Tag Archives: Anya Taylor-Joy

The Best in Film of Spring 2018

By the end of the year, it’s rather easy to fall into the overwhelming consensus/narrative of what films and performances deserve Oscars. It’s often mostly made up of films that come out in the last four months of the year, with a few from the first eight months — but those had to be more than exceptional.

As that trend continues, it becomes more and more necessary to take the time to really explore the great work across crafts below and above the line from the beginning of the year. And so far, between the months of January and April, film has offered brilliance in so many regards, within both tiny independents and massive blockbusters.

Here is our breakdown of the best in film of Spring 2018:

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Paul Bettany — Journey’s End

Nick Wall/Good Deed Entertainment/Courtesy

Journey’s End becomes so unnerving so quickly because of the specific tension that it evokes: of composed, orderly men slowly crumbling from the inside at the doom of war approaching. And while Sam Claflin offers the film’s most expressive, explicit performance, Paul Bettany nails that tension with subtle grace. His character’s initial calm and almost fatherly presence is impossible not to latch onto, making it all the more tragic to watch as even he starts to break down — a destabilization of his eyes and rockiness in his slowly suffocated breath. Bettany clearly controls every minute with a clear sense of the story’s path, anchoring the film as the events spiral out of control.

Runner-up: Hugh Grant — Paddington 2
3. Michael B. Jordan — Black Panther
4. Chris Hemsworth — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Jesse Plemons — Game Night

The Next 5
6. Ed Helms — Chappaquiddick
7. Alessandro Nivola — Disobedience
8. Shia LaBeouf —Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Anton Yelchin — Thoroughbreds
10. Simon Russell Beale — The Death of Stalin

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Winner: Camille Friend, Joel Harlow — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some may argue that Avengers: Infinity War is above Black Panther in this regard, simply because of the number of characters in makeup and the different styles of makeup. But this distinction shouldn’t be for the most work. In fact, Infinity War, even in aspects beyond makeup, bases a lot of itself in what’s come before.

Where Black Panther clearly stands out is in both its innovation and the world-building that the makeup and hair work accomplishes. The makeup is prevalent, but not overt. The prosthetics are integrated into the world-building. The hair is distinct and varied, wound into other design elements perfectly.

Runner-up: Deborah Rutherford, Brian Sipe, Janine Rath — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Kimberly Kimble, Allan A. Apone, Anita Brabec, Geno Freeman — A Wrinkle in Time

The Next 3
4. Tristan Versluis, Sian Grigg — Annihilation
5. AnnaCarin Lock — Borg vs. McEnroe
6. Lesley Noble, Conal Palmer, Roseann Samuel — Journey’s End

Best Costume Design

Winner: Ruth E. Carter — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

From a design standpoint, Black Panther is one of the most deeply felt films in the past number of years. Crafts are brilliant across the board, but it’s Ruth E. Carter’s costume design that pops the loudest and brightest.

The film not only features a wide variety of styles of a new world — from armor, to daily wear, to royal dress — and a wide variety of material distinctly from that world, but also informs each costume as a clear, storied product of Wakanda. That the costumes are also incredibly beautiful is a testament to the mastery of Carter.

Runner-up: Paco Delgado — A Wrinkle in Time
3. Suzie Harmen — The Death of Stalin
4. Judianna Makovsky — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Anushia Nieradzik — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Lindy Hemming — Paddington 2
7. Alex Bovaird — Thoroughbreds
8. Caroline Errington — Chappaquiddick
9. Kicki Ilander — Borg vs. McEnroe
10. Odile Dicks-Mireaux — Disobedience

Best Sound Editing

Winner: Daniel Laurie, Shannon Mills — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Avengers: Infinity War has the seemingly requisite barrage of guns and explosions. And these sounds are executed rather effectively and with blunt force.

But where Infinity War‘s sound editing shines is in the supernatural elements, such as those surrounding the infinity stones. The ear-ringing electricity present whenever Thanos gains a stone renders them magical, majestic and worthy of the power they end up displaying. And the sounds of the stones used in battle fully inform the mind-boggling visual effect they have. The film is truly galactic, and the sound editing follows suit.

