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Between theatrical releases, on-demand titles, and especially the continuously expanding world of streaming, movie lovers are not simply being offered a multitude of viewing choices — they are being absolutely inundated with an unprecedented number of films, so much so that it would be more than a full-time job to keep up with.
The following list is comprised of twenty must-see genre films from 2013 to present in the categories of horror, crime, and suspense thriller that might have eluded any number of genre film enthusiasts during their attempts to navigate the flood of titles thrown at them on a regular basis.
The films are in chronological order by release year.
Directed by Matthew Garrett
Written by Matthew Garrett
This low-budget independent film received festival play in 2009, but became available to a much wider audience in 2014 via a DVD release from Unearthed Films, hence its inclusion here.
Consisting of three parts, Morris County’s bleak portrayal of its character’s devastating hidden secrets delivers an unsettling viewing experience. Instead of using horror genre trappings to craft a genuine sense of dread, Garrett instead employs an acute knowledge of the darker side of human behavior.
Rough and raw, Morris County is a must-see for viewers who admire the grim short films of Douglas Buck, and the disturbing character studies of Lodge Kerrigan.
In 2010, Matthew Garrett made the outstanding horror short film Beating Hearts, which can be seen here: http://thebriefmacabre.com/beating-hearts/.
Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes
Directed by Mikkel Norgaard
Written by Nikolaj Arcel (based on the Jussi-Alder Olsen novel The Keeper of Lost Causes)
Department Q: The Absent One
Directed by Mikkel Norgaard
Written by Rasmus Heisterberg (based on the Jussi-Alder Olsen novel The Absent One)
Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Written by Nikolaj Arcel (based on the Jussi-Alder Olsen novel A Conspiracy of Faith)
A physically and psychologically damaged homicide detective investigates seemingly closed cases in this outstanding trio of dark crime films that will strongly appeal to fans of “Nordic Noir” movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and their American counterparts like Prisoners (2013) and Wind River (2017).
Keeper of Lost Causes delves into an apparent suicide, The Absent One involves a savage unsolved double murder, and A Conspiracy of Faith is centered around a series of child kidnappings. All three films are highly recommended and must be watched in order.
Lead actors Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Fares Fares have excellent on-screen chemistry, with an ever-present friction generated by their characters’ opposing levels of cynicism.
The Absent One features Danish actor Pilou Asbaek — best known as Euron Greyjoy on Games of Thrones — as a key suspect.
Directed by Zack Parker
Written by Kevin Donner & Zack Parker
In the aftermath of a traumatic assault that is brutally portrayed on-screen, a young woman strikes up a relationship at a support group that takes unexpected turns.
Like Matthew Garrett of the aforementioned Morris County, Zack Parker mines the more disturbing side of the human psyche to create his unsettling story.
A very dark suspense thriller that operates at an intentionally deliberate pace, Proxy is not for the impatient or the squeamish.
Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Written by Eric Stolze
Following his wild demonic possession horror film Here Comes the Devil (2012), director Bogliano tackles the werewolf subgenre in Late Phases.
The film offers a unique twist with its retirement community setting and the blind, aging protagonist (exceptionally portrayed by Nick Damici).
Some reviewers have criticized the presentation of the werewolves in the film. This particular criticism is certainly warranted as the production clearly did not have the budget for more effective creature execution, and in that department Late Phases lags behind some of its equally cost-conscious lycanthropic contemporaries such as Paul Hyett’s Howl (2015).
Viewers able to grant Late Phases a certain amount of low-budget forgiveness will find the film a rewarding experience anchored by a superb lead acting performance.
Directed by Alberto Rodriguez
Written by Rafael Cobos & Alberto Rodriguez
Set in 1980, Marshland is the story of a pair of police officers sent to a small town to investigate the disappearance of a pair of girls.
The film’s creative team employs an oblique but highly effective approach to its lead characters. The detectives’ differences in approach to the job at hand is obvious, but details about their personal lives are delivered in short clues only, leaving the viewer to do a bit of work in order to form more complete character portraits.
Marshland makes superb use of its rural backdrop as it builds to a suspenseful climax set during a torrential rainstorm.
