Donner Pass, The Grey, Miss Bala, Kill List
If you’re like me—and let’s hope you’re not—you watch countless slasher and quasi-slasher films every year, and you noticed long ago that a disproportionate number of these start with teens driving into the remote countryside to hole up and/or party at, per Joss Whedon, a “cabin in the woods.” And yes, Donner Pass starts with those same elements firmly in place, but then it gradually, and with a creeping impressiveness, distinguishes itself from the pack. Director Elise Robertson, herself a veteran actor, does fab work with the young cast that brings a welcome freshness to the proceedings. As an added bonus, the script by R. Scott Adams boasts several smart and effective surprises. In short, this is the kind of film that demands some attention from those who value what indie horror stands for.
The Grey (opens in theaters January 27)
Far-fetched in some aspects but absolutely captivating in so many others, The Grey works hard to involve us in its relatively straightforward action/adventure storyline, and its efforts pay off time and again. Here Joe Carnahan excels in the three main things you want from a director of commercial cinema: a) presenting stunning visuals b) crafting strong storytelling c) drawing compelling performances from the cast. And, oh, yeah, lead Liam Neeson hits every note he’s supposed to and then some. Want a popcorn flick that might just stay with you for days? This is it.
Miss Bala (now in U.S. theaters)
I realize I’m going out on a limb here, but this could be one of the most aesthetically exhilarating film experiences you’ll have in a theater this year.
Kill List (now on U.S. VOD; in limited release February 3)
Polarizing audiences for more than one reason, Ben Wheatley’s Kill List nonetheless should be seen by all fans of genre cinema. Aye, but there’s the rub—what genre is it exactly? Maligned by some for its melding of crime and horror, it’s precisely the artfulness of this blend that so mesmerized me: Wheatley leads us into such pure darkness that genre boundaries no longer matter—in the end, the story drills down into a vast, common hell. In fact, if elements from a war movie were embroidered into Kill List’s narrative fabric I probably wouldn’t have minded. The other reason audiences are divided concerns the ending, which, I’ll admit, I saw coming. And while it’s certainly understandable why some might require a more satisfying conclusion given how the central mystery just builds and builds, I for one didn’t require a big climactic payoff. I was rocked throughout.
(photo Copyright © 2012 The Independent Film Channel LLC. All rights reserved.)