Is it fair to say the best Stephen King adaptations tend to ditch most of his material? The Shawshank Redemption swapped its Irish protagonist for Morgan Freeman. Stanley Kubrick changed almost everything about The Shining. Even this year’s It, one of the most successful horror films of all time, removed King’s infamously disturbing sewer scene. While King has written some classic stories, it’s usually best to avoid his weirder ideas, lest you end up with a Maximum Overdrive or Dreamcatcher. While Mike Flanagan’s 2017 adaptation Gerald’s Game is mostly an enjoyably-gory chiller, he makes the fatal flaw of staying too faithful to the book’s flawed third act.
It might seem unthinkable that a film set in 2017 could depict a young girl being convicted of witchcraft, but that’s the situation in a remote village in Zambia, the setting for Rungano Nyoni’s terrific debut feature I Am Not A Witch. Mixing biting satire with coming-of-age tragedy, Nyoni has crafted one of the most unique and strangely affecting films of the year.
Since catapulting into the A-list (and the hearts of teenage girls) with the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson has been on a mission. Rejecting mainstream leading roles, he has instead been quietly trailblazing across the independent film scene for the last five years; working with legendary auteurs (David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog) and indie darlings (James Gray, Brady Corbet), ranking up an impressive, eclectic array of supporting performances. Teaming up with New York directors the Safdie Brothers for the stylish, intense crime thriller Good Time, Pattinson might have just delivered his best performance yet.
A British realism take on the sports film is hardly a unique idea, but it’s pulled off effectively by director Thomas Napper and first-time screenwriter Johnny Harris in the solid boxing drama Jawbone. Starring Harris as alcoholic former boxer Jimmy, the film has plenty of grit and heart, even if it can’t resist the clichés of the genre.
Opening with graphic images of open-heart surgery, The Killing of a Sacred Deer pushes and provokes its audience as much as possible. Greek misanthrope Yorgos Lanthimos enjoys inherently weird or ridiculous scenarios, forcing viewers to go on the journey or exit quickly. His 2009 breakthrough Dogtooth showed a father teaching his children strange myths about the outside world to keep them from leaving. 2015’s The Lobster introduced a sci-fi concept (what if single people had 30 days to find a partner before being turned into an animal?), then treated it as mundanely as possible. The Killing of a Sacred Deer might just be his strangest film yet, turning a standard revenge film into a stilted, creepy, jet black comedy that makes you laugh and shiver in equal measure.
Perhaps the greatest political satirist of the last decade, Armando Iannucci has created comedy masterpieces out of British government (The Thick of It), the War on Terror (In the Loop), and US presidential bids (Veep). Having conquered television comedy (Veep has so far yielded seventeen Emmys), Iannucci is back on the big screen with another terrific political satire, but his target is quite different – 1950’s, Stalin-ruled Soviet Union. Making a grand farce out of backstabbing, tyranny, and murder, The Death of Stalin is another darkly hilarious look at the bickering, scheming, moronic men who hold all the power. Imagine a version of The Thick of It in which Malcolm Tucker followed through on his verbal threats, and you’re halfway there.
Rebounding from the rather disappointing feature film My Scientology Movie, Louis Theroux is back on the BBC with Heroin Town, an upsetting and brutally frank documentary about Huntington, West Virginia, a town ravaged by drug addiction. While it doesn’t offer the jaw-dropping idiocy of America’s Most Hated Family or the emotional journey of Drinking to Oblivion, it’s yet another beautifully-observed descent into hell from one of our greatest living documentarians.
Already the year’s most controversial film, Darren Aronofsky’s insane horror mother! has divided audiences. Some find the film’s histrionic performances and increasingly unpleasant twists to be a deranged delight, while others have revolted against the disturbing violence and blunt allegory. While it’s fair to say Aronofsky lacks a light touch (the metaphor hits you like a brick), this works in the film’s favour; a relentless nightmare machine, mother! might be the most intense cinema experience you’ll have this year.