2010 was a fair year that produced some good foreign horror, some good period pieces, a standout reboot or two, and a rare commercial homerun hit. It’s a mixed bag, but – in general – it’s a better year than some may expect, should they not refresh their memories by scanning the flicks released. There was some struggle assembling this one, as a few strong films (Bereavement, Let Me In, Black Swan, Cold Fish, Rabies) just barely missed the cut, and the remainder of those in top contention are so varied in content and style that it became an exceptionally subjective task to find a little rhyme and reason and piece together a list that actually makes sense.
We’ve done our best, just as we’ve done with all of our other annual lists!
10 Black Swan
Black Swan only places low on this list because it’s what I refer to as a ‘fringe horror’ film. It’s more thriller than anything, but it dips into horrific territory that genuinely shocks in the final act. There’s something extremely uncomfortable about the picture as a whole, and it earns high recommendation from us. If artsy films with countless layers work for you, Black Swan is an absolute winner.
Man versus nature flicks are always tricky, but Adam Green smacked this one out of the park. The concept – being trapped on a ski-lift after a resort closes down for an extended period of time with nothing but tens of feet and hungry wildlife below – is relatively fresh, and it gives Green a chance to develop great characters that viewers can relate to. The ending is dismal, but that’s also a part of the charm. Frozen is wildly different than every other picture that Green has shot, but it’s truly amazing, and arguably, Green’s technical best.
08 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
It’s all too rare that we get kick ass Christmas-themed horror movies, so when Finnish filmmaker, Jalmari Helander offered up Rare Exports, most of us felt a surge of joy. The film utilizes only the most necessary of tropes, and instead opts to head in a direction we don’t typically see American filmmakers travel. The move was risky, but it makes the film’s big baddie quite unique, and the final act caps off a really engaging piece that’s part holiday film, part coming-of-age film and part pure-horror film. Winner, through and through!
07 We Are What We Are
The thing that’s always rubbed me the wrong way about cannibal films, is how far over the top they tend to be. Ambitious filmmaker, Jorge Michel Grau bailed on the outlandish concepts and instead drenched his film in a darker, dramatic layer of tangible flesh. It’s often so underplayed that it could be a straight found footage flick and it’d be infinitely more convincing than some of the best found footage in existence. I think the goal was to leave viewers feeling as uncomfortable as possible, and it works, like a charm.
06 Stake Land
Stake Land is hit or miss. Most either love it, or hate it, and there’s rarely an in between with fans. I’m in the love it crowd, and I think the post-apocalyptic backdrop adds an interesting wrinkle to the basic idea, and the co-conflict of man versus figurative monster, as opposed to man versus literal monster, works as a terrific subplot that regularly helps to push the narrative forward in a natural manner. If end-of-the-worlders work for you, and you get a kick out of vampire movies, this one is a big winner.
One of the more awesome franchise reboots out there, Predators manages to capture nostalgia in a bottle, often feeling reminiscent of John McTiernan’s original, but does more than enough new things to never feel like it needs to borrow from any other film in the franchise. It’s an interesting mix, but Adrien Brody’s extremely spirited performance, the new Predator designs and the morbid sub-plot that puts Topher Grace in a key position in the film, all make this one a must-see with some serious replay value.
One of the 10 best found footage films in existence, Trollhunter (which technically arrived stateside in 2011, though I caught it at a festival in late 2010/very, very early 2011) does nothing that we expect and everything that catches us off-guard in the perfect way. It looks great, it’s legitimately original, and the performances are stellar. Oh, and it has that absolutely brilliant bridge scene that really sticks to you!
03 The Crazies
The year’s best remake, and the sleeper success story so many have still let slip by, The Crazies is an excellent picture that totally and completely eclipses the quality of the late, great, George Romero’s original. The intensity of the performances, the power of the conflict, the likability of the characters, the sheer terror of being trapped in a small town with human beings who are rapidly devolving into something profoundly dangerous monstrosities… it’s all brilliant and infectious.
02 Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Another one of those extremely rare horror comedies that works on all levels, this film is easily interchangeable between the second and first slot on this list. There’s a strange meta-undertone to the film that lines up the entire conflict, and from there we get a raucous slasher flick that turns the tropes you anticipate upside down and drops them right on their own heads. It’s genuinely funny, frequently disgusting and perfectly ironic to win over even those who may not be huge on horror comedies.
It’s extremely rare that commercial horror films impress me on a grand scale… that said, Insidious didn’t exactly start out as a true commercial horror film. The budget was modest, the performers were recognizable but not household names, the idea was familiar. And then we all went and saw it, and found out it’s an exceptionally well-made film with beautiful cinematography and a creepy factor that truly rivals the original Poltergeist, a film it has often been compared to. The follow-ups in the franchise may not have taken your breath away, but I’ll be damned if the original isn’t seriously unsettling with a few of the best scares we’ve ever seen.