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Director: Phil Sheerin Starring: Emma Mackey, Anson Boon, Charlie Murphy, Michael McElhatton Running Time: 92 minutes


An Irish-Canadian co-production, director Phil Sheerin’s The Winter Lake intertwines two family stories in the chilly backdrop of rural Ireland. Tom is a troubled and broody adolescent, who arrives in what appears to be an inherited old farm with his equally troubled young mother Elaine. Both Tom and Elaine seem to be running away from something, although details of their past are sketchy. At the outset, Tom is meandering around the outskirts of the farmland, and ends up digging something out of a lake. This “something” is what sets in motion the rest of events that unfold. The moody teenager meets Holly, a charismatic but distant woman who takes an interest in Tom. At the same time, Holly’s father Ward and Tom’s mothers Elaine develop what appears to be a burgeoning fling. As secrets about Holly’s past and Ward’s true character are gradually exposed, both Tom and his mother find themselves implicated.

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang Running Time: 115 minutes


Thomas Vinterberg has a curious habit of going to the very darkest corners of humanity and somehow using these dark corners to showcase the most enduring aspects of humanity. A decade ago, Submarino explored the lives of drug addicted and prison bound brothers at the bottom of the Danish socio-economic ladder. More recently, The Hunt took a look at how horrifying but false allegations could implode the lives of even the most innocent of protagonists. What these two films in particular had in common is the desire of the human spirit to survive in the direst of circumstances. Arguably, it could be said that Vinterberg’s films are as much about the power of lasting human connection as the drudgery of human suffering. With Another Round, he again focuses on problematic and dark aspects of Danish society, while injecting a refreshing sense of humor that gives an otherwise gut wrenching story a surprisingly positive hoppy lift.

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A Halloween spent in lockdown is the perfect time to feast upon the quintessential horror classics that we all love to fear. Whether it’s the head spinning experience of re-watching The Exorcist or binge watching the good, the bad, and the very ugliest of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, we all know how to tell a safe bet from a dodgy Netflix choice just as well as we can tell a good piece of chocolate from an unwanted apple in a trick or treat bag.

 

But what about the films that have slipped through the cracks? There are many reasons why certain horror films haven’t received the attention they deserve. A lack of advertising, coming out at the wrong time of the year, or maybe because for lots of cinema goers one or two scary films a year is more than enough. For the films on this list however, the reason why you’ve probably never seen them has nothing to do with their quality. These are some of the lesser known but  better placed fright fests to satiate your Halloween sweet tooth on this spooky stay at home weekend. This list is not to be confused with an “underrated horror films” selection. That’s an interesting but separate discussion. The films on this list were generally well received critically, but they unfortunately just never seemed to get the reach that they deserved. So sit back, relax, and prepare to be bombarded with a universe of existential horror you probably haven’t yet heard about.

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One of the best things about the raging success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is the potential knock on effect it might have. People who would never ordinarily pay their money to see a subtitled film were doing so, as the critical acclaim drove Parasite into mainstream chain cinemas. This was significant, as such pictures are usually reserved for releases in art house theatres, and although the audiences who usually see them are loyal, they often come in significantly smaller quantities. As an unfortunate but understandable consequence, there can be difficulties associated with getting the right funding to bring international features to Western audiences, on the basis that the people who make the commercial decisions have the “one inch barrier of subtitles” in the back of their minds when sanctioning off projects. Memories of Murder is a reason why the above circumstances are a real shame. While there are always occasions when  directors make their best films early on, Bong Joon Ho’s mystery crime thriller is an example of how many films crawl so others can walk.

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Director: Antonio Campos Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Bill Skarsgård Running Time: 138 minutes


 

Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, director Antonio Campos brings together an impressive ensemble cast to tell a story of intergenerational turmoil and malevolent superstition, set against the beautiful backdrop of Coal Creek, West Virginia.

