Favorite Horror Films of 2016
By: Monte Yazzie
Film is very subjective. What connects with one person may not resonate with another. That’s what makes ranking an entire year in film so difficult, what I like can be vastly different from what someone else likes. I find this especially difficult when it comes to horror films. Some are looking for the next big scare, some want the next great monster, some want humor, some want gore; it’s a diverse mix of specific elements that will categorize your favorite horror film.
Films like “Lights Out” and “The Witch” found much success but are completely different and were received differently from genre fans. I recall two discussions, one about “The Witch” not being a horror film and another about “Lights Out” being the scariest film of all time, which intrigued me in the best way possible. These discussions display how personal film can be to the viewer. Needless to say there was a little something for every genre taste in 2016, a particular banner year for the horror film.
10. Don’t Breathe
The concerns of the dreaded sophomore slump didn’t seem to bother director Fede Alvarez who could have done anything he wanted at this point, instead he chose to stay within the genre and write an original screenplay. “Don’t Breathe” is an unexpected combination of a bunch of different genre inspirations, a film that is as familiar as it is unique. Taking the unsuspecting nature of a blind man who turns the tables on a group of thieves allows Mr. Alvarez to play with genre characteristics. Moments of terror and tension are peaked effectively through subtle combinations of sound design and camera movements. The film makes an interesting change in direction, which adds additional layers of dread to the structure. Mr. Alvarez is proving one of the best up-and-coming directors of the genre.
The images in Lucille Hadžihalilović’s film “Evolution” display a world without much feeling, though the emotions levied on the viewer are displayed with bold, insistent strokes. It’s within these images that the horror of an island community filled with young boys being prepared, not nurtured, by women for a future unknown. The film is mostly quiet but the exquisite, bizarre imagery outlines a nightmare more than a cohesive story. It’s challenging filmmaking because of this structure but is also so much more effective; the images within “Evolution” speak horrific volumes, more than a story could possibly explain.
8. Train to Busan
The zombie subgenre of horror is tired but with a recurring show that still sits near the top of the ratings game on cable television, “The Walking Dead”, zombies have steadily become pop culture icons. It’s hard to surprise horror fans, so when the South Korean zombies-on-a-train horror film “Train to Busan” came across my viewing path I wasn’t expecting much. I was so wrong. Director Yeon Sang-ho fashioned a film with exceptional characters, a narrative with sharp melodramatic social commentary, and zombies that aren’t so much gory constructs as they are forces to motivate the characters into interesting situations and places. It’s the best zombie film in recent memory.
7. Autopsy of Jane Doe
Within the first 40-minutes of André Øvredal's film “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” you will be immersed in a horror film that does everything to near perfection; the scares are a mix of subtle and deliberate shocks, the characters are interesting and engaged in the mystery, and the visual viscera are very raw and in-your-face. These elements combine and become a chilling experience, one that delves into the dark depths of the process of death.
6. The Invitation
Karyn Kusama, the talented director behind 2009’s “Jennifer’s Body”, crafts a moody and meticulously executed film about a group of friends reuniting over dinner. “The Invitation” constructs a simple premise into something dark and sinister, a film that plays with preconceived assumptions familiar to horror fans, the struggle to separate oneself from their past, and that uncomfortable and awkward feeling of sitting around a table with people you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a film that relies on character to induce fear, that’s a special kind of fear because we have all met someone sitting at the table in this film. “The Invitation” displays Karyn Kusama’s undeniable talent as a filmmaker.
“Demon” doesn’t indulge in its horror conventions like most films would, the film instead deals with the effects of horrific events on people and how it changes and influences culture over time. The photography is beautifully bleak; the Polish countryside is ominous with a sense of darkness clouded by fog in the distance. The narrative combines both dark humor and not-so-subtle metaphors to evoke a portrait of Polish history and a correlation to real life horror. “Demon” is the kind of film that displays how a creative artist, the tragic final film for director Marcin Wrona, can transform genre into something that evokes different emotions while also having something powerful to proclaim.
4. The Eyes of My Mother
The horror in Nicolas Pesce’s “The Eyes of My Mother” is as grotesque as it beautiful. Shot in stark black and white photography, the film displays the gradual and deranged development of young girl named Francisca played delicately by actress Kika Magalhaes in one of the best performances in a horror film this year. The film has all the skillful qualities one would expect from an arthouse film, the design and photography are particularly amazing, while also existing firmly in the realms of a house of horror. The film is a disturbing and compelling piece of genre filmmaking.
3. The Wailing
Meticulous in its method and steady in its execution, “The Wailing” is a horror film that manipulates expectations by pulling the viewer deeper into the abyss of the mystery but also the characters that are placed in such terrible settings. This combination of horror and character gives the film an unexpected emotional undertone that makes the scary moments all the more affecting.
2. Green Room
People have different definitions of horror; some may call “Green Room” a thriller though I like to think of it as survival horror. Just like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead” or vampires in “From Dusk till Dawn”, Jeremy Saulnier’s film creates monsters out of a community of white supremacists. It’s a film that understands the rules but decides to play by its own tune; a fast, aggressive, and stripped down horror tune that is a masterclass of tension.
1. The Witch
It’s been a long time since a horror film has affected me the way Robert Egger’s film “The Witch” has. A film that lives and breathes on manipulating the atmosphere that it operates in, building dread and creating an environment that saturates any glimmer of light with darkness. It’s hard to call it just frightening or menacing, it’s something more, something darker and more authentic than those terms can embody. It’s a nightmare that you can’t wake up from, one that lures you into the blackened world and then forces you to keep going when you want to turn back. “The Witch” is the best horror film this year.
The Greasy Strangler
Bonkers, absolute hilarious, not for the faint of heart; it’s unlike any other film you’ll see in a long time.
Under the Shadow
This film has one of the best jump scares of the year; it’s also a poignant tale of how the terror of culture can collide with the terror of politics.
Director Anna Biller crafts a painstakingly detailed and seducing genre film; it is a visual and technical feast for the senses.
Simple yet effective; director Mike Flanagan is one of the strongest voices, not only in the genre, but also in filmmaking in general.
Quija: Origin of Evil
A prequel to a horror film can offer too many explanations, ruining whatever brought you back to the theater to continue the journey in the first place. However, it seldom does what “Quija: Origin of Evil” did, which was make the original film completely obsolete.
More than half of the stories in this anthology are fantastic, that’s an achievement in itself. “Father’s Day” and “St. Patrick’s Day” are wonderful standouts.
10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman gives one of the best performances in film this year. It’s a fantastic continuation of the “Cloverfield” mythos.
They Look Like People
This psychological thriller takes two characters and effectively mixes elements of paranoia, fear, and anxiety crafting a rather suspenseful little indie film.
Leave it the Toho Company to bring Godzilla back to its purest form; a healthy dose of nostalgia that is updated with modern problems.
I Am Not A Serial Killer
Max Records and Christopher Lloyd provide great performances in this quiet character study that also has a very threatening mystery lingering under the surface.
Easily one of the best shark films in some time.