Runner-up: Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom — Ready Player One
3. Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker — Black Panther
4. Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri — Annihilation
5. Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Erik Aadahl, Brandon Jones, Ethan Van der Ryn — A Quiet Place
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Malte Bieler, Emma Present — Pacific Rim: Uprising
9. Dominic Gibbs, Luke Gentry — Tomb Raider
10. Al Nelson, Andre Fenley — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Michael Barosky, Brandon Proctor — A Quiet Place

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

A Quiet Place is a film that tells its story primarily through sound. Within that distinction, the sound’s force is primarily in its mixing.

The calculation of not only when to drop, for example, a creak in the wood, but also of how loud to make the creak is supremely effective throughout. And the overall composition of the mix, beginning steeped in eerie quietude and then slowly introducing brutal, jarring sounds, is some of the best craft work of any type this year. But the mixes most impressive accomplishment is how it informs the physical human situation in the film. With the mix, we feel the horrifying physical strain of the characters throughout, and invest in their story because of that.

Runner-up: Juan Peralta, Tom Johnson, John Pritchett — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Niv Adiri, Michael Clayton, John Skehill, Ian Tapp — Annihilation
4. Dan Johnson, Bryn Thomas — Journey’s End
5. Steve Boeddeker, Peter J. Devlin, Brandon Proctor — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson — Ready Player One
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Hans Møller, Henric Andersson — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Stirk, Johnathan Rush, Drew Kunin — You Were Never Really Here
10. Christopher Boyes, Willie D. Burton, Lora Hirschberg — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Jennifer Garner — Love, Simon

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

During the first two acts of Love, Simon, Jennifer Garner’s presence is notably felt, her warmth and charisma delightful.

What elevates Garner so high, though, is a scene rather similar to Michael Stuhlbarg’s shining moment in Call Me by Your Name — yet Garner distinguishes this as her own. We strain at Simon’s conflict throughout the film, and are devastated when it turns south. What makes his situation worse is that he seems so alone. So, when Garner’s character offers him some words of comfort, not only is Simon allowed to breathe, but we are too. But it took Garner’s full emotional investment in the scene, as she emanates a distinctly motherly wisdom. Garner delivers the monologue carefully, necessarily so, but offers a raw vulnerability at the same time; much of the final third’s stability is based in this moment and the work it does.

Runner-up: Gina Rodriguez — Annihilation
3. Letitia Wright — Black Panther
4. Rachel McAdams — Game Night
5. Geraldine Viswanathan — Blockers

The Next 5
6. Andrea Riseborough — The Death of Stalin
7. Millicent Simmonds — A Quiet Place
8. Zoe Saldana — Avengers: Infinity War
9. Tessa Thompson — Annihilation
10. Sally Hawkins — Paddington 2

Best Production Design

Winner: Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some franchises get sequels, and even after a second film, their worlds still feel flat, uninspired and without life.

Black Panther is the exact opposite. Within the first act, the world of Wakanda lives vibrantly, and a huge reason for that is the production design. Like the costumes, the variety of designs, how informed each feel and how each build a specific aspect of Wakanda is a testament to the production design’s accomplishment. The throne room has the hallmark of superhero royal design, and yet, it is distinctly of Wakanda. And Shuri’s lab is as badass and visually exciting as any set throughout the MCU.

To make it plain and simple, look at how the sets of Wakanda are realized at the end of Captain America: Civil War and throughout Avengers: Infinity War. The difference is day and night.

Runner-up: Gary Williamson, Cathy Cosgrove — Paddington 2
3. Mark Digby, Michelle Day — Annihilation
4. Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod — Isle of Dogs
5. Jeffrey Beecroft, Heather Loeffler — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Kristian Milsted, Libby Uppington — Journey’s End
7. Charles Wood, Lesley Pope — Avengers: Infinity War
8. Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx — The Death of Stalin
9. Gary Freeman, Raffaella Giovannetti — Tomb Raider
10. Naomi Shohan, Elizabeth Keenan — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Visual Effects

Winner: Dan DeLeeuw, Jeff Capogreco, Varun Hadkar, Doug Spilatro — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The visual effects of Avengers: Infinity War are simultaneously a synthesis of the MCU and a grand expansion of it. We get our (brief) moment of Hulk. We get Iron Man in full action. We get Dr. Strange and Wong channeling their magic. We get Spider-Man slinging through New York. We get the Guardians going galactic.

