This has been a great year, arguably one of the best in recent memory, for the sheer number of solid horror movies we got, and that’s a cause for celebration. And though we’re not done with 2016 yet, here are my picks for the ten best horror movies of the year so far.
Bad horror is easy to create; good horror is not, which is why we end up with such an abundance of the former over the latter in all forms of media, so if every reviewer on the planet tells me a film is terrible, I tend to end up agreeing. In this case, however, I didn’t. I found the almost universally panned THE BOY a lot of fun, with just enough style and creepiness to keep me engaged, even if the central conceit was handled much more deftly in 2014’s Aussie comedy-horror HOUSEBOUND. Plus, Lauren Cohan!
THE CONJURING 2
While I still sometimes suffer from an inability to tell this series apart from the INSIDIOUS films (no doubt due to the stylistic similarity, not to mention the presence of Patrick Wilson in all of them), THE CONJURING 2, like its predecessor, is a solid example of how a cliched story can be elevated by the talent involved. And if you can overlook the fact that the films essentially use as heroes a duo of charlatans who notoriously exploited their victims, there’s plenty to enjoy here. James Wan’s movies draw me by virtue of their mood and his creativity when it comes to the scares, and in that respect, THE CONJURING 2 doesn’t disappoint.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Though the surprise reveal and dubious marketing generated more excitement than it probably deserved, resulting in disappointment for those expecting to see a cameo from CLOVERFIELD’s excellent kaiju monster, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE nevertheless works as a superior claustrophobic thriller with some horror/sci-fi overtones it might actually have worked better without. The scant cast, led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, are in top form, but John Goodman steals the show as the man who owns the shelter in which Winstead awakes to find herself imprisoned.
Another surprise announcement and another concept that on paper is reminiscent of something we’ve seen before (in this case, the 1967 Audrey Hepburn home invasion thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK), the material here is elevated both by Mike Flanagan’s stylish direction and a breakout performance by Kate Siegel as Maddie Young. Particularly impressive are the scenes in which we see the world via the filter of Young’s disabilities, and her resourcefulness in fending off her aggressor.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
When it comes to sequels, THE PURGE series seems immune to the rule of diminishing returns, both in terms of quality and its box office. While I liked the first film just fine, I felt it squandered the possibilities of its irresistible setup by choosing to focus on a single crime rather than exploring the government sanction that makes such actions legal: The Purge itself. Thankfully, it addressed this shortcoming in the sequel and builds further on that in the third installment. Seldom has there been a horror series so primed to mirror the societal malaise and economical disparity of its times and thankfully, with each sequel, THE PURGE embraces that rather than just using it as a springboard for 90 minutes of mindless murder.
I loved Fede Alvarez’ remake of EVIL DEAD, and while I know many didn’t, it’s hard to deny the technical proficiency he brought to the table. It also had a wicked mean streak and that’s present again in Alvarez’s sophomore effort, DON’T BREATHE, which inverts the home invasion setup by making the intruders the ones in danger. It’s not a perfect film, particularly toward the end, but it’s fun, tasteless, and features a great villain in the form of Stephen Lang’s The Blind Man. There’s also a nice dash of social relevance to add weight and some justification to the crime that sparks it all.
With remarkable authenticity and attention to detail some found off-putting, THE WITCH (and no, I won’t write it with two Vs instead of a W) is arguably one of the year’s best films, one whose strength and appeal lies in being deeply unsettling on a primal level, no matter whether you choose to interpret the antagonist as either religious fervor itself, or the devil made manifest. It’s beautifully (and creepily) shot, with an evocative score, and strong performances all around. It’s also notable for somehow making a horror icon out of a goat.
Like BLUE RUIN before it (but absent that film’s dark humor), Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM was already a tense and gloomy experience before news of Anton Yelchin’s tragic death made the news. And while one might wish for a cheerier swan song for the talented young actor, he was seldom better than he is here. A deeply disturbing story of a band who witness something they shouldn’t at a bar run by Neo-Nazis, and subsequently find themselves trapped in the titular room, the film is also notable for a rare villainous turn by the wonderful Patrick Stewart.
Reminiscent of John Carpenter’s THE FOG insofar as it feels like an old-fashioned campfire tale, director David F. Sandberg (working from a script by Eric Heisserer) adapts his own creepy short into a fun and concise horror film. Adding to the appeal is an unusually clever story which treats neither the characters nor the audience as idiots, terrific performances from all concerned, and some genuinely cool scares which make inventive use of light and dark. One scene in particular drew applause from the audience I saw it with by virtue of its creativity and humor.
The term “slow burn” can mean one of two things when it comes to film: either the burn builds to an explosive climax, or lack of oxygen extinguishes the flame. So many examples of the latter have stigmatized the term that a lot of horror fans actively avoid movies that feature those words in the review, but for evidence of a slow burn utilized to maximum effectiveness, one need look no further than Karyn Kusama’s brilliant THE INVITATION. It’s a taut, unnerving film about a man, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who, along with his girlfriend, is invited to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. That would be awkward enough, but rather quickly, Will begins to suspect that there’s an ulterior and sinister motive behind the invitation. Whether or not he’s right, or whether he’s just gone crazy, remains a mystery right up until the film’s final act, and what a final act it is.
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So there you have it, my list of what I consider to be the best horror films of the year so far. There are still a few months to go before we see 2017, so I will amend this list as needed for my year-end summation. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of films that belong on this list, or that I might have missed, feel free to let me know below.