The Year in Horror, 2016: Ken’s Top 10 Horror Films!Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
As most people can tell you, 2016 has been fairly dismal, with deaths, hit-or-miss fare at the cineplex, and tense political discord affecting our pop culture landscape. However, in terms of the horror genre, 2016 has been a banner year, with excellent fright fare to be found across multiple platforms. From promising new filmmakers to the return of auteurs, 2016 offered a diverse selection of genre gems, and while new efforts from old masters were few and far between, this year has certainly set the path for the next generation of horror filmmaking hotshots.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this writer’s favorite horror offerings from the past year, I would like to highlight ten recommendations whom all nearly made the list: Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, Andre Ovredal’s THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, Can Evrenal’s BASKIN, Jim Hosking’s THE GREASY STRANGLER, Benjamin Moody’s LAST GIRL STANDING, Jonathan Straiton’s NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE, Mike Flanagan’s OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, Carles Torrens’ PET, Perry Blackshear’s THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, and Jay Lender & Micah Wright’s THEY’RE WATCHING. I also would say that there are a handful of phenomenal fright films this writer encountered this year that either won’t see release until 2017 or have yet to find distribution, including Emiliano Richter’s WE ARE THE FLESH, Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland’s WE GO ON, Greg McLean’s THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, and Bobbin Ramsey’s DEAD BODY. Lastly, this writer can’t quite jump into his Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 without shining a light on one very specific Honorable Mention…
HONORABLE MENTION: THE LOVE WITCH (dir. Anna Biller)
It’s very easy to fall for this excellent supernatural melodrama, completely evocative of ‘60s technicolor sexploitation films. In fact, THE LOVE WITCH is absolutely one of this writer’s favorite films of the years, and had the film been just a bit more concrete within the horror genre, there’s no doubt that Anna Biller’s shot-on-film love letter to a weird and wild yesteryear would absolutely make the top half of this list. Yet with the genre elements often taking a backseat to the stylish and slavishly era-appropriate narrative, this terror title takes the crown of honorable mention for this year. However, do seek this film out immediately, and be sure to keep an eye on Biller, who is certainly one of the most unique cinematic voices on the verge of breaking big.
Now, without further ado…
- THE MIND’S EYE (dir. Joe Begos)
“This film should be played loud.” From this opening text onwards, Joe Begos sets the stage for an over-the-top slice of FX-driven madness with his sophomore horror effort. With old-school aesthetics, fun performances, and impressive practical FX, THE MIND’S EYE is the type of no-holds-barred genre cinema that is too few and far between these days, and a winning combination for those who prefer neon-soaked action and splattery insanity going hand-in-hand.
- HUSH (dir. Mike Flanagan)
Mike Flanagan has quickly become a top contender for modern master of horror in relatively little time with films like OCULUS and ABSENTIA to his credit. Yet Flanagan has never been better than his work on HUSH, a unique, nerve-racking take on the slasher genre anchored by a pair of jaw-dropping performances from Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr. By literally plunging the audience into the lead character’s worst nightmares, Flanagan shows off his resourceful, playful nature as a filmmaker and uses horror fan’s expectations against them in a genuinely intense manner.
- DON’T BREATHE (dir. Fede Alvarez)
Speaking of modern masters, Fede Alvarez has skyrocketed from “filmmaker to watch” to one of our most anticipated horror filmmakers working today with DON’T BREATHE. An edge-of-your-seat thriller that can rock longtime horror fans and casual moviegoers alike, DON’T BREATHE really lives up to its name, with the story of young burglars squaring off against a deadly blind tenant (one of horror’s best villains in ages) in his own domain filled hitting harder than most studio fare in recent years.
- THE INVITATION (dir. Karyn Kusama)
Painfully suspenseful, Karyn Kusama’s THE INVITATION is a film that gets under your skin in a big, bad way, letting the quiet moments of unnerving tension do their damage. Sporting an incredible ensemble cast and Kusama’s bold, stark vision, THE INVITATION tightens its grip around the audience until its nightmarish third act brings the horror of the scenario to frightening reality. And to cap it all off, THE INVITATION’s final image is one that puts a haunting exclamation point on an emotionally potent and socially relevant horror story.
- ANTIBIRTH (dir. Danny Perez)
A film this writer describes as KILLER JOE meets ROSEMARY’S BABY, this fever dream of a horror comedy is crude, bizarre, and unpredictable. One of 2016’s most surprising genre gems, ANTIBIRTH is a wicked delight that subscribes to no rules, and delivers both high-concept horror and crass, character-driven comedy in equally satisfying measure. If you prefer the lurid and ludicrous out of your scare fare, queue up ANTIBIRTH and get lost in this eerie indie terror title.
- THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (dir. Nicolas Pesce)
Stark, stunning, and transfixing from start to finish, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is visionary, art-house horror that you just can’t shake. From Kika Magalhaes’ head-turning lead performance to Zach Kuperstein’s immersive black-and-white cinematography, Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut is such a confident and chilling take on the type of horror that would normally be at the center of an unrated, gross-out shocker. If you’ve got the patience and stomach for what’s in store, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER will take your breath away.
- THE SIMILARS (dir. Isaac Ezban)
Part science fiction, part horror throwback, Isaac Ezban’s THE SIMILARS is one of the most fun films this writer had the pleasure of seeking out this year. By embracing the weirder, campier elements that come naturally with the terrain, THE SIMILARS takes the audience for a rollercoaster of mystery and mayhem, providing one of the most satisfying and strange twists in years. It’s an utterly fantastic flick, and with his charming yet mischievous cinematic voice, Ezban will be yet another new filmmaker to watch in the coming years.
- THE WITCH (dir. Robert Eggers)
I’ve never seen a theater full of people simultaneously let out a sigh of pent-up breath before THE WITCH, Robert Eggers’ petrifying period piece that pits an exiled family of fanatical colonists against a supernatural presence within the woods. Turning the screws on both the family in its narrative as well as the audience themselves, THE WITCH shows both master-class filmmaking and incredible production value while being genuinely dread-inducing. It’s an art-house horror classic in the making, and could stand aside Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING in terms of its paralyzing use of suspense and terror.
- GREEN ROOM (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
A relentless, unforgiving, white-knuckle horror-thriller, GREEN ROOM puts the audience in the doomed shoes of its protagonists and ramps up the ultraviolent terror tenfold. A knockout from vanguard filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, GREEN ROOM gives you characters to care about, and even humanizes its villains, but nevertheless forces you to watch them collide in gruesome, panic-inducing ways. It’s a directorial tour-de-force, and incredibly inspirational towards the future of independently-produced genre cinema that can work for mainstream audiences as well.
- TRAIN TO BUSAN (dir. Yeon Sang-ho)
Terrifying. Intense. Heartbreaking. Spectacular. Epic. TRAIN TO BUSAN somehow manages to be an intimate, emotional family story whilst simultaneously providing the massive, bloody, and imaginative zombie film you never knew you wanted. Putting Hollywood blockbusters to shame, Yeon Sang-ho delivers nothing short of an incredible zombie flick, complete with cowardly villains, rough-and-tumble anti-heroes, gratifying and cohesive sub-plots, and tons of amazing zombie carnage. It’s not only the best horror film of 2016, but the best film of 2016, period.