more and listen more so that events from this film stay in the realm of make-believe and don't become a harsh reality.
Trash Fire: I am a huge fan of Richard Bates Jr.'s film aesthetic. If you are familiar with Excision or Suburban Gothic, the color palette is slightly muted yet never muddled, and the editing is sometimes frantic but not in a way that is jarring or unnecessary. It doesn't come off gimmicky because he doesn't use these methods to tell the story, but rather uses them to accentuate the story. Trash Fire is no different, and that is a good thing!
I have seen Trash Fire three times—first at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and then two more times after it was released on VOD. The leads, Adrian Grenier and Angela Trimbur, play a couple so honest that you feel as though you are eavesdropping on their most personal and sensitive moments, and it is unsettling in the best way. Adding to the feeling of discomfort is Grenier's grandmother, who is so reprehensible that you want to think that a person like her doesn't exist. Unfortunately, I have relatives that harbor many of her beliefs, and Trash Fire makes me feel like I’m not alone in being the "Marilyn" of my family.
Equals: After their releases of The Witch, Under the Skin, Moonlight, and many others, I am starting to think that A24 can do no wrong. Another hit out of the park is Drake Doremus' (Like Crazy) Equals, which stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. I watched this film on Amazon Prime in the fall of 2016, and I still think about the film’s characters and themes presented against the backdrop of a stilted, minimalistic society that treats emotions like a disease that can be cured if detected early.
The young adult dystopian future movie has been very common since the release of the first Twilight, but this film is leagues above its counterparts. For a film about a world where emotions have been bred out of society, you would expect the characters' flat dispositions to lose their effectiveness after awhile, but they don't because of the incredible acting of Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, who convey what their characters are thinking while at the same time being unable to emote. The chemistry between the two is palpable. Aside from the fact that Silas and Nia are fated to be together because the script calls for it, you see why they should be a couple and why they fight for their love to survive.
Five Nights at Freddy's Micro Construction Sets: Last year, I placed mini collectible figures on my list of favorites for 2015 because I prefer the smaller size and that they don't take up too much space. This year, I'm placing the Five Nights at Freddy's Micro Construction Sets on my favorites of 2016 list for the same exact reason. The figures come already assembled, but the set itself must be constructed from scratch. The micro pack that I have is the Freddy / Right Hall set, and it was so much fun to put together, and it was reasonably priced which is perfect for anyone trying to build a collection of any kind.
Dead of Summer: The Freeform series Dead of Summer is a surprisingly good show. Geared toward young adults and lacking the kind of gore a slasher fan like me enjoys, I didn't expect to place this series anywhere near this list, but I am so glad that I decided to give it a chance.
Dead of Summer takes place at Wisconsin’s Camp Stillwater in the summer of 1989. As the show progresses, we learn that the land the camp was built on was host to Satanic rituals conducted by a cult back in the 1800s. I like that the show’s creators, Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis, and Ian Goldberg, tried to do something different in this sub-genre.
[Spoiler Warning] There isn't a lone killer stalking the people at camp. Instead, it's a supernatural / demonic presence that plagues them, and really all but one of the counselors has a convincing backstory for who they are and why they are at the camp in the first place. Most slashers don't take the time to build up their characters because they are just cannon fodder, and it doesn't matter who they are deep down.
Having said that, all of the familiar horror elements in Dead of Summer are pretty good, too. The camp setting is very reminiscent of Camp Crystal Lake, and many of of the characters' behaviors towards what unfolds is downright silly at times. What little kills occur on the show are, at the very least, creative, and I also really enjoyed seeing horror legend Tony Todd guest star as "The Tall Man." I can only hope that younger viewers research his work and rent Candyman or 1990's Night of the Living Dead.
Nocturnal Animals: Directed by Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals is difficult to describe. Throughout the film, we get two main stories: the first follows art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), the wife of Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), who receives a manuscript for a novel called Nocturnal Animals that was written by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), with the manuscript including an invitation for dinner while he is in Los Angeles.
The second story follows the perspectives of the characters in Edward's novel, who find themselves in a harrowing game of cat and mouse. Throughout the film, we get little glimpses of how Susan and Edward met, as well as an incredible scene between Susan and her mother (played by Laura Linney) that is truly something to behold. There is a reason why this film has appeared on a lot of critics' top ten lists.
Penny Dreadful Comic Book Series: It's still pretty tough for me to accept the cancellation of Showtime's Penny Dreadful. The show had so many more stories to tell and new characters to expand on, which is why reading Titan Comics’ Penny Dreadful series has been a wonderful addition to my weekly routine.
[Spoiler Warning] The first five issues act as a prequel to the events of the Showtime series, with upcoming issues of the comic expected to follow Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) six months after Vanessa Ives' (Eva Green) death during the third and final season. The comics are written by the show’s co-executive producer Chris King, with artwork by Louie De Martinis, so it truly is the next best thing to watching Penny Dreadful. At this time, no specific release dates have been announced for the next batch of Penny Dreadful comics, but "early next year" has to be soon, right? Right?!
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th: Based on the comprehensive hardcover book of the same name, this documentary was originally released in 2013, but I did not check it out until this year. I'd like to consider myself a diehard Friday the 13th / Jason Voorhees fan, and I assumed that I knew all there was to know about the Friday the 13th franchise. Boy, was I wrong!
Featuring deleted scenes and interviews with the actors, directors, writers (even the uncredited ones), and the multiple Jasons, I was taken on a trip down memory lane with hours of information regarding Friday the 13th parts 1–8, Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, and even the Friday the 13th reboot. I was quite young when I experienced the first eight films, so I didn't know how profitable the films were or how any of the kills were realized, which I learned through interviews with special effects gurus like Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini.
If rented on iTunes, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th comes in two parts, but it is absolutely worth the $8.00 and eight hours of your time. There’s never a dull moment, I promise!
Twenty Twenty-Four: Rounding out my list of wonderful indie films is Richard Mundy's Twenty Twenty-Four. Set in a world on the brink of a nuclear war, Twenty Twenty-Four follows Roy (Andrew Kinsler), a scientist living in an underground bunker to prep it for housing potential survivors of the fallout. He's not totally alone, though, as he has the bunker's computer system, Arthur, to keep him company.
It's easy to read the film’s synopsis and think this would be a downer, but it's so fun and thrilling. You're always wondering what is going on and if you can even trust what Roy is experiencing. I enjoy a good mind-twister, and Twenty Twenty-Four is that in spades! I also must give a shout-out to Andrew Kinsler, who, despite having almost nothing to play against, still hits his character’s emotional highs and lows.
To read all of the 2016 favorites lists from the Daily Dead team, check back daily here.