Directed by Fred Cavaye
Written by Fred Cavaye & Guillaume Lemans & Olivier Marchal
Director/co-screenwriter Cavaye reunites with actor Gilles Lellouche from his superb 2010 crime film Point Blank for this overlooked story of a pair of police officers trying to save a young boy who has been targeted for assassination.
The events of the film — with the lingering effects of a life-altering accident as the backdrop — are punctuated by violent showdowns as the story leads to a well-executed climax on a train.
While Point Blank remains Cavaye’s masterpiece, Mea Culpa is a very enjoyable piece of European crime cinema that opts for a rapid pace over the slower, more thought-provoking approach of many of its Continental contemporaries.
The World of Kanako
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
Written by Tetsuya Nakashima & Miako Tadano & Nobuhiro Monma (based on the Akio Fukamachi novel The World of Kanako)
Versatile and highly accomplished actor Koji Yakusho, perhaps best known for his collaborations with directors Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, plays a former police officer in search of his estranged daughter who has gone missing.
Yakusho plays a violent, unstable, barely human character who makes Harvey Keitel in 1992’s Bad Lieutenant look like an absolutely upstanding citizen by comparison. The titular world on display here is a savage one, where things like trust are completely alien concepts.
Director Nakashima lays the visual stylings on a bit too thick at times — if there was ever a movie that didn’t need to prove it was “cool” it is this one — but The World of Kanako is a very memorable viewing experience, and one of the most unrepentantly brutal neo-noir films ever made.
Directed by Can Evrenol
Written by Can Evrenol & Ogulcan Eren Akay & Ercin Sadikoglu & Cem Ozuduru
Heavily influenced by the gory Italian horror films of the 1980s, the nightmarish Baskin echoes the productions of that time and place by crediting multiple screenwriters on a film that achieves only a very basic level of narrative sense.
In the case of Baskin, this is not a criticism. The film’s story of a group of policemen confronting a deadly cult achieves a very dark, dream-like quality as events turn progressively more gruesome and deadly.
A veteran maker of short films, Baskin is Can Evrenol’s debut feature and it is an audacious one.
As of this writing, Evrenol’s second horror feature film, The Housewife, is in the process of securing distribution after successful festival play, and the director also contributed a segment to the international anthology horror film A Field Guide to Evil (2018).
Some of Can Evrenol’s outstanding horror short films, including the original Baskin and To My Mother and Father,can be seen here: http://thebriefmacabre.com/tag/can-evrenol/.
Directed by Jon Watts
Written by Jon Watts & Christopher Ford
Some creative teams might have made a whimsical romp out of Cop Car’s story of two kids who take a joy ride in a stolen police cruiser but Watts and Ford’s narrative propels its youthful characters into very dark, very non-Spielberg territory as the car’s dangerous hidden cargo is discovered and the murderous owner relentlessly tries to take back possession of his stolen vehicle.
Kevin Bacon’s performance as a sheriff is the actor’s best villainous portrayal to date.
The Watts/Ford filmmaking duo went on to make a much lighter and much higher budgeted coming of age film in the form of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Any viewers underwhelmed by director Kusama’s live-action adaptation of Aeon Flux (2005) and her horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body (2009) will quickly forget those cinematic experiences while being drawn in to The Invitation.
This film is slow-burn horror anchored by a solid performance from Logan Marshall-Green as a man who finds himself in the middle of an increasingly bizarre and disturbing situation while attending a party thrown by his ex-wife.
Kusama re-teams with The Invitation screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi for her upcoming crime film Destroyer.
The Mind’s Eye
Directed by Joe Begos
Written by Joe Begos
Low-budget horror auteur Begos may have missed the mark with his ambitious alien attack film Almost Human (2013) but he rebounds with the even more ambitious The Mind’s Eye.
This tale of a pair of gifted individuals on the run from a maniacal doctor and his minions is filled from beginning to end with creative telekinetic attack sequences.
Accompanied by a great electronic score from Steve Moore and very impressive sound design by Graham Reznick, The Mind’s Eye is not only an excellent addition to the telekinetic horror subgenre ruled over by David Cronenberg’s classic Scanners (1981) but also stands as the definition of making the most of an obviously limited budget.
