The horror renaissance continued in 2017 with no shortage of scary films, including many non-traditional horror films. Horror seems to be evolving past the genre tropes into new and interesting forms, like the continued rise of "prestige horror". It's a wild age of exploration as filmmakers no longer shackled to profit-centric theatrical runs explore puzzling themes, hybrid genres, and challenging reinterpretations of horror. Video on Demand (VOD) and streaming sites (like Netflix) have broadened that playing field making distribution is easier to find. It's about time! Here are some of my favorites.
1. IT With a mix of nostalgia and a creepy clown, this Stephen King adaptation turned out to be the best and truest to the source material. It's a heartfelt kid centric tale with some genuinely shocking scenes (when was the last time you saw a child be killed on screen?). It might be overly long, but I enjoyed every minute of it (19 more minutes will be added to the Director's Cut coming later this year).
2. mother! Darren Aronofsky's polarizing film has been hailed as utter trash and a masterpiece. Having seen it completely uninitiated, I was pulled into a madman's journey through an existential nightmare. It stayed with me for days as I went through the interpretation process. It's like nothing I've seen and guarantee that only a handful a readers will admire this horror (yes it is) film.
3. A Ghost Story This hipster's horror film became an obsessive wonder. So obscure and juvenile (a man in a sheet, really?) yet it weaves a resonant story of loss, loneliness and the cosmic search for answers. With so little dialogue viewers are forced to piece the story together. And even after the ending pops like a balloon out of the existence, it lingers on and on. If you watch it, please try to get past the pie scene, which is a very long mistake no matter how you slice on it.
4. Get Out As race relations continue to spiral in Trump's America, this film boldly took on the topic in an original and sobering way. I felt true palpable anger at the end and Daniel Kaluuya's Oscar-worthy performance was the anchor. It's a refined horror film raised well above its station that boldly declares genre fare as formidable cinema. (4 Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay)
5. A Dark Song Ireland is a country of many stories and this one has both darkness and spectacle. A distraught mother is seeking vengeance for the murder of her son by any means necessary, which includes 8-month ritual to invoke otherworldly beings. It's a slog to get through, much like her day-to-day tasks, and makes one wonder why black magic is so much work. Then the horrors start including a some understated but effective imagery (is that a man smoking in the chair?). The ending is completely unexpected and strikes some deep, emotional chords.
6. The Void It's been a while since there was some batshit crazy, 80s-inspired, Lovecraftian fever dream. This is the one we've been waiting for. Between the monsters, the masked ceremonial men, and whatever the hell is going on in the basement, this movie was non-stop adrenalin rush. It's completely undecipherable, features practical effects(!) and wears its B-movie contrivances proudly. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.
7. Personal Shopper Yes, it's rather irksome that the director said this is a horror film for people who do not watch horror films (you and I need not apply). Yet its curious, cold tone and a calmly unhinged Kristen Stewart who searches for signs from her dead brother is engrossing and peculiar. Her existential crisis is compounded by mysterious texts that leads to an undercurrent mystery happening just off screen. The experience is mesmerizing and baffling.
8. The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro's lush film is a romance/fable with quintessential horror trappings, like a creature from the black lagoon tank. It's stunningly beautiful, filmed in cool greens and blues and features steampunk-adjacent set design. Unlike his last romance/horror hybrid (Crimson Peak) this one is neither bleak nor cynical and features an incredibly strong cast (Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon). This is the best (only?) date night movie on my list. (13 Oscar Nominations! Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Costume Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Music Score, Original Screenplay, Production Design) 9. Super Dark Times The beautiful cinematography of this 80s set coming of age tale seems like a reimagined Stand By Me. High school friends on the verge of becoming men face an unthinkable accident that leads towards a downward spiral. It makes you question whether bad act makes a person evil, or just taps into something that was already there.
10. The Babysitter This Netflix original film packs a lot of fun into its brief running time with some idiotic characters (including a buff dude who can't seem to find a shirt), a gleefully absurd tone, and some really gory (and funny) kills. It makes a few missteps in the middle but more than makes up for it in the end. This wins for best popcorn movie of the year.
