The Academy may not recognize horror, but at least we can.
Ahead of the February ceremony, the nominations for the 89th Academy Awards will soon be announced, and we certainly don’t expect to see any horror films popping up on there. Of course, it would be quite untrue to say that horror is NEVER honored at the Oscars, but it’s so rare that most of us have just accepted that a horror presence at the event is something of an anomaly.
The bummer of the Academy largely ignoring horror is that the genre is often home to exceptional filmmaking and acting, and this past year has been no exception. In lieu of a traditional year-end ‘best of’ list, I’ve decided to instead honor my favorite horror movies of 2016 by bestowing upon them the Academy Awards that they’re sure to not actually receive. Because nobody is stopping us from playing pretend, and I feel that each of these films deserve recognition and accolades.
So if I ran the show, here are the 2016 horror movies I’d give Academy Awards to.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all become a little worn down by studio horror in recent years. It’s become commonly accepted that indie horror almost always puts Hollywood horror to shame, but the same can’t really be said about studio-made horror in 2016. And if you asked me today to name the very best horror movie of the year, I’d give you the same answer I would’ve given you back in June: The Conjuring 2. James Wan’s hit sequel was somehow an even better film than its predecessor, and from where I stand, it’s so much more than a superior sequel: it’s one of the best American horror movies ever made. Truly scary as well as emotionally powerful, The Conjuring 2 is not just James Wan’s masterpiece but a high-water mark for the genre at large.
Speaking of which…
No filmmaker alive today embodies the term “master of horror” more than James Wan, and with The Conjuring 2, he proved that his handle on the genre is only getting stronger with each passing film. Watching it, I mostly found myself in awe of the whole thing. In awe of how good Wan is at executing a scare. In awe of how much he makes you care about his characters and about every single little moment. I was also struck with the realization that I’m lucky enough to be alive at a time when one of the all-time great horror filmmakers is at the top of his game. With The Conjuring 2, we officially hit peak James Wan, and as it turns out, peak James Wan is every bit as impressive and masterful as peak Wes Craven, peak George Romero, and peak John Carpenter.
We’re all so lucky that Wan loves horror so much.
Released early in the year, Robert Eggers’ The Witch has undoubtedly been one of the most talked-about horror films of 2016; for whatever reason, some fans are still refusing to even accept that it’s a horror movie, while others feel it’s the most overrated movie of the year. However you feel about The Witch, one thing you cannot deny is that the performances are incredible across the board. English actor Ralph Ineson physically transformed himself to play family patriarch William, a man desperately trying to keep his family together against impossible/supernatural odds in 17th century England. Adopting a period-authentic dialect, Ineson embodied the character to a tee, turning in a powerhouse performance that is unquestionably worthy of Oscar consideration.
As scary as The Conjuring 2 is, what really makes the whole thing work so well is the same thing that made the first film such an incredible piece of horror cinema: the performances of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as real-life couple Lorraine and Ed Warren. Though they’re primarily there to help another family in peril, it’s the relationship between Lorraine and Ed that is the highlight of the film; and thanks again to exceptional performances from both actors, the emotional connection to the characters couldn’t possibly be stronger. You can feel Lorraine’s love for Ed and vice versa, and as Lorraine Warren, Farmiga brings so much warmth and heart to the table. It’s rare that an actor makes you care so much about a character in a horror movie.
John Goodman has been such a great actor for so many years, but can you believe that he’s never been nominated for an Academy Award? That could very well change in 2017, as his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane has generated a whole lot of Oscar buzz… and for damn good reason. In the film, Goodman plays Howard, a man living in an underground bunker who swears to a young woman that he’s saved her life by bringing her down into his hideout. Howard is the sort of guy who’s either the sanest person in the room or the craziest, and Goodman’s commanding performance ensures that you never quite know what to think of the character. One minute you feel for him and the next you’re terrified of him, and Goodman nails the nuance like few actors would be able to. Here’s hoping this is the year he finally gets Oscar recognition.