But we also get each hero visualized in new situations, using new weapons/suits/powers in new settings. The scope is pushed to the max as Iron Man’s suit evolves in its capabilities, as Dr. Strange is pitted against powers he hasn’t faced, as Spider-Man is taken into space, as Thor gets an axe to replace his hammer. The scope is pushed to the max as the new worlds we see — Titan, Nidavellir, Vormir — begin to paint a brilliant universe that’s been devastated by an approaching apocalypse.

Certain moments are visual effects wonders, many of them on Titan. Thanos bringing down the moon on Iron Man is indescribably transfixing, and the Avengers taking on Thanos to try to remove his gauntlet is a masterful orchestration.

And this all comes without mention of the performance capture work. Where Andy Serkis and crew innovated with the Planet of the Apes trilogy, the team on Infinity War extends that. The children of Thanos are interesting visual pieces, Ebony Maw perhaps the most. But Thanos is clearly the visual effects star. Thanos’ stature, his palpable physicality, which turns into palpable dread for our heroes, is key to the film’s success, and his rendering is brilliant.

Runner-up: Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer — Ready Player One
3. Andrew Whitehurst — Annihilation
4. Nikos Kalaitzidis, Richard McBride — A Wrinkle In Time
5. Geoffrey Baumann, Stuart Lashley, Doug Spilatro — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Jim Berney, Peter Chiang, Caleb Choo — Pacific Rim: Uprising
7. Scott Farrar — A Quiet Place
8. Rupert Davies, Andy Kind, Peter McDonald, Carlos Monzon, Glen Pratt — Paddington 2
9. Matt Sloan, R. Christopher White — Maze Runner: The Death Cure
10. Thrain Shadbolt, Colin Strause, Erik Winquist — Rampage

Best Film Editing

Winner: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 gets nearly everything right. Its characterization is pitch perfect, its tone enchanting. Some of its sequences are simply magical.

And one of the most significant contributing factors to those aspects working as well as they do is the film’s editing. Montage sequences are put together with grace and energy akin to Wes Anderson films, some of them evoking the spy genre in both a genuine and lightly satirical way. The pacing never falters, the film running along briskly throughout. And cuts are leveraged so affectingly, perhaps most powerfully toward the film’s end. The overall piece of Paddington is as delectably crafted as a marmalade sandwich.

Runner-up: Barney Pilling — Annihilation
3. Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Christopher Tellefsen — A Quiet Place
5. Alex O’Flinn — The Rider

The Next 5
6. Joe Bini — You Were Never Really Here
7. Tania Reddin — Journey’s End
8. Debbie Berman, Michael P. Shawver — Black Panther
9. David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin — Game Night
10. Jonathan Alberts — Lean on Pete

Best Cinematography

Winner: Bradford Young — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Before Bradford Young exposed the deep shadows of a galaxy far, far away, he utilized shadows to dig deep into the psychology of those in poverty. Where Is Kyra? is incredibly and literally dark throughout, and gets darker as the film goes. And Young’s detail in those shadows evokes so much about the despair of poverty. But Young also utilizes the close-up to profound effect. Many of the shots of Michelle Pfeiffer’s face are jarring, but necessarily so, in that they allow a raw, quiet look at her state of mind. And when things get desperate, the uncomfortable angles of close-ups, like in the image above, only further transport us emotionally.

Runner-up: Laurie Rose — Journey’s End
3. Trent Opaloch — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Joshua James Richard — The Rider
5. Rob Hardy — Annihilation

The Next 5
6. Rachel Morrison — Black Panther
7. Barry Peterson — Game Night
8. Charlotte Bruus Christensen — A Quiet Place
9. Triston Oliver — Isle of Dogs
10. Tom Townend — You Were Never Really Here

Best Original Score

Winner: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury — Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

The music of Annihilation stood out even before the film released, with that signature sound sticking in people’s minds and sites even writing articles pinpointing when it popped up.

But the fact that the score stands out is not what makes it so good. The shimmer is as equally horrifying as it is beautiful, and Barrow and Salisbury’s score replicates that, even instills that in the film. The electronic buzz is both paralyzing and dazzling, especially in the final act, as the piece “The Alien” renders the sequence on of the most stunning of recent memory.