11. Annabelle: Creation Somehow period-piece prequels are better than their predecessors. This sequel to the lackluster Annabelle is ten times the movie, scarier, and a more worthy entry to The Conjuring universe. It's a mainstream R-rated horror movie which is mostly unheard of nowadays and definitely worth a traditional, spooky time.
12. Gerald's Game It's been a great year for Stephen King and finally we have some great adaptations of his work. This one also stays very true to the book and tells a surprisingly topical and poignant story. Director Mike Flanagan has captured an empathetic tone without being exploitive even as a woman is handcuffed to a bed, ultimately revealing the dominance and oppression women face from an early age. It is heartbreaking and empowering.
13. The Devil's Candy The devil comes a knockin' in this heavy metal tinged creepfest that features a father and artist on the brink. The tone is pitch black and the Ethan Embry radiates anguish and torment, and easily his best performance to date. It's a jarring and haunting film that makes you question the delicate balance between passion and evil. It's also the rare movie with a final guy (rather than girl).
14. The Girl With All The Gifts The zombie genre has been beaten to death yet this film manages a fresh take. At its heart is the young actress Sennia Nanua who gives a deft performance as a new breed of creature and manages to upstage even Glenn Close in a crazy eyes mode. The tone is less bleak than usual for this type of film and the end made we question whether a zombie apocalypse might be a good thing. 15. Raw A French tale is equally stomach turning and utterly fascinating. Garance Marillier is fearless as a young, tepid woman entering college whose inner beast is unleashed after a rather innocuous hazing ritual. Be warned that this an extreme film.
Split M. Night Shyamalan is having a moment. I won't call it a comeback but he might have decided to stop making sucky movies. This one is bolstered by James McAvoy's hypnotic performance as a man controlled by over 20 personalities – some of them psycho. The tension builds steadily as we wonder if the kidnapped victims will outsmart him. The final twist might leave some hoping for a different resolution/connection but it doesn't erase an otherwise good film.
Better Watch Out Yes, another babysitter movie but this one is set during Christmas! The clever script upends the proceedings and ultimately leads us down a dark, implausible road that has you yelling at the screen. So yes, it's also a good, ole fun time. Happy Death Day I was less than enthusiastic when Blumhouse churned out another a teen slasher flick albeit with a Groundhog Day makeover (where a character relives the same day over and over). The result in surprisingly entertaining due completely to the graceful performance of Jessica Rothe who moves from bitchy to scared to funny in the blink of an eye. This elevates the seemingly generic material with gravitas, cleverness, and genuine humor. She is definitely one to watch! Prevenge Pregnancy apparently can be murder. Literally. Alice Lowe writes, directs and stars in this darkly humorous story of baby fetus talking future mommy into killing everyone associated with baby daddy's death. It's sadistic, hilarious and even poignant as a commentary on the madness that accompanies the miracle of birth. The Blackcoat's Daughter A sinister force seems to befall two girls left alone during winter break. The mood is pensive, bleak as winter, and the tension slowly ratchets up as horrible secrets are revealed. It's a great structure that comes full circle, and ultimately revealing the pain and loneliness of adolescence.
Dave Made A Maze This odd duck flick has friends trapped in a cardboard maze filled with boobytraps, where you might get your head cut off and bleed paper strings. It surreal, thoroughly unexplained, and utterly original.
1922 Another Stephen King adaptation. Really? Yes, and this one stars an unrecognizable Thomas Jane (from 2007's The Mist) as a simple farmer who conspires to kill his wife and then has to live with it. The story unfolds slowly and in fully descriptive King fashion that makes you wonder whether everyday occurrences are perhaps more otherworldly. The Lure Stop me if you've heard this one. Two mermaids walk into a bar, start singing and then maybe eat a few people. This Polish film, complete with full blown musical dance numbers, dares to go into 80s and tell an amorphous tale of love gone wrong. It's bizarre, colorful, and irresistible.
Best Family Film
Coco animated, day of the dead, coming-of-age After an agonizing wait, we finally got Pixar's incredible ode to dia de los muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. While this is not horror film, skeletons and crossing over into the land of the dead certainly might sound like horror to young children and their parents. The film is beautiful, colorful and the core carries a deeply resonate message about family and the passion of being an artist (whether that's music or shoe making). (2 Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Song)