I suppose it’s up for debate whether or not Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is a horror movie, but if you’re asking me, it damn sure is. Furthermore, it’s the most horrifying, disturbing, and upsetting movie of the whole year. Centered on a group of young musicians who run afoul of sadistic neo-Nazis, the film is as intense and unforgettable as 2016 horror gets, and it’s highlighted by an outstanding supporting performance from Imogen Poots as a punk girl named Amber. The innocence she and co-star Anton Yelchin exude makes the horrific situation they’re in all the more devastating to watch, and the dry humor Poots brings to the role really makes you fall in love with the character. Poots is also a total badass when the role requires her to become one.
You may be over zombie films by this point, hell we may all be, but sometimes a movie comes along that’s so damn good that it makes you completely forget about how tired a particular sub-genre has become. Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, South Korean zombie flick Train to Busan is one of those movies, and it’s so exceptional that it restored my faith in zombie cinema at large. A lean, mean zombie film with zero wasted energy, Train to Busan is terrifying and intense while also being packed with so much depth and a surprising level of emotion. It’s one of 2016’s best horror films, foreign or otherwise, and it just might make you scared of zombies again.
One of the most impressive things about The Witch is how true it is to the period in which the story takes place. First time director Robert Eggers also wrote the script, which was so well researched and thought out that Eggers plucked much of the character dialogue out of actual diaries from 17th century England. By pouring through real accounts of witchcraft for several years to craft his own script, Eggers was able to capture and convey the Puritan lifestyle in great detail. The Witch is largely a dialogue-driven film, so it’s impossible to heap praise on what he accomplished without calling to attention the great care, time, and research that went into writing the script.
The Academy’s makeup category is actually “Best Makeup & Hairstyling,” but if we’re talking specifically about makeup effects in the horror movies released in 2016, there’s one film that comes to mind over all the others. Yes, I’m once again talking about Green Room, which is home to the most unsettling moments of brutality that I have honestly ever seen. As horror fans, we of course love on-screen violence, but the violence in Green Room is a whole different beast entirely. It’s so shockingly sudden, so unexciting, and so deeply repellent that it honestly made me queasy. Furthermore, it made me question why I even love violent entertainment in the first place. From a sliced up arm to a slit open belly, the movie’s makeup effects are almost TOO real.
Special shout-out also to Imogen Poots’ hairstyle in Green Room.
I already heaped a good deal of praise on the visual effects in The Shallows recently here on BD (check out an effects breakdown video we came across), so I’ll keep this one short and to the point: the computer-generated shark in Jaume Collet-Serra’s supremely entertaining sharksploitation flick is so good that I honestly didn’t even realize it wasn’t a practical creation until I did some research after coming home from the theater. The shark in The Shallows is the best we’ve seen since Jaws, which has given me a whole lot of hope for the future of CG monsters.
I’d be remiss to talk about 2016 horror and not mention The Invitation, one of the most unsettling and captivating movies released all year. There’s not a single weak aspect of Karyn Kusama’s exceptional thriller, and honestly, it’s deserving of being on this list in way more than just one category. But one of my personal favorite aspects of the film is Theodore Shapiro’s score, which is pitch-perfectly haunting. As Shapiro himself explained, “Most of the score is performed by one solo violin, overdubbing layer upon layer. The bareness of the solo string suggests the desert terrain of LA and the emotional barrenness of the main character Will.” A horror movie is nothing without a great score, and Shapiro helped solidify The Invitation as one of 2016’s best.
One horror film popping up on many lists this year is Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother, which you would not find on my own list had I written a traditional Top 10. Why not? Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of the film. I felt it was all style and no substance, and my 2-star rating on Letterboxd is one I stick by. But one thing I would like to mention about Pesce’s debut film is the cinematography, which came courtesy of Zach Kuperstein. The Eyes of My Mother is beautifully shot in black and white, and thanks to some unconventional techniques, Kuperstein makes nearly every shot into a work of art. Again, I found it to be an empty film, but damn is it pretty.
Which 2016 horror films would YOU give awards to? Let us know!