And yet, the score also utilizes acoustic guitar in stark contrast, crafting an atmosphere of melancholy that perfectly delivers on the film’s rumination on mental pain.

Runner-up: Ludwig Göransson — Black Panther
3. Jonny Greenwood — You Were Never Really Here
4. Alexandre Desplat — Isle of Dogs
5. Marco Beltrami — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Hildur Guðnadóttir, Natalie Holt — Journey’s End
7. Cliff Martinez — Game Night
8. Carlo Virzì — The Leisure Seeker
9. Dario Marianelli — Paddington 2
10. Alan Silvestri — Avengers: Infinity War

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Chloé Zhao — The Rider

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Rider may feature plenty of dialogue that presents its themes up front. But that seems purposeful, as the film is really about the performative of that explicitness as well as the simple, but profound structure/progression of events.

Zhao’s script is gentle, but that allows the story to become rather forceful in its entirety. By its end, those simple, explicit lines of dialogue mean much more than they did at the film’s start.

Runner-up: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
3. Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe — Blockers
4. Mark Perez — Game Night
5. Cory Finley — Thoroughbreds

The Next 5
6. Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan — Chappaquiddick
7. Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura — Isle of Dogs
8. Ronnie Sandahl — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult — Where Is Kyra?
10. Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer — Unsane

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

While Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger is good, most of the powerful impact of the character comes from how he’s written — the dialogue of the character, his arc and the themes that his character touches on.

Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole compose the character of Killmonger with staggering real world weight, but they also envision an entire new world of Wakanda stunningly. The idea of Wakanda as a thriving African nation because it has not been colonized is a fantastic start. Then, evoking isolationism as the country’s guiding theory and taking that into conflict with the responsibility such a nation might have to the ancestors of slaves/those colonized is so indescribably fascinating.

And despite what some others might suggest, this kind of thematic investigation could’ve only come through a superhero film. That Coogler and Cole’s script reaches that potential is the sign of its brilliance.

Runner-up: Paul King, Simon Farnaby — Paddington 2
3. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Alex Garland — Annihilation
5. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here

The Next 5
6. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
7. Simon Reade — Journey’s End
8. Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin — The Death of Stalin
9. Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz — Disobedience
10. Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker — Love, Simon

Best Director

Winner: Paul King — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 hits all the right notes. It is simultaneously a magical children’s film and a thought provoking film for adults, nailing a balance of charming storytelling and thematic heft. It is a play on spy films while also indulging in the genre. It is a wonder of costume design, visual effects, production design, music and multiple other crafts. And it’s acted to perfection.

Sometimes, a film that succeeds in so many areas doesn’t necessary coalesce into a successful whole. But Paddington 2 does. While Paul King may not be directly responsible for certain aspects of brilliance in the film, he is responsible for the compilation of those aspects into a single piece of art — the resulting film. And for that reason, King’s directing job deserves endless praise.

Runner-up: Alex Garland — Annihilation
3. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Ryan Coogler — Black Panther
5. Chloé Zhao — The Rider

The Next 5
6. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
7. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here
8. Saul Dibb — Journey’s End
9. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
10. Kay Cannon — Blockers

Best Ensemble

Winner: The Cast of Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The simple presence of so many lovable characters, characters we’ve come to care about over a decade, did not necessarily mean that the ensemble of Avengers: Infinity War would work. An ensemble needs on screen chemistry in the situations of its specific film, and they need to, as a whole, contribute to the themes of the films. Thankfully, the dozens of significant characters in Infinity War come together to continue the MCU’s run of infectious ensembles. The back and forth, especially between characters meeting for the first time, is spectacular, both in comedic moments such as those between Thor and the Guardians, as well as in dramatic moments such as those between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. Finally, the interactions between the Avengers and Thanos are dreadful moments worthy of the six year anticipation of the villain’s arrival.

