You’d be forgiven for thinking that 2016 was not a great year for horror. With duds like The Forest and The Boy kicking off the year, and a slew of sequels in the offering, my expectations were pretty low. But the indie market came to the rescue, with some truly amazing horror films. Without further ado, here’re my 10 favorite horror films from the last year:
11. Blair Witch
I know 11 is cheating, but I enjoyed this film so much I couldn’t drop it from the list – even if it didn’t quite crack my top 10. Nothing could ever recreate the false-reality advertising campaign of the original Blair Witch Project. But new director Adam Wingard gave it his best shot. The film was originally called The Forest, and a trailer was even released under that name. But soon the truth was out, and we were treated to a direct sequel to the 1999 found-footage phenomenon. The new Blair Witch met decidedly mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it a ton. It captured the spirit of the original film while offering us new twists on the mythology.
Catch the Don’t Split Up! review of Blair Witch
10. The Shallows
Who doesn’t love a good shark movie? This film was essentially the Blake Lively show, and she carried it very well. This monster was perhaps more guilty than most movie sharks of acting un-sharklike. But overall, this is a fun, tense film.
9. The Purge: Election Year
The Purge franchise keeps getting better. I assume (since these are cheap and easy to make) we’ll get a few more. I wouldn’t fight anyone who preferred the second installment to Election Year, what put this one over the top for me was the religious commentary running through this film.
8. Train to Busan
I was so glad there were no more zombie movies coming out this year. Until I saw Train to Busan and realized the genre still has some life in it. This South Korean film offered some great innovations to the zombie story, and placing the majority of the story within a train gives the whole thing a claustrophobic feel. If you liked Snowpiercer (and seriously, who didn’t?), replace Post-Apocalyptic with Zombies and enjoy!
Speaking of claustrophobic, Hush was a surprise hit that showed up on Netflix this year. The protagonist is a writer who has sequestered herself in a cabin in the woods to work on her new book. Oh, and she’s deaf. A home invasion prompts a tense, thrilling cat-and-mouse game that keeps you guessing to the end.
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane
No one knew quite what to expect from this strange little film. It had only three characters. It may or may not be set at the Apocalypse. Oh and it is related somehow to the J. J. Abrams found-footage monster movie Cloverfield. What we got was a strange psychological thriller that illustrated the truth that just because someone is crazy, doesn’t make them wrong.
5. Green Room
Punk Rock, Neo-Nazis and Sir Patrick Stewart. I’m not sure what more you could ask for in any film. Green Room is a tense, harrowing thrill ride that questions the adolescent infatuation with “real experiences”. Plus it’s got a killer soundtrack.
4. Under the Shadow
This horror film hailing from Iran is remanescent of The Babadook in all the right ways. Centered on a mother and daughter trapped in Tehran during the latter days of the Iran-Iraq war, it’s never quite clear if the monsters are real or imaginary or a metaphor for the horrors of war – and trust me, it doesn’t matter. Oh, and did I mention the monsters in question are djinn? These djinn don’t sing and crack jokes. They’re just very, very scary.
3. The Wailing
This Korean horror film is set in a small village. I know little enough about Korean culture that the mythology and logic of the film were always just beyond my grasp, lending an extra layer of eeriness to an already very scary movie. At 150 minutes it could use a loving edit, but the twists and turns kept me riveted and guessing until the end. Plus, both Amanda and I guessed very, very wrong. This film is gorgeous, disturbing and very scary.
2. Neon Demon
I kept hearing buzz about the new film from Nicholas Winding Refn. I didn’t love Drive, and I never saw Only God Forgives after the reviews were decidedly mixed. Finally, I sat down to watch Neon Demon, and I was transfixed. At multiple points in the film, I wanted to pause, print the screen as large as possible, and hang it on my wall. Though the film is a slow burn, it builds to a horrific climax that leaves us meditating on the nature of beauty and our response to it.
1. The Witch
This film is a rare, special thing. It’s set in the 1600s, on the American Frontier (which in those days was New England). The dialog is period-accurate and the whole film feels like you’re looking through a window into the past. That past happens to be horrifying, and it’s difficult to tell whether we should be more afraid of the witches in the woods or the patriarchal religion
Honorable Mention: The Jump Scares
Several films this year were pretty scary, but only in the jump scares department. While they were masterfully crafted, they didn’t necessarily stick with me the way the other films this year did. But I had to give them a shout out.
The Conjuring 2: A worthy sequel to the original, but ultimately didn’t stay with me nearly as much as the first one did. It’s good, but didn’t have the staying power these other films did. (Don’t Split Up! Review here)
Lights Out: Based on a short film you really have to see, this movie is way better than it had any right to be. But ultimate, it was just jump scares. When I went to bed that night, I didn’t have any problem turning the lights out. (Don’t Split Up! Review here)
Ouija 2: Origin of Evil: I was dragged to this kicking and screaming (okay it was really just for the friends going). But it turned out to be a solid horror film. The end was silly, but some of the imagery stayed with me for a few days.