The horror genre has seen something of an uptick in recent years. That’s a good thing for the audience, as we’re getting a lot more great movies from it. Gone are the days of almost all of the wide-release horror movies in a given year being awful jump startle-filled disasters. And we’re getting more and more quality movies getting released directly on VOD or streaming services. It’s a great time to be a horror fan.
Here are the 10 best horror movies from 2016.
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is about 90% of the way toward being a classic movie. It’s only tangentially related to its namesake, instead existing largely as a standalone movie about a trio of people locked in a bunker during what might be the end of the world. The film poses, and in large part relies on, two questions over its running time: (1) Did the world really end? (2) Is the man who built the bunker crazy?
They’re related, of course, but the movie toys around with both of them. When evidence for one side gets shown, quickly enough we see something that works as evidence toward the other. We don’t know who to trust, or what happened, and that creates an awfully large amount of tension and suspense throughout. John Goodman is fantastic as the man who built the bunker, and the film is really, really good…
…Up until its ending, when it hurts everything that preceded it. The ending doesn’t go so far as to ruin the film, and everything leading up to it is brilliant, but it is a large asterisk on an otherwise fantastic film.
The Conjuring 2
Who would’ve thought The Conjuring 2, which has a running time of 140+ minutes, would be really good? I certainly didn’t, especially coming off the disaster that was its spinoff, Annabelle. But we should never overlook a James Wan-directed movie. The Conjuring 2 reinforced that.
The film moves to England and follows a new family as they experience a poltergeist – eventually being visited by the Warrens from the original. It does a lot to develop its characters and set the stage, which makes the scares more impactful. when you have characters you somewhat care about and a strong sense of atmosphere, the horror works better. It’s simple, but so many filmmakers forget to do that, instead jumping straight to jump startles.
A trio of unruly teenagers looking to make a quick buck decide to rob a blind man. When it turns out that the blind man is also an army veteran, and has more sinister reasons to defend his property than just to protect his money, it quickly becomes a game of life and death. Don’t Breathe gets a lot of mileage out of “you have to stay quiet or he’ll kill us” and Stephen Lang makes for a fearsome villain. It also has a pretty shocking surprise midway through, one that you’ll struggle to forget about.
Hush is kind of similar to Don’t Breathe in that a person with a disability has intruders enter their home. The differences are (1) the disability is deafness (and muteness), not blindness, (2) the person is a woman, not a man, (3) the intruder wants to stalk and murder the homeowner, and (4) we’re rooting for the homeowner, not the intruder.
Essentially, a man starts stalking a deaf mute woman, and eventually gains access to her home. She has to try to stop him from murdering her. That’s it. It’s scary and really tense.
You know those movies where “the real monster, all along, was inside you” is essentially the lesson? Well, The Monster plays with that idea, making you wonder if the monster in the film – which we kind of, sort of see – is real, a metaphor, or a manifestation. Meanwhile, we get a pretty sad little story about a mother and young daughter – and then a monster shows up to mess things up even further. It’s an engaging and scary movie, and it’s pretty clever with its premise.
The Neon Demon
The Neon Demon polarized audiences when it was released. People didn’t have middling reactions to it; they either loved it or hated it with very little middle ground. It’s a Nicolas Winding Refn film, which typically provide these types of reactions. It’s about a teenager in Los Angeles who wants to be a model, and whose youth and beauty create a lot of jealousy and fascination among both the other models and the people who hire her.
And then things get weird.
It might not be a perfect movie but it’s a fascinating one that’s all about the modeling industry and the vapidness associated with its culture … wrapped up in a horror movie that also features cannibalism and necrophilia.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
While The Conjuring 2 being good was a surprise, Ouija: Origin of Evil being good is like if we discovered there was a second moon orbiting Earth that we somehow never knew about until now. The first Ouija is so terrible that any prospect of a second one filled me with dread. And then the movie came out and it’s pretty good! It’s a prequel focusing on a family of con artists who try to use the Ouija board in order to sell their scam … and then the Ouija board does horror movie stuff.
It gives us a family to care about and doesn’t throw the scares in right away, giving the film a chance to establish its atmosphere. It’s not afraid of dropping in an occasional laugh, either. It’s just a really well-constructed horror movie, and one of the biggest surprises of 2016.
You can count the number of good shark movies on a couple of fingers – if you’re being generous. And after Jaws, the drop off is pretty significant. Most of them are campy, silly, and not very good. The Shallows has a simple premise – a woman gets stranded on a rock a mile or so from the beach … and there’s a shark – but makes it work by making the shark feel realistic and a viable threat, and by giving us a likable, relatable protagonist we want to see live.
Train to Busan
A father and daughter take a train to see the girl’s mother. Then a zombie outbreak occurs.
It’s a simple premise that puts its characters in very tight quarters. The movie works well as a drama, giving us great characters we care about, but also as a solid zombie movie. The ones here are scary, largely due to proximity, but also because of how the movie presents them. This is a great movie.
Amazing how “good characters and atmosphere” is a formula that makes strong horror movies, isn’t it?
The VVitch is an arthouse horror movie that gets by on its atmosphere and authenticity to its period. It’s set in the 17th Century on a New England farm, with dialogue that matches it. It takes a while to get used to it, and it puts us off immediately. Weird things start happening on the farm. Maybe there’s a witch, maybe there isn’t. It’s incredibly effective at building this world and putting us inside of it. The weird things are scary. The psychological aspect at play is strong. The themes are engaging. And then it gets really weird near its conclusion. It’s weird, different, and well worth your time.