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Director: Charlie Kaufman Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis Running Time: 134 minutes


 

Charlie Kaufman has never been one to shy away from unconventional projects. While his directorial debut came with Synecdoche New York in 2008, Kaufman made his bones in screenplay, penning Being John Malkovich in 1999, while perhaps being best remembered for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind five years later. Throughout this eclectic filmography has been a strong theme of existential uncertainty and metaphysical pondering. There’s also been a fair share of Kaufman’s work being referential to pop culture, sometimes satirical, sometimes more serious. Among these rather confounding patterns however stands a more clear characterisation of Kaufman. That is, his understanding and appreciation of storytelling stems from his impressive communicative abilities in the written form. To those most familiar with his career, he will likely be seen as someone who is best equipped to deliver if he grounds his film in an expertly crafted script. No doubt, this talent is one that Kaufman appears well versed in. Here however, on the back of films like Synecdoche New York that were famously difficult for audiences to penetrate, his task as a more deeply involved film maker requires a more balanced and nuanced skill-set.

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Director: Leigh Whannell Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen Running Time: 124 minutes

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Leigh Whannell is in the director’s seat for this modern adaptation of the 1897 sci-fi horror tale by H.G Wells. Whannell has had plenty of horror experience on screen, as a long time collaborator with James Wan. He’s also dipped his feat into directing with some impressive results. Insidious 3 was arguably the second best film of the series, and 2018’s Upgrade was well received by critics.

 

At a time when Ireland has just seen its first conviction for coercive control handed down in February of this year, it would be an understatement to say that the timing is appropriate to clear up narrow misconceptions about domestic abuse. It’s not always about physical abuse, nor is it exclusively about sexual harassment. Often, it’s a sociopathic lust for control. This is an aspect that The Invisible Man attempts to tap into, with limited success.

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Director: Bong Joon-ho Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Chang Hyae-jin Running Time: 132 minutes

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The long anticipated Parasite from acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho has arrived on Irish big screens right at the end of what has turned out to be an incredible run of Oscar contenders. While in many ways the Academy Awards could well be regarded as an over inflated industry award, it is difficult not to get caught up in all of the fuss surrounding what is unquestionably the most notable event of the year in film. Similarly, while it might make more sense to maintain objectivity when reviewing films, it’s often challenging to suspend your own excitement for films that you’ve been personally routing for. On it’s own merit, I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Parasite for months. As someone who was first introduced to the now well-established perceptive craft of Bong Joon-ho since The Host in 2006, I was even more delighted that his latest work seemed to be getting the level of international traction that many South Korean films in the last year have undeservedly lacked. Casting memory back through the last couple of years, there seems to have been at least one highly impressive hit coming out of the country every year. In 2016 there was Train to Busan, a frantic and kinetic zombie movie tracking the desperation of a father and daughter to escape a lethal viral outbreak. In 2017 there was Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, a stylish period thriller that picked up the BAFTA for Best Film Not In The English Language. Then there was Lee Chang-dong’s Burning in 2018, a slow burning psychological mystery. All of these features could more than match the weight of any Oscar winning Hollywood films in recent years, but many were regrettably limited to selected art house screenings.

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Directors: Josh & Bennie Safdie Starring: Adam Sandler, Eric Bogosian, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield Running Time: 135 minutes

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With a career littered by the likes of The WaterboyBilly Madison, and Happy Gilmore, it’s fair to say that Adam Sandler isn’t a name that’s been synonymous with the Awards season in film. It’s never been the case that lowbrow slapstick comedies have been the only thing that Sandler could come up with, but such films seem to be his career’s signature. There are parts of this that have always been endearing to me- for example, his loyal tendency to give his close friends consistent work, even through (at times) offensively rubbish pieces like Grown Ups 2. Notwithstanding this likable fidelity, Sandler has far too often had his name attached to horrendous, Golden Raspberry bait, with 2011’s Jack and Jill being a notable lowlight.

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There was much discussion about the jokes that Ricky Gervais made at the expense of Hollywood superstars at this year’s Golden Globes. However, what stood out for me was what should have won an award for the “golden quote” of the night. It came from the director of the highly anticipated South Korean film Parasite, Bong Joon-ho. He gave the much needed reminder that:

 

“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.

 

This really spoke to me- and not just in English. If I could add one addendum to this brilliant insight, it would be that viewing international films also exposes you to different cultural fabrics, different challenges and, different experiences. Aside from that, they’re also very entertaining and remain such an underappreciated cinematic art by large chunks of Western audiences. So in order to help you get over the horrific inconvenience of subtitles, and in light of Bong Joon-ho’s golden quote. Here are 20 international films to watch in 2020.

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