If you could graph out the horror genre like the stock market you would see a massive spike over the past few years. Even with mainstream news outlets constantly crying “horror is dead”, we all know the truth – our genre is on fire. It’s so hot, in fact, that it’s even taken over television. Beyond “The Walking Dead”, there’s “American Horror Story”, “The Exorcist”, “Channel Zero”, “Ash vs Evil Dead”, “Stan Against Evil”, “The X-Files”, “Wolf Creek”, and even Netflix’s “Stranger Things”. It’s everywhere.
For 15 years I’ve put together a list of the best and worst films of the year, only it’s getting harder and harder to dwindle it down; the last two years (2014; 2015) I had to split it into two, while I’ve even been forced to make a special list highlighting the independent films that also blew my mind (it’s hard to celebrate a great year in the genre and leave some titles out). I’m in the exact same predicament this year as I was last, and even the year prior. There’s just an insane amount of good content out there that has to be seen. And unlike previous years, there’s a nice mix of studio films to go along with the independent productions, which is a healthy sign for our genre.
To kick things off, the first batch of films are first presented in no particular order, as usual, with the top ten shared on the next page.
What really sells The Wailing is the absolutely stunning cinematography that brings the locations to life. It’s a gorgeous genre film that mesmerizes the viewer with a terrifying trip around a small village in South Korea. The fish-out-of-water perspective for the viewer drops them into an unique environment that’s both strange and haunting. It all begins when a man arrives in the town, and a plague begins to spread. A quasi-zombie film, there’s plenty of scares to go along with gore, although what makes this one of the best films of the year is a strong screenplay with engaging characters. If you’re looking for a supplemental film to Train to Busan, The Wailing makes its case as the perfect opener.
Johannes Roberts has the impossible task of having his In the Deep (possibly titled 47 Meters Down) compared to The Shallows, this summer’s other shark survival film that quietly took a chunk out of the box office. Fans of shark survival horror movies are going to love In the Deep, which is vastly different than The Shallows. In fact, they compliment, if not juxtapose each other into the perfect double feature. With Shallows, Blake Lively is trapped on a rock outside of the water with a great white shark circling to attack. In the Deep takes viewers to the bottom of the ocean floor with many other dangers, while sharks also happen to be swimming around. They’re two completely different beasts that both have their fair share of suspense. Deep is full of bite, and is vicious enough for the hardcore horror audience, while also providing an immense amount of thrills for everyone else. Don’t let this one swim past you.
There was a lot of internal debate as to which I liked better, Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows or Johannes Roberts’s Alex Aja-produced In the Deep/47 Meters Down, and I guess I give the edge to the former. Collet-Serra knows exactly what kind of movie The Shallows is and delivers exactly what’s promised; the shark thriller is more of a dumbed-down popcorn muncher that’s just straight-up fun, boasts stunning cinematography, wicked shark sequences, and of course tons of shots of Blake Lively in a skin-tight wetsuit. It was the perfect summer movie that also gifted us with one of the worst posters of the year.
I loved Chris Peckover’s Undocumented and it kills me that we had to wait six years to see his followup feature, the awesome Safe Neighborhood, a suburban horror in which a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion. It’s hard to really talk about the film without spoiling anything, especially since it won’t be released until next year, but what I can say is that it truly is Scream meets Home Alone. It’s not only going to be a new horror classic, but will also be a holiday one as well. Pan‘s Levi Miller gives one of the best performances of the year, alongside The Visit‘s hilarious Ed Oxenbould. What I love about Safe Neighborhood is that the humor is situational, taking the grim out of home invasion subgenre and making it fun (think You’re Next). This is not to say that this slasher doesn’t have its fair share of gore, which come in crowd-pleasing moments that would have theatergoers erupting. This is one holiday horror you’ll be unwrapping every year.
I’m not exactly sure what the majority of horror fans thought of William Brent Bell’s The Boy, but I thought it was brave, and thus paid off in spades. Starring “The Walking Dead’s” Lauren Cohan, the film went against the grain, pushing against what you’d expect out of a big studio release, and delivered a “Tales From the Crypt”-esque finale that surely divided audiences. Looking back at the January release, I loved that STX used false advertising (in a sense) to throw off viewers from being able to figure out the ending, which only aided in them landing one helluva punch that made The Boy the first great horror film of 2016.
I reviewed Found Footage 3D out of the Bruce Campbell Film Festival this summer, calling it, “An absolute riot that’s also quite scary, setting up a multitude of payoffs that deliver a flurry of satisfying punches… Found Footage 3D, about a group of filmmakers who set out to make the first ever 3D found-footage horror movie, is a super-meta comedy that turns into a straight up horror film; if there were a comparison, it would probably be in the vein of Wes Craven’s Scream. The comedy is a bit inside baseball, but the execution makes the overall experience fun enough to reach outside of just genre fans. It truly is a modern indie gem that really, really deserves a place among the greats.”
The feature directorial debut of Babak Anvari follows a mother and daughter struggling to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution in a war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. The period setting gave authenticity to this indie horror that juxtaposes fear and paranoia from the war with that of a Jinn. The scares, albeit far and few between, were immensely impactful. Under the Shadow is a welcomed slow burn that’s carried by an outstanding performance by the mesmerizing Narges Rashidi.
I forgot that I reviewed Dan Trachtenberg’s claustrophobic 10 Cloverfield Lane, the sister movie to the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield. As I previously wrote, forget the Cloverfield connection, though, what we have here in a masterclass in suspense that can only be described as Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Matheson’s lovechild. John Gallagher Jr. and Winstead’s outstanding performances will unfortunately be overlooked because Goodman hits God-level. Goodman is having a renaissance career; his character walks a fine line between sympathetic and terrifying in what could be his coup de grâce. A mic-drop if you will. The early Oscar chatter was fully warranted, and I hope it pops back up in the coming months. Forget all about Cloverfield and just soak in the immense claustrophobia and paranoia that’s so unrelenting you’ll have to dig your nails out of the theater’s armrests.
Up Next: My Top 10 Horror Films of the Year