There is no question that 2017 was one of the best years ever for horror. Just a few years ago I was unhappy that The Babadook topped my best of the year list. It perfectly represented where horror was at the time, being that none of the films deserved the honor of “best of the year”. But then something happened – in 2015, there was an overload of independent films that made choosing a top ten immensely difficult. The momentum continued through 2016, setting the stage for what could easily be horror’s ultimate mic drop.
There’s panic across the board about getting people into theaters. The box office is shrinking. Studio tentpoles are failing. Yet, there stood several horror films that annihilated everything in their path. From Split to Get Out, Annabelle: Creation, and then IT, horror film after horror film continued to take the top spot at the box office, taking in hundreds of millions worldwide. Our genre is quite literally unstoppable right now.
They say when the world is in flames and there’s political turmoil, entertainment has the most to gain, especially horror. It’s pure and unadulterated escapism. People aren’t looking for superheroes to save them, they’re looking for the final girl to stab that bad mother fucker in the back. It’s the fantasy of self-induced power and the fight for survival. Horror movies give us the illusion of control when the world is coming for you, and there’s nothing more satisfying than standing up to life and kicking it right in the balls.
Horror does not discriminate. Horror is unity. Horror is for everyone. Horror is 2017.
Honorable Mention: Downrange (D. Ryuhei Kitamura; Eleven Arts)
Ryuhei Kitamura’s Downrange is quite simple, stranding a carpool of teenagers on the side of the road as an enigmatic sniper targets them one-by-one. The film is 100% pure rage, leaving brains splattered across the hot pavement, and murdering innocent children who accidentally end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s about as mean-spirited as horror can get…and it’s glorious. While typically turned off by films this dark and unforgiving, Downrange is an uncomfortable and unapologetic breath of fresh air. It feels necessary. Horror has gone soft.
It’s also loaded with nonstop thrills that will have audiences on the edge of their seats until the shocking conclusion. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen anything with this much grit and guts, with Kitamura digging down deep to deliver a punch that’s going to knock audiences right on their asses.
Other Honorable Mentions:
- mother! (D. Darren Aronofsky)
- Split (D. M. Night Shyamalan)
- Happy Death Day (D. Christopher Landon)
- Wish Upon (D. John R. Leonetti)
- Annabelle: Creation (D. David Sandberg)
10. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (D. Yorgos Lanthimos; A24)
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) reunites with Colin Farrell (In Bruges) in this frightening thriller about the sacrifices one man has to make in order to protect his family. While Farrell is always entertaining to watch, Barry Keoghan carries this Shakespearean nightmare on his shoulders. Keoghan plays a young boy who befriends a doctor (Farrell) who may or may not have killed his father in the operating room. He’s plotted his revenge. His performance is seductive, manipulative, and even more so unnerving when you find yourself wondering if a young boy is capable of such horrors. The movie is a high-strung slow burn that terrorizes the audience with agonizing tension that’s never released.
9. Pyewacket (D. Adam MacDonald; IFC Midnight)
One of the biggest surprises of the year was the Adam MacDonald‘s under-the-radar Pyewacket, a frightening coming-of-age slow burn that delivers brooding heavy metal horror. Beautifully shot with impressive performances all around, what’s great about Pyewacket is that it never overplays its hand. MacDonald is never trying too hard to shock the audience and is more determined to make his film believable than anything else. In that regard, he still delivers on his promise and offers up a shocking finale that’s equally crushing as it’s mortifying. Pyewacket is a surprisingly simple movie, but it’s incredibly well made and entertains with the best of them. It’s brooding tension will get under your skin and leave you thinking about it for days after.
8. Tragedy Girls (D. Tyler MacIntyre; Gunpowder & Sky)
Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls, powered by Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand‘s performances, is fiercely entertaining. Boasted as a “new spin on the slasher genre,” the film delivers on this promise, approaching the killing from a different perspective. While the film is lightning fun, the deaths within it are brutal, Final Destination brutal, directed and edited with precision for maximum impact that surely will have audiences roaring in delight. Tragedy Girls is sweet and salty, the perfect mix of horror and comedy that surely will have you clicking the “heart” button over and over.
7. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (D. S. Craig Zahler; RLJE)
While this isn’t the best genre film of the year, it may very well be my favorite. I couldn’t tell you the last time I obsessed over a movie as much as Brawl in Cell Block 99, which stars a badass Vince Vaughn as a man who must fight his way through several prisons in order to save his wife (Jennifer Carpenter), and the baby inside her. The stakes are off-the-charts high as director S. Craig Zahler threatens the life of an unborn baby, setting the stage for Vaughn to go full Wolverine, brutally annihilating everyone in his path. The best way to describe the film is “Tarantino-lite”, told in a pulp-y, over-the-top manner that results in excessive (unrealistic) gore and ultra-violence. The practical special effects are weird and unnerving, tapping into old-school horror, turning Cell Block 99 into a massive bloodbath. I’m obsessed with this authentic cult midnight movie that’s more fun than anything else you’ll see all year.
6. Raw (D. Julia Ducournau; Focus World)
Garance Marillier delivers a powerhouse of a performance, playing a young vegan girl entering her first year of veterinarian school. There, she reconnects with her older sister, while battling new feelings, emotions, and urges in this coming-of-age horror film that can only be likened to Ginger Snaps.
Julia Ducournau’s film is as riveting as it is tense, chewing on complex issues while also hammering the audience with fucked up sequences (one in particular nearly made me vomit). And as gross as Raw can get, the camerawork and cinematography together are masterful, delivering one of the most gorgeous horror films in years.
Up Next: My Top 5 Horror Films of the Year
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