2016 is a lot of things. Luckily one of the things about this year that it’s a good year for horror. Without even considering some of the tiny gems we’re sure to discover thanks to the magic of home video here are the notable horror films of this calendar year.
Bob Aquavia on The Purge: Election Year
The Purge phenomenon continued in 2016 with The Purge: Election Year. A direct sequel this time around, with Frank Grillo returning as Leo Barnes. Instead of a Punisher-esque vigilante, Leo has now learned from his loss and redemption from the events of The Purge: Anarchy. Now he’s head of security for Presidential candidate Charlie Roan, a U.S. Senator whose family died in The Purge years before and is now seeking to end it. All that’s against them are the political power players who will use the chaos and violence of The Purge to keep them, and the American public, under their control.
Travis Newton on Blair Witch
Blair Witch is another in a long line of “legacy sequels”. They pick up where franchises left off, long after we think they’ve gone cold. Another trope of legacy sequels is that they tend not to acknowledge lesser-loved sequels, like Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.
Instead of taking Book of Shadows‘s meta approach, Blair Witch is a traditional sequel in every sense of the word. Everything is heightened, glossier, and more intense. But in sequelizing The Blair Witch Project, this new film loses the key authenticity that made the first one such a chilling experience.
Travis Newton on Hush
Mike Flanagan’s Hush blindsided me. It’s a simple, minimal home invasion thriller with a few clever tweaks that make it intelligent and novel. Written by husband-and-wife team Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel, the film shows us a protagonist living with a disability and fighting insurmountable odds.
Siegel plays the lead: a deaf writer who must defend herself from a masked invader (John Gallagher Jr.). One of the most surprising things about Hush is its remarkable use of technology in storytelling. It’s generally accepted that movies will fudge how computers, phones, and software work to fit the story. Instead, Flanagan and Siegel depict the use of contemporary technology like text messaging and video conferencing in ways that make the story feel real.
Danielle Ryan on Don’t Breathe
Don’t Breathe, Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to the Evil Dead remake is a nasty B-movie wrapped in first-rate production quality. The film follows three thieves as they try to rob a blind war veteran in his own home. It doesn’t go well for any of them and takes a hard left turn about halfway through the film. Stephen Lang is super creepy as the Blind Man, and the other performances are good. A sequence in the dark is portrayed brilliantly, using lots of actual darkness instead of “night vision” like many other films. Don’t Breathe is a strange, dark film that will make viewers never look at turkey basters the same way again.
Nick Nunziata on The Wailing
Na Hong-jin has made a very odd movie. It’s an epic in length but also tells a rather simple story. It owes as much to police procedurals and family dramas as it does to horror, but it’s undoubtedly a horror film. The Wailing is yet another example of how Korea is in many ways leading the charge in the genre. It’s complex, harrowing, and expertly made. And weird. And funny. The best genre films are ones that don’t feel familiar or manipulative and this certainly fits the bill. it’s worth your two and half hours.
Chris Tilly on Green Room
On the surface, Green Room is a simple tale of ‘Punks v Nazis.’ Hardcore rockers the Ain’t Rights accept a gig playing to skinheads in a backwater dive, witness something terrible backstage, and find themselves fighting for their lives as the terrifying Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) compels his army of young thugs to silence the band for good. But dig deeper and you realize it’s a tale of how emotive language and false ideology can be used to manipulate the young, the ignorant, and the impressionable. Meaning Green Room isn’t just a brilliant horror film but also a horribly prescient one.
Travis Newton on Train to Busan
This action-infused zombie flick from South Korea impressed moviegoers at Cannes, then went on to earn over 99 million bucks worldwide. That’s huge for a Korean film. But upon watching Train to Busan, it’s easy to see why audiences love it.
It’s not a faux-brainy social commentary or meditation on disease. It’s a thrill ride, a good time. The anti-Walking Dead, blissfully loaded with the kind of melodrama Korean movies do so well. Check it out now on your VOD platform of choice.
Drew Dietsch on The Invitation
Karyn Kusama’s tense and uneasy thriller is definitely the most uncomfortable movie of the year. The story of a group of friends reuniting after a tragedy feels warm and welcoming at first. But, as the night goes on, suspicions arise and the reason for the gathering quickly turns sinister. We don’t get these kinds of horror movies very often; character-driven dramas that are propelled by the possibility of something untoward going on. The Invitation is definitely a slow burn but it’s the right kind of slow burn. It rewards all that buildup with an explosive and gut-wrenching finale that will chill you to your core.
Nick Nunziata on The Conjuring 2
It would have been very easy for The Conjuring 2 to coast. No one would fault it for milking the considerable goodwill the first film earned. That’s what the Annabelle films are for. Surprisingly, James Wan and gang came back strong with a sequel that isn’t better than the original but is still damn good. New threats plus some familiar ones make The Conjuring 2 a rare high-end horror sequel that works. It’s thrilling, well-made, and scary. There are the expected jump scares but also quite a few elaborately staged gags that keep the film from being cheap. It’s weird that there’s a premiere horror franchise starring two legitimate actors but we’ve got one. Here’s hoping Wan balances his big tentpole movies with more of these.
Danielle Ryan on The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn is new to the horror game, but he’s been a maestro of violent visuals for his entire career. His latest film, The Neon Demon, takes on the world of fashion and the horrors of jealousy. Elle Fanning is great as Jesse, a pretty young thing who becomes a model and the object of everyone’s desire. Jena Malone is also fantastic, playing makeup artist Ruby, who clearly wishes she had Jesse’s looks. Neon Demon is a slow-burning flick, but the payoff is well worth it. Refn’s visuals and stark use of light and color suit the horror genre. Hopefully, this isn’t the only horror film we get from him because this glitter and gore aesthetic is a treat for both the eyes and mind.
Travis Newton on 10 Cloverfield Lane
As we near the end of the year and into 2017, 10 Cloverfield Lane will be easy to forget. It was a small pre-summer release with a surprise marketing campaign that impressed critics enough. But it threw a substantial curveball at moviegoers who were sold on the mystery of how it all related to 2008’s Cloverfield.
Much to everyone’s surprise, 10 Cloverfield Lane has little (if nothing at all) to do with that earlier movie. Instead, it focused on telling a twisty little story with beautifully developed characters. All three major performances were incredible, and Dan Trachtenberg proved himself to be a genre filmmaker worth following.