Echoing the sentiment that has already been expressed by many, 2016 was a great year for horror. And more specifically, it was a great year for theatrical horror. I went to the theater more times in 2016 than I have in recent years, and I absolutely loved every movie that I saw. Beyond that, we also got some fantastic independent and foreign contributions to the genre. Seeing all of these amazing films (when I’m usually terrible at seeing new movies when they actually come out) really reinvigorated my passion for horror, as I got excited for all the new talents that were being brought to the forefront, and the amazing stories they had to tell.
There were many standout films that are, and should be, making other peoples’ lists. Just yesterday, I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe at 7 o’clock in the morning and knew that my whole day was going to be wrecked thinking about that film. Train to Busan is an absolutely wonderful zombie-action flick with so much heart and great characters. Hush is the sleeper Netflix hit that surprised everybody with its ingenuity within such a simple premise. The Conjuring 2 is a top notch follow-up to the original that built on the story of the main characters and also gave them some truly heart-warming moments. Green Room is intense and action-packed with stellar performances.
Though I could have easily made a top 10 list for 2016 and included some of these great releases, I limited myself to picking my five absolute favorites. These were the films that not only amazed me, but also made me have a visceral experience while watching them, and those are the kinds of experiences that really stay with me. So here they are, in no particular order:
The word I found myself using to describe Don’t Breathe to others was “stressful.” Watching this movie completely stressed me out, but only in the most wonderful of ways. Fede Alvarez’s direction, and the pacing, puts the audience in the movie with the characters. You are just as terrified as they are, hiding in that house from an unpredictable foe. I swear I could actually feel the physical and emotional pain of the characters–I was literally not breathing during certain scenes. What I also liked about Don’t Breathe was how it had the guts to go totally bonkers in the third act, and therefore made me (especially as a woman) about ten times more stressed and freaked out than I was for the rest of the movie.
Let me take this opportunity to say “thank you” to Jaume Collet-Serra and Blake Lively for giving us one of the best sharksploitation movies in years. I didn’t know much about the movie before heading to the theater, and frankly I didn’t need to know much–I love shark movies, and that was enough to get me to see it. But I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that The Shallows was skillfully and beautifully directed by Collet-Serra; carried exceptionally well by Lively as the main character; and featured one gorgeous looking shark. Maybe the setting did a lot of the work for the director, but I can’t deny that I was in awe of the scenes at the beginning of the film of Lively’s character surfing, or the way the water slowly turns to red when she is first bitten. It’s an intense survival story that only gets better as it progresses. Call the ending hokey if you must, but I was cheering on the inside, and I knew that The Shallows was going to be one of those comfort movies that I could put on at any time and enjoy immensely.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
10 Cloverfield Lane is my favorite story of the year, in that it was a movie that no one even knew existed until the trailer popped up, and mere weeks later, it was in the theaters. It’s a claustrophobic film with only three characters, which is kind of my ideal recipe for a great film. The actors–Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.–are all superb in their roles, but Goodman is simply a powerhouse. The way he plays the character of Howard so that you really have no idea what he is thinking or what his true motivations are completely drives the entire movie and the actions of the other characters. 10 Cloverfield Lane is suspenseful, unpredictable, and at times uncomfortably comedic, all of which make it such a great ride from start to finish.
If you want a movie that is absolutely dripping with tension and suspense, look no further than The Invitation. This carefully orchestrated tale from director Karyn Kusama has a palpable sense of anticipation for nearly the whole movie that only lets up when you absolutely can’t stand it anymore. The fact that the main character is very emotionally detached from the others, still distraught over the death of his son, actually makes him the perfect person to follow in this story. We like him, and we feel for him, but does he have a real basis for his paranoia or is he just jealous and upset that others have moved on when he cannot? Is this whole evening a simple dinner party, or do the hosts have something more sinister planned? It all comes together in a way that is satisfying and horrifying at the same time, with an incredibly powerful final shot. The Invitation is also one of the more adult horror films that I’ve seen in a while, and something I hope to see more of in the future.
This whole year of horror awesomeness started for me back in February when I went to go see this movie that was getting a lot of festival buzz. The Witch is the epitome of what I said before about the films on my list providing me with that visceral experience while watching them. The word of the day for The Witch is “dread,” a feeling that took over me once that baby disappeared and did not go away until the movie concluded (maybe even a little longer than that). In one of the most brilliant debuts ever, director Robert Eggers crafted a story that is rich with mood and atmosphere, where even the simplest of scenes had me completely on edge and terrified. The score is downright eerie and unsettling, and the few key scenes of true horror are enough to make you dread what could possibly come next. The Witch is not just the best horror film of the year, but of the past several years.