This week, us good folk at Daily Grindhouse look at the future of horror, as we answer the question “Who has impressed you the most in the current wave of young horror directors? What horror filmmaker(s) do you see as the future of the genre?“
Matt Wedge (twitter): Because of my advanced age, I think I may have a slightly more elastic definition of “young” than some of my fellow DG writers. With that qualifying comment in mind, I feel the team of co-writer/director Jim Mickle and co-writer/actor Nick Damici have put out the most assured, complex, and well-crafted horror films of the last decade. Even with the dodgy makeup effects of their super low-budget debut MULBERRY ST, they managed to take a premise as potentially silly as people turning into rats and crafted a suspenseful, character-driven story. They have used that same serious approach to their subsequent films and—just as importantly—they have become more ambitious with every project. From the vampire/zombie apocalypse of STAKE LAND to the claustrophobic dysfunctional family drama/cannibal thriller of WE ARE WHAT WE ARE to their apparent breakthrough into the mainstream with this year’s adaptation of the Joe R. Lansdale novel COLD IN JULY, they have continued to ground their pulpy genre films in reality. They also deserve credit for never winking at the audience and allowing moments of character-based humor to shine through in even the darkest of their films. They are currently developing a series for the Sundance Channel based on the HAP AND LEONARD novels by Lansdale, and while I’m happy to see them continuing their creative partnership with such a terrific genre writer, I’d hate to see them get distracted from working on a new film by the TV show.
I do want to give a special mention to the following:
-The directing/writing team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have two certifiably great horror films to their credit in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE and YOU’RE NEXT. Their next film THE GUEST, looks set to push them out of the horror genre and into a more mainstream action/thriller field in the vein of Mickle and Damici’s COLD IN JULY.
-Ti West continues to put out alternately entertaining, intriguing, and frustrating genre films. For as much as I love ninety percent of THE ROOST, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE INNKEEPERS, they were all essentially just riffs on different genre tropes and featured disappointing endings. While THE SACRAMENT, his latest film, didn’t reach the same momentary highs as his earlier films, it showed a maturity that his other films had lacked and points to a more interesting direction for his career.
-Jen and Sylvia Soska—aka “the Twisted Twins”—created two acts of a great movie in AMERICAN MARY before fumbling the ending. But the potential on display is hard to ignore. Not to mention, we should support good female filmmakers in a genre that is notoriously male-centric.
-Jeremy Gardner only has one film under his belt, but what a film it is. His micro-budgeted zombie tale THE BATTERY upended that tired sub-genre with actually relatable characters. He gets bonus points for his alternately abrasive and touching performance as a slightly cracked jock who is perfectly suited to surviving in such an extreme environment as the zombie apocalypse.
Mike McGranaghan (twitter): A few months ago, I saw a really great horror flick called THE DEN, which is now on DVD and Netflix Instant. The whole movie takes place on a computer screen, and it imagines a situation in which the technology we routinely use to connect with one another online is used for purposes of true evil. I don’t scare easily, but the film had me tense from start to finish, and there are a handful of great “jump” scenes. The director, Zachary Donohue is someone to watch. I’d also nominate Nicholas McCarthy, whose current AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR is incredibly stylish and clever. I’d say more about this one, but the less you know going in, the better it is. Just trust me and see it.
Matt Wedge: I forgot to mention Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. RESOLUTION, their impressive, understated spin on the cabin-in-the-woods genre, created a palpable sense of dread and ever-tightening suspense through just committed performances and some inventive editing. SPRING, their followup film, is scheduled to play the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and has to be considered one of the most anticipated genre films premiering there.
Doug Tilley (twitter): Since Matt mentioned the Soska Sisters, then I’ll also shine a light on some CanCon with the members of Astron-6: directors of FATHER’S DAY and MANBORG. While both of those films are a lot of (intentionally) sloppy fun, their latest film THE EDITOR (soon to premiere at TIFF) shows them to be evolving a bit from their microbudget roots. Tremendously inventive and talented, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from them.
Paul Freitag-Fey (twitter): I don’t think I have much more to add other the seconding the likes of Ti West and Astron-6, though that’s mostly due to the fact that in a lot of cases, I’ve really admired the one film I’ve seen by a filmmaker but haven’t seen any of their other work, so I can’t really judge them as a whole. I’d add Ben Wheatley to the list, even if he’s work isn’t really “horror,” but it’s certainly genre-bending enough to be constantly interesting.
Freeman Williams (twitter): I tend to be very leisurely in my viewing habits, meaning I don’t watch a lot of new stuff until it starts being not-so-new; but I can second the inclusion of Ben Wheatley – hell, he’s the only reason I bothered to watch the first two episodes of the latest DOCTOR WHO. That was a brilliant match-up, as he’s able to do impressively creepy things with the smallest of budgets.
