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article imageReview: Top 5 underrated horror films of 2014 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 31, 2014 in Entertainment
While the major releases were a bit of a disappointment this year, there were original narratives about vampires, zombies and monsters just on the periphery.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to rely on major theatrical releases for a good scare, or even an intelligent story. Genre fans are regularly disappointed by the remakes, reboots and repetition usually on offer at the local multiplex. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t making good horror movies. If you push past all the found footage flicks and demonic pregnancies, you’ll find innovation and talent lurking in the dark corners where promotion is scarce and screenings are limited.
The following films received limited releases in some major markets and are now (almost) all available to rent or own. But unless you live in one of those cities or fortunately caught wind of the buzz around some of these pictures, you may have never even heard of these titles. So now we’re going to rectify that. In alphabetical order, here are five horror movies from 2014 that you shouldn’t miss.
Afflicted
Co-directors, writers and stars Derek Lee and Clif Prowse proved there are still new stories to tell about vampires —a concept in which many have lost their faith. The premise is simple: two best friends embark on a European odyssey only to find themselves in a foreign land when one of them becomes severely ill with a mysterious sickness. While the freshman filmmakers also employ the fashionable found footage approach, this film has clawed its way out of the heap to effectively utilize the style and tell an increasingly captivating story about vampirism in a way it hasn't been seen before. The script is clever in its unhurried realization that one of them is becoming a vampire. Since we live in a world in which these fabled bloodsuckers supposedly do not exist, it takes some time and numerous signs for them to come to that conclusion. And as directors they make excellent choices regarding what and how to shoot the narrative, creating a sense of realism in the characters’ experiences.
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in  The Babadook
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in 'The Babadook'
Umbrella Entertainment
The Babadook
This film is part monster movie, part psychological thriller and by the end you still won’t be sure which is the truth. A single mother is struggling with her son’s fear of monsters, particularly after reading a new bedtime story with a disturbing plot. But as their lives spiral out of control, she soon finds herself wondering if there really is something waiting in the shadows. Regardless of which interpretation you prefer, both offer chilling prospects. In one, a malevolent monster threatens to destroy everything the family holds dear. In the other, a mother’s mental instability could result in her buckling under the pressure and committing irreversible acts. First-time writer/director Jennifer Kent does an excellent job of weaving together aspects of both tales so audiences are constantly switching between explanations and the tension between the two increases with each new development. However the third star of the film is the storybook itself, which garnered so much attention that filmmakers made a special print of the pop-up book available for purchase. There aren’t many female horror directors, but Kent is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Alice Englert in  In Fear
Alice Englert in 'In Fear'
Anchor Bay Entertainment
In Fear
A couple is stalked by a deranged killer who enjoys playing with his prey before delivering the final blow. Again, a familiar story of how scary people can be that benefits from a solid understanding of the genre and quality execution. Being lost in the dark in the middle of nowhere is already frightening enough. Frustration turns to anger and panic, and the only person on which to vent is the same one you’re relying on to get out alive. It slowly becomes evident someone is deliberately messing with the couple, who happen to not be the stupidest people in a horror movie. But with no way out, the fear is allowed to nestle in next to the characters and the audience. Even identifying the perpetrator doesn't relieve the tension because knowing what crazy looks like doesn't make it less sadistic. Just when their situation seems to be improving, filmmakers throw in the twist that makes the whole thing worth the trip. (And then they ruin it in the final minutes, so maybe just press stop at this point and avoid the damage.)
Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites in a scene from  Oculus
Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites in a scene from 'Oculus'
TIFF
Oculus
Horror movies that have it all are a rare breed, but this is one of them. Great script, credible acting, solid camera work and excellent directorial vision combine to produce one of the best genre films of the year. As a pair of siblings are reunited after years of separation following their parents’ deaths, the sister tries to undo all the progress made by her brother’s therapists to convince him the mirror monster they encountered as children exists and now they must fulfill their promise to kill it. The innovative narrative weaves past and present together artfully and effortlessly. A conversation about something that occurred when they were kids flawlessly transitions into the memory and then back when it’s concluded. In some scenes, they appear to be watching their child-selves run past in a hallway or seamlessly morph into their younger versions when the fear grows stronger. Director Mike Flanagan first appeared on the scene with Absentia, in which he displayed a talent for telling creepy stories that he takes to the next level with this picture.
Emily Hampshire in a scene from  The Returned
Emily Hampshire in a scene from 'The Returned'
Entertainment One
The Returned
How do you make a zombie movie without zombies? You cure them – sort of. In a future in which the living dead are a reality, scientists have developed a drug to prevent the infected from becoming murderous monsters. But rumours of an impending shortage cause widespread panic and violence as people attempt to suppress the threat of a new epidemic before it starts. Drawing on many historical influences and injustices, the narrative is structured to create a realistic and intimidating environment ruled by fear. The shunning of the infected and concern regarding transmission is akin to early reactions to HIV. The official roundup of the infected to hold them in internment camps is reminiscent of numerous wars; the systematic murder of any known infected and extended police power is the most obvious comparison with one character even calling them the Gestapo. Though the zombie count in this film can be calculated on one hand, it successfully captures the atmosphere, and political and societal commentary that defines the genre more than any amount of blood or gore.
And honourable mention goes to The Sacrament from director Ti West. Though not a traditional horror movie, the skill with which he constructs a Jonestown-style narrative with measured precision that once-again finds appropriate use for the found footage technique is noteworthy.
More about Horror movies, Afflicted, The Babadook, In Fear, oculus
 
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