I don’t know if you’ve experienced this as I have, but as the year wraps up, I’m hearing friends say that 2016 hasn’t been a good year for cinema. Many big releases left fans and critics underwhelmed. But has horror received the same reception this year? To break down my feelings on the year’s scary fare, I sat down with my friend Drew Dietsch, an Entertainment Editor here at Fandom.
TRAVIS NEWTON: I’ll come out and say it — 2016 was a fine year for horror. We even had a shark movie that wasn’t a total shlocky mess.
DREW DIETSCH: I’d go so far as to say that horror had an exceptional year. There are always going to be a handful of smaller films that you champion by the year’s end. But big scares made big money in 2016. The Conjuring 2 was a smash success. Don’t Breathe spent two weeks as the number one film in America. Regardless of how you or I feel about those movies, that’s a significant win for the genre.
NEWTON: We should also note that both of those films carried ‘R’ ratings. Don’t Breathe‘s performance is particularly impressive. It’s an original movie, very mean-spirited, and it did surprisingly well with critics. Typically, the tastes of critics and audiences tend to be different when it comes to horror. They don’t want the same things from the genre. That’s why critics gravitated toward indies like The Witch.
DIETSCH: Speaking of ‘R’ ratings, 2016 seemed to be an enormous boon to audiences and filmmakers who want more adult fare. PG-13 horror took a big dive this year with massive flops like Shut In, The Boy, The Disappointments Room, and even the recent Incarnate. Sure, we got Ouija: Origin of Evil. But that might as well be the superhero equivalent of a horror movie thanks to branding. Are audiences done with tame frights?
NEWTON: I don’t think so. Aside from being PG-13, all of those flops have something in common that I think affected their performance more heavily: bad marketing. Movies like Shut In and The Disappointments Room were delayed and unceremoniously dumped into theaters with meager marketing. Audiences hardly knew these movies existed. And the same thing might’ve happened to The Cellar — oh, excuse me, 10 Cloverfield Lane — if it didn’t carry the Cloverfield brand.
DIETSCH: That’s a good point. Also, I wonder if the overall negative feelings about 2016 helped drive people to see scary movies. Horror always prospers in times of societal displeasure — both financially and creatively. That feeling has translated to our horror films. Look at movies like The Invitation and Green Room. Those two movies show anger and fear around ideas bigger than their own narratives. They also happen to be damn good.
NEWTON: Horror is a powerful tool for social commentary. It can be a lot more direct about our fears. It can take concerns and extrapolate them into worst case scenarios. Horror movies like The Invitation start with smaller, more abstract fears like social interaction at a dinner party. Then great filmmakers like Karyn Kusama, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi make them writ large and bloody.
DIETSCH: Can we learn a lesson from 2016’s horror boom? It seems like the genre had one of its best showings in years and we should find something to take away from this triumph.
NEWTON: With the critical successes in indie horror this year and last year, it’s time for casual fans of horror to take a look at limited release and VOD offerings. We all know supernatural horrors like The Conjuring, Lights Out, and Ouija tend to do well at the cinemas. But they’re riding a wave of very similar jump-fueled fare. If fans are looking for more variety, there is a treasure trove of diverse horror hitting theaters and digital platforms. The only requirement is a little more diligence on the fan side.
DIETSCH: It’s fair to say that the genre is always going to find its best refuge in smaller movies. Looking ahead to 2017, we have films like The Mummy and Rings that are action movies wearing a Halloween costume. Horror fans — and film fans in general — should actively search for films. Big release horror will get more and more diluted as foreign market interests become higher priorities. And 2016’s plethora of great indie horror proves that there are always good movies out there if you know where to look.