My fiance and I recently had a horror movie night, complete with snacks and couch full of pillows and blankets. That's nothing too unusual. But it is unusual to find two movies - both of which seemingly flew under most people's radar - and find them both to be wonderful.
They were so good, in fact, that after seven month's absence from this site, I decided to start up again just so I could review these two movies: Grand Piano (2013) and No One Lives (2012). Now, it doesn't matter which order you watch them in. If you prefer subtle mind-games and thrills, watch "Grand Piano" first. If you get your kicks from gore and violence, "No One Lives" is the way to go. Either way, I do recommend watching them together - but I'll get to that.
Grand Piano (synopsis courtesy IMDB): Moments before his comeback performance, a concert pianist who suffers from stage fright discovers a note written on his music sheet. It should read: the pianist (Elijah Wood) finds an extremely threatening note written on his music sheet. Soon after, he finds the red dot of a sniper rifle aimed at his head. He must play the best concert of his life - or die (at the hands of John Cusack).
I don't usually like Elijah Wood, but I love John Cusack. So I was torn when I first saw the preview for this film. I love thrillers, and movies where two characters go head-to-head in a psychological tug of war - but Elijah Wood? Really? Certainly he can't stand up to Cusack. I mean, I look at him and all I see is Frodo Baggins. But I was pleasantly surprised. He was extremely convincing, and actually played the classical pieces! The dialogue is stellar. It's incredibly hard to pull off a threat when you're just a voice in someone's ear, but the film is incredibly intense. The real thrill of this movie is that it isn't just a run-of-the-mill thrill ride. Halfway through this film it morphs into a completely different animal. As does Wood's character. The third act started with a weird musical number - but it was actually the perfect backdrop for the final game of cat and possibly-mighty mouse.
Then we flew into my fiance's pick, "No One Lives." (From IMDB) No One Lives: A gang of ruthless highway killers kidnap a wealthy couple traveling cross country only to shockingly discover that things are not what they seem. The preview for this film left me totally in the dark about what was the film was about. I had no clue, and was apprehensive when he wanted to rent it. Then he told me Luke Evans was the star and Ryuhei Kitamura (who directed the great adaptation of my favorite person Clive Barker's "Midnight Meat Train") helmed the piece. Ok, I thought, I'll give it a shot. Definitely the right call. This movie seems like a simple "you picked the wrong guy to mess with" film - one of my favorite sub-genres. But boy, oh boy, this movie is completely different. Sure, these thugs picked the wrong guy, but Evans' character is unlike any opponent in any such film. They could make a whole series of sequels just about that character alone. (I actually hope they will.) It is full of gore, and pervasive language, and there is just a bit of gratuitous nudity, but this film is excellent. It is suspenseful, clever, and Luke Evans really blew me away with his performance. I have a new respect for him now.
Now, I said you should definitely watch these films together. You should. Here's why: so often horror movies get lumped into a few categories, or we chop them up into hundreds of tiny sub-genres within sub-genres and get lost in all the analysis and categorization. But when it comes down to it, modern horror is divided into two sides: the thriller and the violent film. You either have a smart movie (that may be violent) or an all-out gore fest. Which is fine. But 95% of the time the horror films out there now are awful. It takes a lot of muddling through to find real keepers. So, if you want to see real modern horror, and see really excellent examples of where the genre can head in this current climate, look no further than "Grand Piano" and "No One Lives."