The Cannes Film Festival, arguably the most important showcase for international cinema of the year, just wrapped up on the Riviera with Blue is the Warmest Color winning the coveted Palme D'Or and Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Berenice Bejo (The Past) winning Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Typically heavy on dramatic fare, Cannes is never one of the best festival markets for horror premieres, although a lot of international sales do happen on and off the competition circuit of the fest. It's not like South by Southwest or even Sundance, where one can be assured that horror is going to play a prominent of the buzz coming out of the festival. However, all is not lost for horror fans looking for a sneak peek of what's lurching over the arthouse horizon. From names major (Jim Jarmusch, Takashi Miike) and minor (Ruairi Robinson, Jim Mickle), the 2013 Cannes audience were treated to some blood and guts with their croissants.
Arguably the most broadly commercial horror film to premiere at Cannes, Ruairi Robinson's The Last Days on Mars stars Liev Schrieber, Elia Koteas, Romola Garai, and Olivia Williams, and falls into one of the least populated genres left in film: the sci-fi zombie movie. Science fiction has long explored what would happen if dangerous life was found on other planets (Ridley Scott did it just last year in Prometheus), but what if said life turned people into the undead? A bacterium is found on the first manned mission to Mars and brought back to Earth even though it makes crew members into something very unpleasant and very hungry for brains. Filmed on a low budget and with partial funding from the Irish Film Board, this could be one of the indie horror hits of the year (although that year could be 2014 since we never know exactly how long it will take Cannes films to make the jump across the pond).
Leave it to someone as genre-hopping as Jim Jarmusch to bring a vampire horror flick to Cannes as he did this year with Only Lovers Left Alive, starring the perfectly-paired Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. The fantastic actors play Adam and Eve, a pair of bloodsuckers who have been in love for centuries but now live on other sides of the world -- Eve in Tangiers with an immortal Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) and Adam in Detroit because, well, it makes sense that a vampire would live in a nearly-dead city. Jeffrey Wright and Mia Wasikowska co-star in a film that's reportedly very Jarmusch in its pace. In other words, expect more scenes of Adam and Eve sitting around trying to solve the boredom that must come with centuries of time to kill than actual horror. Jarmusch has tackled unexpected genres before with fascinating results (Ghost Dog, Dead Man) so, whether it's great or awful, Only Lovers Left Alive should be one of the most interesting vampire movies in years.
It broke through at Sundance, but it's a testament to the quality on display in Jim Mickle's stellar We Are What We Are that the remake of the 2010 Mexican cannibal flick also made the cut at Cannes. Mickle's gothic retelling of the story of a family who thinks eating flesh has saved them from tragedy features great performances all around, especially from its female leads (itself a rarity in modern horror), and Mickle's newly-advanced eye for composition. It’s a beautiful, melancholy piece of work that really lingers. Darkly humorous, perversely grotesque, and unforgettable, Mickle's flick should find a grateful audience when it's released late this Summer stateside.
Takashi Miike's Shield of Straw may not be a straightforward horror movie, but the prodigious creator of such influential films as Audition and Ichi the Killer always draws attention in the horror world, at least from Eli Roth, and so his gangster epic seems worth a mention. Sadly, almost every report coming out of screenings of Straw was that this tale of five police officers transporting a notorious child murderer was a serious misstep for Miike, typically forgiven for disasters since he almost always has another movie in production already. Response was similarly divided (and nearly disappointing) for a film that, like Straw, couldn’t be called straight-up horror but features the nearly-trademark graphic violence of its director, Nicholas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives.
One final film that might not traditionally land in the horror genre but sounds pretty horrific is J.C. Chandor's All is Lost, featuring a comeback performance from Robert Redford. The iconic star plays a man trying to travel across the Indian Ocean on his own only to be hit by a shipping container and start taking on water. With almost no dialogue, All is Lost sounds about as harrowing as Open Water and received nearly unanimous praise at Cannes when it premiered last week. It's an unexpected surprise from a festival that has gone somewhat predictably.
Finally, there are the foreign horror films that simply may never make it to U.S. shores but could pop up in arthouse runs or on DVD somewhere down the road. Critics on the Croisette were talking about Germany's Nothing Bad Can Happen, about a young man who joins a violent cult; Mexico's ultra-violent Heli, about a family who fall into the torture-filled world of the drug scene south of the border that became the surprising winner of the Best Director prize on awards night; the Kickstarter-funded Blue Ruin from the director of Murder Party; the Dutch thriller Borgman; and the insane-sounding Raze, starring Zoe Bell as one of two women who kidnapped and forced to fight 50 other female combatants with their bare hands. My money's on the one who rode the car in Death Proof.