Runner-up: The Cast of Black Panther
3. The Cast of The Death of Stalin
4. The Cast of Game Night
5. The Cast of Paddington 2

The Next 5
6. The Cast of Blockers
7. The Cast of Annihilation
8. The Cast of Journey’s End
9. The Cast of Love, Simon
10. The Cast of Chappaquiddick

Best Lead Actor

Winner: Charlie Plummer — Lean on Pete

A24/Courtesy

Charlie Plummer’s performance in Lean on Pete is, in terms of how the character is evoked, rather similar to Timothée Chalamet’s in Call Me by Your Name — understated, and more powerful because of it.

In Lean on Pete, Plummer’s character Charley is guarded. His mom is gone. His dad is a drunk. He’s on his own — until he meets aging racing horse Lean on Pete. Plummer plays on that shell that Charley creates so well, utilizing his eyes as the main windows into who he really is, as the rest is mostly protection. There’s a gentleness and tranquility in Charley, but as he’s tested, Plummer evokes the risk of that gentleness turning sour in the transitions of reserved physicality to sudden panic. Plummer says everything through how little he does, rendering the most emotional moments where he doesn’t necessarily do anything so powerful because of his acting prior to those moments.

Runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix — You Were Never Really Here
3. Sam Claflin — Journey’s End
4. Jason Clarke — Chappaquiddick
5. Josh Brolin — Avengers: Infinity War

The Next 5
6. Brady Jandreau — The Rider
7. Nick Robinson — Love, Simon
8. Chadwick Boseman — Black Panther
9. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
10. Sverrir Gudnason — Borg vs. McEnroe

Best Lead Actress

Winner: Michelle Pfeiffer — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Where Is Kyra? is a bracing film about poverty, but it needed an actress that could bear it all for the investigation. And Michelle Pfeiffer goes above and beyond. Her full emotions are underneath the surface, but her desperation is clear to see. Much of the plot traps her character into more and more difficult situations, and Pfeiffer embodies that trapped feeling, injecting into the physicality of her performance, specifically the muscles in her face. She delivers small outbursts so powerfully, but, just when we think we’ll finally see a full outburst of emotion, Pfeiffer contains it all into a simple, devastating look. Pfeiffer’s work is the epitome of harrowing, and it’s a performance we won’t soon forget.

Runner-up: Emily Blunt — A Quiet Place
3. Claire Foy — Unsane
4. Natalie Portman — Annihilation
5. Rachel McAdams — Disobedience

The Next 5
6. Anya Taylor-Joy — Thoroughbreds
7. Rachel Weisz — Disobedience
8. Olivia Cooke — Thoroughbreds
9. Alicia Vikander — Tomb Raider
10. Helen Mirren — The Leisure Seeker

Best Picture

Winner: Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

A “Best Picture” is a film that transcends the medium as powerfully as possible. That doesn’t mean it’s the “best” film and that doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s favorite. A “Best Picture” has a sort of intangible quality to it that everyone, no matter if they think it’s the “best” or if it’s their favorite, can feel anyway.

So far in 2018, that film is indisputably Black Panther. Superhero films don’t get much celebration. Oftentimes, it makes sense. But in some cases, it’s incredibly sad, as superhero films can evoke ideas, emotions, themes, representation and much more in ways that other films can’t. Black Panther is a pinnacle of that in many regards. Its themes are precisely transcendent, in that they leverage the genre to make profound statements through a hypothetical, extremely imaginative, but always truthful lens.

The fact that there is legitimate argument that Black Panther is also the “best” film only solidifies its place. Ryan Coogler’s storytelling is bravely raw, but also expertly composed. And the design elements of the film and how they contribute to the film’s story represent the best of what film can do.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, no one forgets Black Panther‘s achievement.

Runner-up: Paddington 2
3. Annihilation
4. Avengers: Infinity War
5. The Rider
6. A Quiet Place
7. Journey’s End
8. You Were Never Really Here
9. Lean on Pete
10. Blockers

The Next 5
11. Game Night
12. Chappaquiddick
13. Disobedience
14. The Death of Stalin
15. Thoroughbreds

 

Voting contributions from Hooman Yazdanian.

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros./Good Deed Entertainment.

