2017 was not the best year for horror films. A lot of blockbusters were hugely disappointing (Alien: Covenant) while plenty more were just jumped-up jump scares (Annabelle: Creation among others). But there were still plenty of films that were worth your time, and a few that are going to live on for quite some time. Here are my picks:
1. Get Out
Get Out is at the top of everyone’s Best Horror list (heck, it was my #2 overall for 2017). This film is everything a good horror film should be – incisive, smart and plenty scary. It’ll be a long while before another film packs this much punch on every level.
There are so many reasons I avoid cannibal films. Mainly because gross. And also because they inevitably devolve into torture porn, which is a genre of horror I’m so far over. But Raw manages to be a coming-of-age story with a lot of depth. The characters are compelling and the setting is surreal. The whole film crackles with energy and vitality that only serves to amp up the mounting horror.
Though this was my #1 overall film of the year, it wasn’t my favorite horror film. It is scary, but it has nearly no jump scares. Instead, the horror is atmospheric and existential. And the last 30 minutes are quite simply one of the most amazing, harrowing and insane things I’ve ever seen in my life.
4. The Girl with All the Gifts
Every time I think I’m over zombie movies, they find a way to breathe new life into the genre. Last year was the stellar Train to Busan. This year it’s The Girl with All the Gifts. The story exploits an aspect of zombie stories we’ve not seen explored before, and to great effect. Plus, the science of zombies in this one is a little bit different (unless you’ve read David Walton’s The Genius Plague).
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
This movie is very strange for the first third. Then it gets very dark. The whole tone of the film contributes to the haunting nature of it, and it’s ultimately about making an impossible choice. The final act of the film is haunting and terrifying in a way that goes far beyond jump scares to pure psychological horror.
6. The Devil’s Candy
The Devil’s Candy may get my vote for the most fun I had watching a horror movie this year. The core of the film is a father-daughter relationship centered on heavy metal. The story isn’t perfect. The script gets a little lazy. And the third act features some stereotypically silly horror film choices. But it’s so fun (and so metal!) that I don’t mind a few flaws.
7. Gerald’s Game
Stephen King adaptations are tricky – and usually bad. This year has seen quite a few King adaptations on both the silver and small screen, and they’ve all been at least tolerable. My vote for the best of the bunch is, surprisingly, Netflix’s Gerald’s Game. A novel with some pretty serious narrative issues was rendered as a taut psychological thriller. The film owes perpetual that girl Carla Gugino, here in an incredible lead performance, for carrying the film (though Bruce Greenwood portrays her husband well, she is the core of the film). And the end packs a great punch that makes a really creepy scene early in the film even creepier.
8. A Dark Song
A Dark Song is really strange. A mother who wants to reconnect with her dead child so she hires an occultist. But the magical system in A Dark Song is obscure and opaque. The spells take months to cast and the smallest mistake can open a door to something much worse. The film would be much higher on the list if in a final scene the film’s vision didn’t outreach its budgetary grasp by a few thousand dollars. But overall, this was a weird, atmospheric and original horror film.
9. You Better Watch Out
This one flew in under the radar and at the last minute. It’s positioned as a Christmas film, though it really could’ve been set at any time of year. To talk about the plot too much would spoil several great surprises. Suffice to say this is a home invasion film that goes off the rails in some impressively creepy ways.
It is one of the other supremely successful Stephen King adaptations this year. Unlike the classic 90s miniseries, the new It is broken into two chapters, each focusing on one time period. So Chapter one is wholly set in the 1980s (which is an update from the original – they’re all kids in the 80s). The script is solid and so are the scares, even if they rely overly much on jump scares at the expense of some of the real psychological horror of the book (hopefully we’ll see more of that in the contemporary Chapter Two due out in 2019). The kids cast is stellar, as is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. It’s nearly impossible to recreate a classic character without parodying them, and Skarsgard brought a whole new Pennywise to life, one who managed to be terrifying in a wholly different way from Tim Curry’s classic performance.
It’s difficult to separate my love for this film as Split from the fact that it’s a sequel to another movie I’ve been waiting for for a very, very long time. That said, Split is still a very tense, engaging film. Yes, the depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’) is way off-base (as it always is). But if you accept that premise, James McAvoy takes you on a ride that’s as fun to watch as it is tense and creepy. After The Visit and now Split, it seems like M. Night Shyamalan may be back.
12. It Comes at Night
I wanted this film to be much better than it was. Ultimately (possibly) a victim of mistitling, the fact that nothing actually comes at night sets us up to expect something completely different from what the film actually delivers time and again (unfortunately, not in a good way). That said, the film is a fascinating look at a life on the fringes of apocalypse.
13. Happy Death Day
The “Groundhog’s Day horror film” is pretty entertaining. There are a few mechanics they added to move the story along that just don’t really make sense, but there’s enough of the “same day over and over” gimmick that are played well. I’d have liked it to lean a little more into slasher than it did, but it really was a fun way to… ahem… kill a couple of hours.
There were to films set in outer space this year that were clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror classic Alien. One was Ridley Scott’s 2017 Alien: Covenant, which featured weird Fassbender-on-Fassbender homoerotic flute playing. It was not great. The other was Life, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhall. It also wasn’t particularly revolutionary, but it hit all the beats it needed to hit, and the acting is great.
15. Little Evil
This was a fun little surprise that dropped on Netflix a couple of months ago. It’s from the writer/director of Tucker and Dale vs Evil, one of my all-time favorite horror-comedies. I knew better than to expect lightning to strike twice, and low expectations made this a real treat. I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is a small film about the perils of the blended family – what if you were actually the step-dad to the Antichrist? This movie is sweet, silly and has a ton of heart. Plus, it did some things I did not expect, in a great way. Definitely worth your time.