Like the villain in so many horror movies 2016 is finally retreating into the darkness and leaving us to comprehend the madness it has left in it’s wake. However, while it may have been a chaotic year in just about every respect, the horror genre made out pretty damn well. There’s probably a correlation that you could draw there, but that’s a subject for a different time.
And with the end of 2016 comes the annual tradition of picking my top ten horror movies of the year. The only criteria I have for this list is that the film needed to have a US theatrical release in 2016. Some of these movies may have been released in other countries in 2015 or had a world premiere at a film festival in the US in 2015, so the dates get a bit murky. So to simplify things I’m just using the US theatrical release date, if they had one.
So with that being said, let’s get on with the list.
10. The Conjuring 2
This is a hell of a thing. The first Conjuring was easily my number one pick in 2013. And now here we are, 3 years later, and the sequel just barely makes it onto my list. “The Conjuring 2” is a mixed bag that has a lot going for it, but ultimately left me wanting. It’s still a strong follow up to the first film, but I just wasn’t as drawn to it in the same way. The thing that kept me from fully embracing the sequel was that I just didn’t care for the family in this film as much as I did for the first. However, the relationship between Ed and Lorraine still kept me going. Yeah it’s cheesy and overly sentimental, but there’s something beautiful about a loving relationship that is so powerful it can conquer demons. “The Conjuring 2” is a lesser sequel, but it still appealed to me.
When your film gets high praise from Stephen King and William Friedkin then you know you’re doing something right. “Hush” had a very unique release. After it was announced that it was debuting at SXSW it was revealed that the film would be heading to Netflix shortly after. Personally, I was excited because so often we see films get a film festival release and then disappear into the ether for far too long (looking at you “Green Inferno”). But it wasn’t the way that “Hush” was released that made it stand out. No, it was the fact that it was a damn good classic slasher film with a unique hook. What if you had to deal with someone like the Ghost Face Killer while also being deaf? I mean, crap, talk about having the deck stacked against you. Director Mike Flanagan and co-writer/star Kate Siegel not only conjured up a great concept, but executed on it in a spectacular way. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s engrossing and keeps you filled with tension till the end.
8. Lights Out
This film was probably one of the biggest surprises of the year. It was hard for me to imagine that a clever short film could be turned into a compelling horror movie. I had relatively low expectations for “Lights Out” but David F. Sandberg proved that his idea was more than just a novelty and could actually carry a feature film. “Lights Out” featured two things that I really engrossed me. For one it attempted to delve into mental illness in a way that I found respectful and sympathetic. Secondly it created a boyfriend character that had his shit together. If you’ve seen the film then you know that not only is the character refreshingly accepting of all the crazy stuff going on, but he’s actually handy when it matters. A competent boyfriend in a horror movie, progress!
7. Ouija: Origins of Evil
This one is basically the opposite of what I had to say about “The Conjuring 2.” Here’s a sequel (prequel actually) to a film that wasn’t all that great. I don’t think anyone had any particular expectations for this one, yet it wound up impressing quite a few people. From its setting to its engrossing family story “Ouija: Origins of Evil” managed to capture a lot of the same feelings that the original “Conjuring” evoked. And that’s a real credit to director Mike Flanagan who makes his second appearance on this list. There was nothing about this project that would have suggested it would be any good, but Flanagan found a concept that worked and cobbled together one of the more interesting family horror films of the year.
“Baskin” was my introduction to Turkish horror films this year and it made an excellent impression. This grotesque horror film followed a group of Turkish police officers as they descend into a nightmarish hell. There’s a lot of intense and unique disturbing content in this film that has ensured it’ll stay imprinted in my brain for the next few years. And I don’t mean that in a torture porn sort of way like in “Hostel”, but in a way that I found more reminiscent of something like “Hellraiser.” It’s a movie that stuck with me and got under my skin in a way that I enjoyed and would recommend others to experience as well.
5. Don’t Breathe
The concept behind “Don’t’ Breathe” is deceptively simple. A bunch of desperate teenagers break into a blind man’s home in an attempt to rob him of his rumored stash. Of course things go wrong and the blind man proves to be an incredibly skilled killer. This is probably one of the most intense thrillers that I saw this year. Once things kick off the movie just keeps escalating and doesn’t let off till the end.
4. The Wailing
I hadn’t heard of Korean horror film “The Wailing” until it finally landed on U.S. Netflix this year, but I’m grateful it was recommended to me. “The Wailing” follows a small town cop as he tries to figure out what’s behind a recent rash of killings. The film is an interesting mix as it swings from slapstick humor to disturbing horror elements. However, these elements are blended together in a way that feel cohesive and the film is deeply entertaining because of it. The ending might leave you scratching your head and reading into theories online, but I think it’s still worth watching.
3. The Witch
Of course “The Witch” was gonna be on here somewhere. Leading up to it’s release it was definitely the next big “indie darling;” however, it doesn’t make my list for that reason. No, “The Witch” is actually very good. The film follows a Puritan family in 17th Century New England. The family leaves the safety of their community and attempts to live out in the wilds. However, horrible events begin to befall the family and it’s clear that a greater evil is at work. The film is dark and oppressive and just leaves you feeling all rotted away by the end. If you were turned away by the over hype that surrounded the film I’d like to encourage you to give it a chance.
2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is one of those films that is hard to rave about because the less you know about it, the better. All you need to really know is that a woman is trapped in a bunker with a man who tells her he just saved her from some kind of apocalypse. The woman is forced to figure out whether the real danger is inside the bunker or out of it. The only other bit of info you need is that John Goodman gives one of the best performances of the year. Now, go! See this movie right now if you can.
1. Green Room
I had seen director Jeremy Saulnier’s last film “Blue Ruin” and I thought it was an alright feature. So I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for “Green Room” other than the fact that the premise spoke to me. In the film a punk band playing at a skinhead bar witnesses a murder and are forced to fight for their lives if they want to escape the gig alive. The film is intense and horrifically violent with simple little scenes that made me grit my teeth and flinch. Patrick Stewart is great, as always, as the sinister head of the skinheads and Imogen Poots also gives an incredibly badass performance that only further cements her as one of my favorite actresses. There’s also Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away last year. It’s hard to give his performance praise without sounding disingenuous, but he is honestly great in the film. This is a gut wrenching flick that just hits you with violence and anguish without warning and it left me feeling on edge till the very end. It’s easily my favorite film of the year.
So that was 2016 for me, but what did you guys think? Let me know what your favorite films of the year were down below.