Trial: What is the best horror film of the past 5 years?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: What is the most effective horror film of the past 5 years?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Sanjay Nimmagudda
Judge: Kyle Kizu

*Warning: Spoilers for ‘The VVitch’ and for ‘It Follows.’*

Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/Courtesy

Sanjay’s argument:

Contemporary horror movies are burdened with the stigma of excess. Whether it be excess in the form of jump scares, clichéd storylines or, more often than not, gore, recent scary movies fail to make a lasting impression of pure terror on the minds of their viewers. This is the cinematic landscape into which writer-director David Robert Mitchell introduced his 2014 horror sleeper hit, It Follows, simultaneously reinvigorating the genre while cementing the film’s place as certified nightmare fuel.

What sets It Follows apart is the film’s ability to gradually instill dread into its audience through sheer simplicity. Mitchell builds suspense and conjures up uneasiness via a basic narrative that has far-reaching real-world applicability. Gone are the chainsaw-wielding rednecks, demonic poltergeists and invincible masked killers, but the terror their histories carry with them is here in buckets. The film brilliantly supplants the cheap, and non-lasting, scares that these horror archetypes induce with a more primal and intrinsic fear present in every man, woman and child at some point in his or her life.

Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/Courtesy

By simply having the ostensible ‘final girl’ Jay (Maika Monroe) relentlessly stalked by an indescribable force of evil, It Follows engages audiences on a more personable, and relatable, level. ‘When was the last time you felt as though someone or something was following you?’ the film posits. This inherently natural and ubiquitous fear is more effective and lingering because it can happen to and overcome anyone. Mitchell does not bog the film down with backstory or pad the runtime with a high body count, no. Instead, both director and production progress with the confidence that the most terrifying things in life are the inexplicable.

That’s not to say It Follows is without its subplots — a staple of the horror movie game — but the fashion in which it incorporates its motifs anxiously underscores the terror which the main narrative produces. The young adults who comprise the main cast are not trite caricatures of teenagers as audiences have come to expect within the genre, but rather, they act naturalistically, organically so to speak, and subtly convey moments of grief, trauma, sexual repression and mental illness on screen as actual teenagers would.

They are shameful, scared and unsure of what to do, but concurrently, they are not just bodies on the screen waiting to be picked off one by one. The realism in their portrayals as well as how well the film intertwines these socially taboo subjects creates an atmosphere of shame and guilt which only serves to emphasize the weight of the situation these people have found themselves in. Mitchell makes these kids likeable, empathetic and real, rendering their predicament all the more personally horrific.

Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/Courtesy

What’s more, It Follows understands that what makes a horror film truly frighteningly is not simply what’s onscreen (though that is a large part of it), but rather the atmosphere established about the entire film. With a score that is both unbelievably disturbing and a beautiful callback to the iconic sinister tracks in films like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, composer Disasterpiece constructs an auditory dialogue between new age synthetic tones and classic horror film melodies which unsettles, intrigues and works beautifully in cohesion with DP Mike Gioulakis’ minimalist cinematographic style. Gioulakis boils down each shot to the bare essentials whether it be a simple car parked in an abandoned lot or the frequent, but no less harrowing, extreme long-shot of a small figure slowly inching its way toward the foreground. This is horror filmmaking without the frills and ostentatiousness of its contemporary counterparts and more terrifying because of it.

By excising the excess of modern horror while ameliorating the trope-ish tendencies of horror past, It Follows manages to deliver an innovative and, necessarily, simple story which harks on the fears and insecurities present in all of us, that never truly leave. It is the best horror film of not just the past 5 years, but of the 21st century.

A24/Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

Robert Eggers’ The VVitch isn’t scary in the traditional sense. But everything about it is unsettling. It is a film that is meticulously designed to flay one’s nerves for 93 minutes by any means possible, right down to the spelling of the title, an aesthetic choice that elicits existential dread from my computer’s spell check software.

The VVitch barely has any jump scares (the ones in the film are damn effective though), preferring instead to escalate the viewer’s sense of unease through the language of cinema. Immediately, we’re introduced to a world drenched in darkness; cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s use of only natural light (or lack thereof) suggests that there is neither a shred of brightness to be found nor hoped for. The visual aesthetic of The VVitch instantly communicates dreariness to the viewer, establishing the unease of what’s to come. This sense of unease is continued when we’re introduced to the farm where the main characters reside. It’s in an open field, completely vulnerable to the sinister, hungry maw of the surrounding forests. We’re constantly worrying that the titular witch will emerge from the woods and descend upon the exposed farm. Additionally, the farm is completely cutoff from society, and the isolation that imbues the film is akin to films like The Shining. In this sense, the world of the film is one that constantly and inherently invites tension.

