8 Weird Movies From 2015 Worth Watching
Most of us rely on big studio productions for our cinematic entertainment, if only out of convenience, but each year sees plenty of independent and international filmmakers working against the Hollywood monopoly with their own idiosyncratic filmmaking efforts. Of course, 2015 was no exception, as arthouse theaters around the nation featured personal and even experimental films that pushed envelopes, trying everything from shooting an entire film in one take to refusing to subtitle a film told entirely through sign language. For those willing to try something new when they watch a movie, here are eight weird and wonderful films that came out this year.
Like several other films on this list, Victoria is built around a gimmick. Shot in one continuous long take lasting more than two hours and covering a ton of territory through after-hours Berlin, the gimmick actually helps the story deepen its impact, even if it does occasionally cause a pacing problem or two in the dragging first forty minutes. A Spanish woman new to Berlin finds herself willingly drawn into a dangerous crime caper by a man she meets during a night out after agreeing to drive the crew to a bank for a commissioned robbery. The danger and the tension slowly but surely mount to unbearable levels, helped in intensity thanks to the one-take gimmick, until the film takes a turn for the tragic toward the end, with the emotional gut-punch made all the more difficult when one realizes the entire film has played out in real time.
Studio horror films are mostly stagnant at this point, relying on sequels and remakes rather than new ideas to frighten audiences, but 2015 saw the release of one of the most novel horror concepts in recent years. Featuring only one continuous shot of a computer screen as a teenage girl clicks through chat windows and online articles to help weed out a malicious presence on her Skype chat threatening to destroy her and her friends, Unfriended explores horror for a new age, wherein everyone’s secret shames are accessible to anyone with hacker know-how and endless connectivity can’t help one hide from their own comeuppance. While flawed, Unfriended has more than enough exciting, terrifying new ideas to sustain interest for its 90-minute runtime.
Sometimes a gimmick works best when it’s used only for advertising and word of mouth, hardly even evident within the film itself. Tangerine gained quite a bit of buzz for being shot entirely on an iPhone camera, discreetly following a couple of real-life drag queens around some of the scummier streets of West Hollywood on a chaotic Christmas Eve, but it’s hardly important to the plot itself. Recently released from a short stint in jail, Sin-Dee goes on a rampage in order to find her pimp boyfriend after finding out he cheated on her while she was gone, her story intersecting with those of her best friend Alexandra, who dreams of being a singer, and of an unfaithful Armenian cab-driver and family man named Razmik. These characters live on the fringes of society not usually documented in film, making their high-energy hi-jinks about as heartbreaking as they are hilarious.
4. The Overnight
Structuring a seemingly never-ending dinner party like a horror movie, The Overnight systematically tests the not-so-hard-line sexual boundaries of both its characters and its viewers. Starring Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott (one of comedy’s great straight-men, no pun intended) as a married couple looking to make friends after their move to LA, The Overnight focuses on a single night wherein they are entertained by their seemingly more liberated neighbors (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche) well after their children’s bedtimes. Things get progressively wilder despite the vague protests of Scott and Schilling’s characters, making for one of the year’s funniest films, primarily because one doesn’t know what to do but laugh to relieve all the disquieting tension.
There isn’t really any nice way to classify Buzzard, a gritty, darkly comic film focused on the deteriorating life of a twenty-something loner who might be taken as the embodiment of a certain kind of lower-middle class, punk rock townie angst. Anchored by an outstanding central performance from Joshua Burge as Marty, Buzzard is a triumph of independent film, featuring the sort of jarring tonal shifts and attention to detail that is rarely present in anything with a larger budget. The low budget suits the subject matter fine, as we follow Marty through ugly suburban hell-scapes and the occasional swanky hotel while his luck as a small-time swindler slowly runs out and he increasingly lashes out at the society that’s pushed him away — even if, more accurately, he’s the one who’s doing the pushing.
6. The Tribe
Most will be baffled to hear The Tribe‘s central gimmick — a movie set in a school for the deaf, whose characters speak entirely through sign language, which isn’t subtitled. The resulting film, however, is actually a triumph of film storytelling, as the actors and the cinematography enable audiences to keep up with the plot and the dialogue through entirely visual means. Concerning a new student to the school who becomes mixed up with an unfortunate and dangerous group of friends, The Tribe is audacious in more ways than one, as the necessarily simple story leads to some truly complex and even shocking results that would be powerful no matter the film’s gimmick. The fact that it works even better precisely because of the film’s gimmick is truly an accomplishment.
7. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Viewing the members of the human race from a detached distance, Swedish director Roy Andersson also places his camera with considerable distance from the goings-on of his isolated scenes in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, wherein various unrelated characters wearing ghost-white makeup react to mundane absurdities like a Medieval general marching to battle or a man dying in the middle of a dinner order with deadpan indifference. The film is surreal and slow, as each scene except one plays out in a single take, the shots constructed like dioramas of an extinct race in a natural history museum. It might not make for the most riveting filmmaking, but it occupies a fatalistic yet hilarious headspace unlike any other movie released this year.
The German post-Holocaust drama Phoenix is weirder for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t revel in the details of the Holocaust, or point fingers, or give characters any easy answers. Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) returns to postwar Berlin after a predictably traumatic stay in a concentration camp, intent on finding her husband, who may or may not have sold her out to the Nazis in the first place. The plot thickens to become convoluted when her husband fails to recognize her due to facial reconstruction surgery and employs her to pretend to be his wife in order to collect the reparations money owed to her. While the plot may be complex, the painful emotions involved in the story are always perfectly clear, making for a riveting film, even when very little happens throughout. It makes it all the more stunning when something finally does happen in a finale the entire film builds to.