Happy 2017, everybody. Before we officially ring in the New Year, 2016 & I still have some unfinished business. Despite the abundance of great films we saw released this past year, there were still plenty of awful ones to contend with. Let’s not waste any time: here are my five worst films of 2016.
As I previously mentioned in my Best of 2016 piece, horror cinema has experienced quite a fruitful year, with mainstream offerings like The Conjuring 2, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out, The Shallows and Ouija: Origin of Evil all enjoying varying degrees of success. However, in the midst of this glut of scary movies, one particular film came and went seemingly unnoticed: the much-maligned sequel to The Blair Witch Project, the pithily-titled Blair Witch. Less a sequel and more a remake, Blair Witch was developed by frequent collaborators and genre aficionados Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, an accomplished pair of filmmakers whose previous two efforts, You’re Next and The Guest, were excellent examples of how one can successfully subvert tired genre tropes and still manage to feel fresh and exciting at the same time. With all this in mind, I walked into Blair Witch with tempered expectations, and walked out crushingly disappointed. Why Wingard and Barrett would even bother to pursue one of the most successful horror properties of all time is beyond me (perhaps a Gus Van Sant/Psycho-remake vendetta?), but Blair Witch is a dreadful bore, perfectly content with retreading the steps of its predecessor with thoroughly unimaginative results. The film eschews any characterization or competent storytelling in favor of rote jump scares, and the found footage aesthetic is completely marred by obvious post-production tinkering (the sound design in this thing is just obnoxious). Blair Witch may not necessarily be the worst film of the year, but it’s the most needless one.
The trailers for Collateral Beauty promote a film that is wildly different from the final product. That’s not to suggest I thought Collateral Beauty originally looked any good either – it struck me as an overly-saccharine, loose riff on A Christmas Carol, with star Will Smith planted front and center in Serious Acting Mode. The premise, per the previews, finds Smith’s character burdened with grief after the loss of daughter. To cope with his feelings, he writes letters not to people, but to three intangible thoughts: Love, Time, and Death. To Smith’s surprise, he’s then visited by the actual physical manifestations of Love, Time, and Death (played by Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren, respectively), and together, along with Smith’s co-workers (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Peña), they teach Smith how to overcome his grief and start leading a normal life again, one hopefully bursting with newfound happyness. Add in some domino imagery as a flimsy metaphor for the beautiful yet fragile nature of life, and you’ve got your perfect holiday movie. Sounds relatively benign, no?
Well, I saw the film, and it turns out, the real Collateral Beauty is none of those things. Yes, Will Smith still plays a grieving father, and yes, he still constructs elaborate domino set-ups in his office, and yes, he writes letters and is visited by Love, Time, and Death to cope with his grief. But, in the film’s first of many asinine twists, his toxic co-workers hire actual living actors to portray these abstractions and approach Smith in public to get him out of his funk. AND THEN, Smith’s co-workers video record these interactions and digitally erase the hired actors from the footage, making Smith appear like he’s crazy. All so they don’t lose their jobs (Smith spends his working hours playing with dominoes instead of properly managing the company, you see). If your idea of a good time is a small group horrendous people gas-lighting a person in mourning after the death of his only child, then Collateral Beauty is the movie for you.
The latest in the line of “Hey, let’s try this!” trends, Hardcore Henry’s central conceit places the entire film from the point of view of its titular protagonist, much like a first-person shooter video game. Shot completely with Go-Pro cameras strapped to the faces of stuntmen, Hardcore Henry forces you to become Henry, a mute half-human/half-android unleashed from a laboratory to search for his kidnapped wife and mow down waves of expendable henchman in the process. Sounds engrossing, no? In reality, Hardcore Henry is an blunt, irritating exercise in stupidity, one that calls in notorious over-actor Sharlto Copley to slow down the proceedings with his aggressive hamminess (seriously, the film stops dead in its tracks at one point just so he can break out into a 5-minute song and dance routine). The film is also plagued with an awful central villain cursed with unexplained psychic powers and the ability to deliver his lines like a bad Tommy Wiseau impersonator. This singular vision comes from the warped mind of Russian director/musician Ilya Viktorovich Naishuller, who previously utilized this filmmaking technique in the music video for his one of his band’s very own songs, “Bad Motherfucker” by Biting Elbows. Admittedly, a cool concept for something as brief as a music video, but the key difference here is that Hardcore Henry is rendered into a 90-minute nightmare that freely assaults the senses.
The amount of enjoyment one may derive from Sausage Party would most likely be directly proportional to the amount of drugs one has in their system. Blowing an intriguing premise like a puff of marijuana smoke, Sausage Party is a (crudely) animated film that posits food items are actually sentient beings, eager to be taken home from the supermarket to visit the “great beyond.” When the reality of their situation becomes clear, these food items (voiced by Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, James Franco, Salma Hayek, Nick Kroll, and Edward Norton, amongst a host of others) form a revolution to murder the humans and alter the course of their lives. The resulting film is painfully unfunny and profoundly lazy, devolving into something completely childish and retrograde the more it dips into vulgarity and lowbrow humor. Sausage Party posits that anthropomorphic food items using profanity and having copious amounts of graphic sex amounts to a rollicking good time at the movies. Sausage Party is wrong.
I won’t harp on this one for too long (we already contributed a full podcast episode to it here), but if any film is emblematic of Trump’s America, it’s Suicide Squad. Much like our crass, juvenile, obnoxious, racist and misogynistic President-elect, Suicide Squad is a crass, juvenile, obnoxious, racist, and misogynistic film, one with nary a single redeemable quality. And yet, it somehow made three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide. Seriously, fuck this movie in its damaged-tattoo head.