A24/Courtesy

Of course, setting alone can’t invite the full-scale unease that the film achieves, and that’s where the characters come in. The film centers around a family of 17th century New England Puritans, who experience typical household troubles, which ground them in reality. So when that sense of reality is swept away by the supernatural — literally, when baby Samuel is snatched by a witch and ground to bits — we’re invested in the well-being of the family. Mostly though, we’re most invested in the character of Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family’s eldest daughter, who may or may not be the supernatural source of the family’s troubles. As the film progresses, we see how Thomasin is simply caught up in a family that is slowly caving into itself through their isolation, seemingly without any help from the supernatural. Thomasin never intends her family harm, and when she is consistently getting blamed for the family’s misfortunes, our unease stems from the sense that disaster is looming, despite Thomasin’s innocence.

Then, there’s the music, composed by Mark Korven. Whereas most horror films are content to blast pounding waves of noise, Korven crafts a signature sound for The VVitch by turning to period-accurate instruments such as the nyckelharpa. The string melody of “What Went We” is at once beautiful, but also intuitively evil — not unlike the film’s depiction of Satan himself. The vocal chanting of “Witch’s Coven” likewise bears an inherently sinister quality. This isn’t “avada kedavra,” but something that feels real, as if the sharp, angry chanting comes from a real coven of witches. The music of The VVitch turns an already tense film into an utterly bone-chilling one.

A24/Courtesy

Regarding the religious horror on which The VVitch is based on, there’s something tactile and authentic in the way that the film approaches witches and satanic lore. It certainly comes as no small sign of approval when real Satanists lend their support to the film. The film posits the threat of Satan as a constant one for Thomasin and her family — present in the mundane, the extraordinary and everything in between — which also makes such a threat feel salient for the viewer. When Satan’s influence is posited as inevitable, maybe even condonable, that’s when the viewer truly becomes unnerved.

Ultimately, The VVitch is a thoroughly unsettling experience, one which leverages filmic language and storytelling to create an aesthetic experience of pure dread. If nothing else, the film deserves all of its plaudits for launching the career of Black Phillip, the most talented, savvy and charismatic actor of his generation.  

Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/Courtesy

Sanjay’s rebuttal:

I have to concede to Harrison that Eggers does implement painstaking detail in recreating the puritanical homestead upon which The VVitch takes place. The mood evoked by the film’s fixation on isolation, familial disputes and the unpredictability of the eponymous witch does contribute to an overwhelming amount of tension that envelops the film as a whole. It’s clear that the film’s existence as a period piece sets it apart from cinematic peers, but I would argue that said peers are not of the horror genre. What the movie accomplishes with the aforementioned plot beats, aesthetic and auditory choices and overall unnerving atmosphere is not necessarily indicative of horror so much as a drama or even thriller. The VVitch is most informed by how it captures the trial of Thomasin as a victim of historical patriarchal oppression.

Thomasin’s ascension to fully-realized autonomy is what drives the film as she is constantly belittled, disparaged and generally disregarded by her family. The film relies on her perpetual disenfranchisement as a woman in Puritan society and a daughter to a distrustful family to achieve its ultimate conclusion. I would assert that the “dreariness” and “uneas[iness]” of the movie, while undoubtedly generating fear, is not primarily meant to do so in service of fear, but rather to elicit sympathy for Thomasin’s plight.

Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/Courtesy

Therein lies the delineation between classifying The VVitch as horror or drama/thriller, while a film may contain all the tell-tale signs of your run-of-the-mill scary movie, those signs are just a means to an end. And unless that end is to frighten, to horrify, to scare an audience, then that film cannot fully be classified as a horror film. The VVitch appropriates elements of horror which Harrison describes, such as Blaschke’s specific use of natural light and Korven’s string-based score, not to directly terrify but rather to emphasize the severity of Thomasin’s indescribably traumatic life.