But if we include Wheatley, even as “marginal”, then I also want to throw down Gareth Huw Evans, who really only has an extended short in the genre, “Safe Haven” in V/H/S 2. That demonstrated he has as sure a grip on horror as he does in action, and I feel he’s currently the best action director around. If he could be tempted back to the realm of the scary, I’m sure the results would be amazing.
Jason Coffman (twitter): Jim Mickle’s work has been ridiculously good. He’s batting 100 as far as I’m concerned, although I don’t think I would consider COLD IN JULY a “horror” film at all.
I was going to chime in about Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, but I see Matt has already done that, so I’ll just say RESOLUTION was amazing and I’m incredibly excited to see SPRING.
I’m a bit wary of Ti West at this point, although I’m a big fan of both THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS. His short in V/H/S was not great and his entry for THE ABCS OF DEATH was almost unforgivably sloppy and terrible*. I haven’t seen THE SACRAMENT yet, but after those shorts, my excitement to see it died down considerably.
I’m really excited about SUBURBAN GOTHIC, the new film from Richard Bates, Jr. His debut film, EXCISION, was mostly great but I had a problem with the massive tonal shift that happens in the last 10-15 minutes of the film. Up until then, EXCISION hit this really interesting, unsettling comedic tone that I loved. I still think EXCISION is worth watching for any genre fan, but SUBURBAN GOTHIC manages to nail a weirdly light-hearted comic horror tone and carries it all the way through to the end. It’s hilarious and the cast is great, although Ray Wise unsurprisingly pretty much walks off with the whole thing. I’m really looking forward to whatever Bates does next.
*Not entirely related, but I feel like this is as good a place as any to point out that THE ABCS OF DEATH made damn near an entire generation of horror filmmakers look really bad.’
Jon Abrams (twitter): So many names came to mind off that question. I’ll try to narrow it down. First: The guy whose next movie I’m most excited to see, regardless of the genre it comes in, is E.L. Katz, who directed 2013’s CHEAP THRILLS from a script he worked on with Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo. That wasn’t technically a horror movie — it feels like a movie about America, and America is scary — but the skill set is right there and it’d be a lateral move.
Next I thought of a bunch of filmmakers who some of you smart people have already mentioned — Jim Mickle and Nick Damici foremost among them. I’ve liked everything those guys have done so far, and each one is better than the last.
The Soska Sisters are friends of our site, but objectively speaking they’re bold and exciting voices in the genre — the leap from DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK to AMERICAN MARY was stratospheric.
Nicholas McCarthy is another name to watch — his film THE PACT is the last horror movie to truly spook me, not easy to do considering how many horror movies I boldly go through.
I love the Astron-6 guys too, and along those lines Jason Eisener is doing some wonderfully rambunctious and colorful stuff. He had my favorite entry in 2012’s THE ABCs OF DEATH — aside from the one by Kaare Andrews, a Marvel Comics cartoonist who also directs films. In 2010 he made a fun horror feature called ALTITUDE which is worth a look.
And Gareth Evans is a dead-on call: “Safe Haven” was second only to CHEAP THRILLS on my horror top-ten last year. Other super-talented alumni of that list: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (BIG BAD WOLVES), Peter Strickland (BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO) and Chad Crawford Kinkle (JUG FACE).
There are some horror filmmakers who have crucial talents a horror filmmaker needs to become great but aren’t all the way there yet, such as Richard Raaphorst (FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, which had tremendous monster designs but little story to speak of), and Fede Alvarez (the EVIL DEAD remake, which was excellently directed but otherwise poorly conceived).
There are also some filmmakers who haven’t done a single horror film to date, but who have illustrated the kind of abilities that make me hope they give it a shot: Ariel Vromen (THE ICEMAN), James Ponsoldt (SMASHED), Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER), and Craig Zobel (COMPLIANCE). A couple of those guys are working on sci-fi projects now — the genre next-door — so it could happen!
More endorsements still: Jalmari Helander, who made 2010’s RARE EXPORTS, a movie which sits nicely next to GREMLINS, seems to be moving away from horror for his next film, but he made Santa Claus brilliantly creepy so I’d love to see what else he can do with the genre. I’d also like to see more horror from Carter Smith (2008’s THE RUINS), Toby Wilkins (2008’s SPLINTER), and especially, Ciaran Foy (2012’s CITADEL).
And finally, in my eyes maybe the most underrated horror filmmaker working is the UK’s Christopher Smith. He went four for four with CREEP, SEVERANCE, TRIANGLE, and BLACK DEATH, and now he’s making a Santa Claus movie with Jim Broadbent and Warwick Davis. Go figure. Like Mickle & Damici, Smith’s movies get even more sophisticated and rewarding with each successive release. I hope he gets back to horror movies soon.
Doug Tilley: Let me quickly add Jeremy Gardner to the list. THE BATTERY absolutely blew me away, and this is a guy who seems committed to taking risks. Hell of an actor, too.
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