May God Save Us
Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Written by Isabel Pena & Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Two police detectives-one very aggressive and one much more meek-search for a killer. While this set-up makes May God Save Us sound a bit too similar to its cinematic cousin Marshland (2014), this film approaches from a different angle with its urban setting and much deeper look into the personal lives of its lead characters.
This includes giving its audience a front-row seat to the hot-headed detective’s destruction of his family life and the quieter detective’s awkward attempts at starting a relationship.
This character-oriented approach complements the hunt for the murderer instead of detracting from it and helps make May God Save Us the crime film standout that it is.
Directed by John Hillcoat
Written by Matt Cook
Outstanding crime film screenplays-like those in any genre-don’t always survive the process of being brought to life on the screen. A good example would be Michael C. Martin’s very solid script for Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest (2009) which was hobbled by the miscasting of two of the film’s three lead roles.
Such is not the fate of Matt Cook’s superb screenplay for Triple 9 which is done justice by very good direction and a great cast that includes Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Chiwetel Ejiofor in perhaps the most overlooked and underrated performance of his career.
The intricate story leads up to a bold attempt to rob a heavily guarded facility as the lives of several characters hang in the balance.
All fans of dark crime films should catch up with this little-discussed gem that has not received the attention it deserves.
Directed by Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott
Written by Nick Damici & Graham Reznick
The Murnion/Milott directing team rebounds from the horror-comedy misfire Cooties (2014) and delivers this story about a woman befriended by a military veteran in her quest to escape the ever-expanding urban danger zone created by a militia attack on New York City.
Some viewers of Bushwick might suggest that co-screenwriter Nick Damici would have been the ideal choice for the role of the mysterious war veteran but Dave Bautista turns in a restrained, solid performance in the part.
As it takes on an increasingly apocalyptic feel, Bushwick executes some unexpected turns and culminates in a highly memorable ending.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky
Written by Martin Ambrosch
After witnessing a murder, a taxi driver is targeted by the killer.
Director Ruzowitsky-best known to European horror cinema fans as the maker of the Anatomy films of the early 2000s-crafts a very effective cat-and-mouse narrative while adding dimension to its taxi driver protagonist by slowly revealing details of her tumultuous past.
The film’s climactic showdown certainly works but it is an earlier attack and chase sequence set on city streets that is Cold Hell’s true highlight.
Directed by E.L. Katz
Written by Macon Blair & E.L. Katz based on the David Zeltserman novel Small Crimes
Director Katz follows up his award-winning debut feature Cheap Thrills (2013) with this excellent neo-film noir about a disgraced cop caught up in a plan to kill a local crime boss.
The film’s fine cast includes Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Molly Parker, Robert Forster, Jacki Weaver and Michael Kinney who turns in one of the film’s best performances as a police officer with a score to settle.
As one might expect from an E.L. Katz film, Small Crimes has a quirky, offbeat quality to it that enhances the viewing experience. The film is capped off by an ending that packs a substantial punch.
Directed by Jeremy Rush
Written by Jeremy Rush
Wheelman’s tale of a robbery and a double-cross is told solely from the perspective of the heist’s getaway driver played by Frank Grillo with his highly effective trademark mix of macho intensity and vulnerability.
Rather than coming off as a gimmick, the film’s tightly focused point-of-view is a unique angle that works very well for this particular story.
A highlight sequence occurs when Grillo’s car-bound character is attacked by an armed motorcyclist.
Wheelman is tight, very well-made crime picture.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Written by Taylor Sheridan
Taylor Sheridan takes the director’s chair for the first time on one of his own screenplays after penning the excellent scripts for Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) and David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water (2016).
Wind River takes place against a bleak, wintry backdrop as a wildlife tracker teams up with an FBI agent to investigate a mysterious death. These lead characters are superbly portrayed by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.
A dark and absorbing American classic, Wind River is one of the very best films of any genre I’ve seen in years and confirms Taylor Sheridan as a major cinematic talent.
Terek Puckett is an actor, screenwriter and film writer based in Los Angeles. He has contributed to multiple film websites and is the creator/operator of The Brief Macabre-a website dedicated to the showcasing the best live-action horror short films available online www.thebriefmacabre.com, https://www.facebook.com/thebriefmacabre/. Terek is also the author of the forthcoming book Animals, Aliens & Mutants: Creature Attack Films in the Wake of Jaws and Alien.
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