Love is in the air! God help us, especially those who are throwing themselves into the love game. It’s horrifying, right? Scary, vulnerable, awkward, and really bloody once the power tools come out.
Horror filmmakers know a good subject when they see one. Here are our five favorite films focused on the quest to find and secure love.
5. Berlin Syndrome
Aussie photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer, better than she’s ever been) is looking for some life experience. She backpacks across Europe, landing for a brief stay in Berlin where she hopes to make a human connection. Handsome Berliner Andi (Max Riemelt) offers exactly the kind of mysterious allure she wants and they fall into a night of passion.
What follows is an incredible combination of horror and emotional dysfunction, deftly maneuvered by both cast mates and director Cate Shortland. The mental and emotional olympics Palmer goes through from the beginning of the film to the end showcase her instincts for nuanced and unsentimental performance. Clare is smart, but emotionally open and free with her own vulnerability. The way Palmer inhabits these characteristics is as authentic as it is awkward.
Even more uncomfortable is the shifting relationship, the neediness and resilience, the dependency and independence. It’s honest in a way that is profoundly moving and endlessly uncomfortable. Riemelt matches Palmer’s vulnerability with his own insecurity and emotional about faces. The two together are an unnerving onscreen pairing.
4. The Love Witch
Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Anna Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised this seductive sorcery headtrip.
Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.
Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.
3. Alleluia (2014)
In 2004, Belgian writer/director Fabrice Du Welz released the exquisite Calvaire, marking himself a unique artist worth watching. Ten years later he revisits the themes of that film – blind passion, bloody obsession, maddening loneliness – with Alleluia. Once again he enlists the help of an actor who clearly understands his vision.
Laurent Lucas plays Michel, a playboy conman who preys upon lonely women, seducing them and taking whatever cash he can get his hands on. That all changes once he makes a mark of Gloria (Lola Duenas).
Du Welz’s close camera and off angles exaggerate Lucas’s teeth, nose and height in ways that flirt with the grotesque. Likewise, the film dwells on Duenas’s bags and creases, heightening the sense of unseemliness surrounding the pair’s passion.
Duenas offers a performance of mad genius, always barely able to control the tantrum, elation, or desire in any situation. Her bursting passions often lead to carnage, but there’s a madcap love story beneath that blood spray that compels not just attention but, in a macabre way, affection. Alleluia is a film busting with desperation, jealousy, and the darkest kind of love.
2. The Loved Ones (2009)
Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between angsty, gritty drama and neon colored, glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.
Byrne quietly crafts an atmosphere of loss and depression in and around the school without painting the troubles cleanly. This slow reveal pulls the tale together and elevates it above a simple work of outrageous violence.
Inside Lola’s house, the mood is decidedly different. Here, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.
The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.
1. Audition (1999)
The prolific director Takashi Miike made more than 70 movies in his first 20 or so years in film. Among the best is Audition, a phenomenally creepy May/December romance gone very, very wrong.
Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.
Nearly unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror.
By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi Shina) have wrung the audience dry. She will not be the ideal stepmother.