2016 had a surprising number of well received horror films with wide theatric releases. We had stand out sequels (Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Conjuring 2) and were reminded of our collective fears of the water (The Shallows), and the dark (Lights Out). While none may have reached the “instant horror classic” status of last year’s It Follows, pound for pound this was one of the most consistent years for the genre. Standing close by were dark thrillers (left off this list) that took elements from the horror genre. In my opinion, however, these films are not horror outright. This of course begs the question: what constitutes a horror film? Does it require supernatural and the occult? Excess gore? Horror is supposed to exploit our personal fears and anxieties. By that logic, it can be fairly subjective. It is a genre that has often spilled into others, which only adds to its ambiguity. For me, what tips the scale from thriller to horror in many cases is character motivation. Is the perpetrator’s act rooted in rationality or is it sadistic and done for the sake of evil?
Side note: With a good deal of trepidation, one of my favorite films of the year, Green Room, has been left off the list. It undoubtably has the gore and tension of a horror film but still fits the mold better as a dark thriller. Debate away, internet.
10. The Witch
Watch this one with subtitles and a dictionary. The dialogue is in old english and at times can be brutally tough to understand. The Witch did not leave the same lasting impression on me as it did so many others, yet it’s still a fascinating story with a heavy dosage of dread.
9. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Two morticians, a father and son, find their most recent patients cause of death to be unlike anything they’ve seen before. The mystery of Jane Doe begins to unravel for these two with some supernatural results. I watched this one in what you could call the perfect storm for viewing a horror film: on my laptop, at night with the lights out and my headphones on. It could have been the backdrop, but I was terrified.
This highway ride to hell mashes four short stories, all of which are dark and deeply disturbed, into one movie. Anthology horror can be a gamble, and generally some parts are stronger than others. This holds true for Southbound with its 3rd story being the strongest. Still, its bizarre mixture of horror tales held me captivated from start to finish. (Warning: lots of gore)
7. The Conjuring 2
To have a sequel be this good is downright impressive. My full review: The Conjuring 2 Review.
6. The Wailing
With a run time of 2 hours and 36 minutes, The Wailing may be a tough one to watch in one sitting. That’s fine–take a break, digest the first half and come back to it later in the day. You can take the movie at face value or spend the next few hours scouring the internet to dissect the film’s meaning. Either way, this one is well worth your time.
5. The Invitation
This one took a second viewing for me to fully appreciate its twisted story. The Invitation demonstrates the horror genre’s ability to tackle the heavy topics of loss and grief appropriately. The atmosphere is downright creepy throughout and the film delivers on a third act that is outrageous and bloody enjoyable.
4. Train to Busan
If you thought the zombie sub-genre has been played out, this Korean flick will prove you wrong. Taking place almost entirely on a train, a father and daughter fight their way through hordes of zombies to freedom. At times the film’s message and themes are thrown a little too hard in your face, but that is a small criticism for an otherwise great film.
A home invasion thriller that is terrifying and succinct. Michael Flanagan is quickly proving to be one of the best horror directors out there. My full review: Hush Review.
2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A man holds a young woman captive in an underground bunker convinced he is keeping her safe from the apocalypse happening outside. This film is a tough one to pin down in terms of its genre identity and I’m sure it will be debated. Regardless of how you view it, this is one suspenseful movie with a terrific opening title sequence and a stand out performance from John Goodman.
1. Don’t Breathe
Don’t Breathe takes the home invasion storyline and flips the script. These would-be criminals have severely underestimated their “victim,” who can hear far better than they can see. What follows is an hour of endless brutality and anxiety, as we navigate a dark old house full of even darker secrets. Few films have made me this tense in a movie theater.