Though scares do exist within its runtime, The VVitch functions best as a portrayal of the hardships and eventual retrieval of agency of its main character. The frights and scares, while very real, exist as tools to support and accent the journey of its central protagonist. While one might try and accuse It Follows of a similar feat, the difference is, It Follows’ narrative and thematic through lines of sex, disease etc. never overpower the film’s scares. Thomasin’s arc, on the other hand, becomes more compelling and deserving of our attention as the film progresses. It surpasses even the looming threat of the titular witch, that is, until Thomasin becomes her. In fact, when compared to It Follows’ straight-forward narrative, the intricacy of The VVitch’s storyline and the stark lens it casts on the familial dynamic as well as Thomasin’s identity make it a better film. Just not a better or scarier horror film.

A24/Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

Arguing that The VVitch is a better horror film than It Follows is no easy task, especially when Sanjay makes his point as thoroughly as he did. I can’t deny that It Follows is one of my favorite recent films, not least because its simple, atmospheric scares capture the anxiety of being followed, and of teenage sexuality.

Still, I would argue that the scares in The VVitch work in the same ways that those of It Follows do, but more effectively. It Follows leverages Mike Gioulakis camera work to create scares, in particular through the long takes that create a sense of anxiety for the viewer. But The VVitch makes the same play. The final scene of Thomasin walking into the woods lingers on her slow departure, going further and further away from the camera. This shot follows the same methodology as the cinematography in It Follows, but the anxiety of the shot is heightened because of the way that the film consistently escalates tension. The VVitch allows its viewer no time to breathe, no escape from the film’s ever tightening grasp on the viewer. Quite frankly, there’s hope for the characters in It Follows; they have the chance to pass on the specter of death that follows them. Thomasin, in The VVitch, has no such luxury. Her entire world crumbles away, and the shot of her walking into the forest — a climactic moment — only serves to highlight this fact. Sure, she might be better off with the witch’s coven, but nowhere in the film does the viewer not feel tense.

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In regard to atmosphere, The VVitch is arguably more hauntingly atmospheric than It Follows. Robert Eggers’ experience as a production designer comes out in full force: the film’s color palette, eerie music, blunt but mysterious approach to the supernatural and utilization of 17th-century aesthetics all create an atmosphere that coalesces to haunt and unnerve the viewer. In this sense, the atmosphere of The VVitch is more unified and purposeful than that of It Follows.

Ultimately though, both It Follows and The VVitch are two of the best recent horror films. Yet, the constant tension and unique aesthetic atmosphere of The VVitch give it an edge that It Follows lacks.

Kyle’s ruling:

The arguments are exactly what I hoped for out of this specific trial. They’re rather different. Harrison focuses on the complexity of production and the viscerally unsettling experience, while Sanjay focuses on the incredibly efficient, effective and simple story. Both are cases made well, cases that show how incredible the horror genre can be and, if all to base a judgment off of, impossible to pick between.

But there’s a clear winner, and it’s because someone shot themselves in the foot in the rebuttals. Sanjay seems to take the route of arguing for why The VVitch isn’t even primarily a horror film in the first place. It’s a bold strategy, but it doesn’t pay off. He makes the case for how the tension and unease are in service of a dramatic idea in regard to the film’s main character, which he believes makes it more of a dramatic film than a horror one. It’s an idea, sure. But I never understood why that meant that The VVitch‘s scares and fright aren’t indicative of horror, of rather good horror. Wouldn’t that make it a better horror film? That its scares and frights are in service of story and character and not just there for horror’s sake? Isn’t that the very idea you present in your own argument for It Follows? That it isn’t cheap? And if It Follow‘s themes are in service of the horror, and not the other way around, wouldn’t that make it cheap?

It was too bold of an attempt, and not one that had to be made.

In Harrison’s rebuttal, he uses the angle that Sanjay does in his very own argument for It Follows to take down that film — talk about effectivity, and how The VVitch is more so.

Winner: Harrison

 

Do you agree with Kyle’s verdict? Or would you have picked a different horror film as the best of recent years? Sound off in the comments.

Staff records:

Harrison Tunggal: 3-1

Levi Hill: 1-0

Kyle Kizu: 0-2

Sanjay Nimmagudda: 0-1

 

Featured image via Northern Lights/Animal Kingdom/A24.