2016 was a great year for horror movies. While I unfortunately didn’t get around to seeing all of them, I did manage to see quite a few, and the ones that stayed with me the longest, that most captivated, entertained, scared, thrilled and filled me with dread, creeped me out, kept me on the edge of my seat and wanting more, are listed here, in a loose, interchangeable order from 10 down to 1.
10.) 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is a testament to the effectiveness of using an unreliable narrator to unnerve the audience. Or maybe it should be seen as a masterclass in gaslighting. Anchored by excellent performances from John Goodman (who has never been creepier) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and directed by Dan Trachtenberg (who, as a side note, also directed one of the scariest episodes of Black Mirror, (Season 3’s “Playtest”)), 10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart, tense, engaging, Twilight Zone-esque psychological-thriller that keeps you guessing / questioning your own sanity from beginning to end.
9.) The Shallows
The Blake Lively-led, millennial-skewed woman-vs-shark thriller offers a fresh, modern take on the “shark-survival” horror sub-genre. It scores major points for being stunningly shot, having intense action sequences, a kick-ass female lead, and probably one of the best avian co-stars of all time (“Steven Seagull”). The Shallows was the perfect popcorn movie to kick off the summer of 2016.
8.) The Conjuring 2
Director James Wan delivers a solidly crafted, entertaining sequel to his 2013 hit, The Conjuring. Based on a true story, The Conjuring 2 chronicles another case file of the paranormal investigative husband and wife duo, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). While the setting and the subjects of the haunting are different, Wan’s signature style and his ability to spook us the eff out remain.
7.) The Witch
Writer/Director Robert Eggers’ The Witch explores the horrors of puritanical and patriarchal oppression and the temptations of “deliciousness.” Subtitled “A New England Folk Tale,” the atmospheric slow-burner is also something of a horror-fairy-tale with elements of Hansel and Gretel and Snow White. TBH, I could barely understand a damn thing the characters were saying (the Ye Olde English is thick, yo) and would like to watch it again with subtitles on. Still, watching The Witch kind of made me feel like I had a fever and was drifting in and out of one of those weird nightmares that seems like it’s lasting for days. Which is, I guess, a good thing? It’s also hard not to admire The Witch‘s singularly memorable cinematic moments, such as that last, gloriously wicked scene.
Wow, tension. The Netflix-exclusive home-invasion-slasher-horror Hush brings it in spades. Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus) co-wrote the movie with his wife Kate Siegel, who stars as a deaf and mute woman who has moved to a remote house in the woods, which of course becomes the perfect setting for a murderous masked intruder to show up, thus beginning an intense cat and mouse game of survival. Hush is super effective at keeping the suspense up and making you want to either cover your eyes, flail your arms, yell at the screen in support of the intrepid heroine, or otherwise vocalize in some way the intense emotions you’re bound to feel while watching it.
5.) The Neon Demon
Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s artsy and rather polarizing film, The Neon Demon, examines the dark side of the youth and beauty-obsessed modeling industry in Los Angeles, and to a broader extent, narcissism, vanity, ambition and human nature in general. On the surface, it’s ‘a horror film about beauty,’ inspired in part by the story of the ‘Blood Countess’ Elizabeth Bathory who is said to have bathed in the blood of virgins to stay young. But there’s more to the film than that. Refn has said that The Neon Demon is, in part, “a celebration of narcissism as a quality.” But it also serves as a cautionary tale against losing your soul in a quest for adoration. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman with personal experience in LA’s “industry”scene, but I for one am buying what Refn is selling. That The Neon Demon is both twisted and insanely beautiful to look at only adds to its appeal.
4.) Nocturnal Animals
Hitchcock might be the “Master of Suspense,” but director Tom Ford delivers a damn fine dose of it in his stylish neo-noir thriller, Nocturnal Animals, about an art-gallery owner (Amy Adams) whose life gets shaken up when her writer ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript of his new, very personal, “violent and sad” novel. You could argue the inclusion of Nocturnal Animals in a “horror” movie list, but the dread, tension and creep factor (see also Michael Shannon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performances) are real enough and strong enough for me to include it anyway. Come at me, bro.
3.) Train to Busan
This South-Korean zombie thrill-ride has been a smash box-office hit in its home country – and there’s already an English-language remake in the works. Plot-wise, it’s sort of like World War Z meets Speed meets The Towering Inferno, with a fair amount of humor and heart thrown in as well. If that sounds as up your alley as it is mine, then definitely do check out Train to Busan (it’s available via streaming services such as VUDU and YOUTUBE).
2.) The Wailing
Yet another top-notch 2016 South-Korean movie is the supernatural-mystery-horror, The Wailing. With an epic 2 1/2 hour running time, you’d wonder if The Wailing would drag, but it actually does the opposite – it draws you in and takes you on a weird, creepy, funny, twisty-turny, guessing game of a journey that keeps you enthralled (and disturbed) throughout. By the end of the film, I felt like I could watch even more Wailing. Let me put it this way – I’m not saying someone should turn The Wailing into a Netflix series, but if someone were to turn The Wailing into a Netflix series, I’d binge the hell out of it.
1.) Under The Shadow
This spooky, slow burn from British-Iranian director Babak Anvari centers around the anxieties of a mother (Narges Rashidi) living in a repressive society – anxieties which culminate in a haunting by a powerful and terrifying Djinn. Set in war-torn Tehran in the 1980’s, the story builds tension and dread over time, and the scares, when they arrive, are not only inventive, but incredibly chilling. But don’t just take my humble word that Under The Shadow is great – the internationally produced, Persian-language film has also been submitted by the U.K. as its foreign language Oscar entry for 2016.
Did your favorite horror movie of 2016 make the list? Which horror movies did you love this year?
Honorable Mentions: Green Room, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and Anna Biller’s throwback horror comedy The Love Witch (which I saw after writing this list and which would have easily made my top 5).