It’s that time of year. Christmas music infects our radios, capitalism runs rampant and industry insiders rush to be the first to publish their official Top Ten lists. While we at Silver Screen Riot are not racing to the finish line before we’ve seen the likes of Rogue One, Martin Scorsese’s Silence or a number of other potential contenders for the title, there is a collection of films that we do feel comfortable ranking: that of the horror persuasion.
Without a doubt, it has been an exemplary year for the genre and, that being that case, it was harder than ever slimming a list down to a mere ten. A handful of honorable mentions include Jaume Collet-Serra’s Giant Shark vs. Blake Lively creature feature The Shallows, Nicolas Pesce’s demented black-and-white minimalist slasher The Eyes of My Mother, Polish murder mermaid musical The Lure from Agnieszka Smoczynska, Adam Wingard’s effective if somewhat disappointing Blair Witch sequel, Nicholas Winding Refn’s ethereal and equally not-as-great-as-it-should-have-been, the sanguine-soaked feminist satire The Neon Demon and Turkish import, Can Evrenol and Ogulcan Eren Akay’s WTF-loaded Baskin, which features some of the most grotesque imagery of 2016.
But let’s stop flitting around and get to the real goods: the creme de la creme. The top ten best horror films of 2016.
Mike Flanagan proved with the imaginative and effective Oculus, a picture about a haunted mirror that was far better than it had any right to be. Flanagan ably adapted his intelligent, character-driven styling to the bare bones Hush, a feature that sees a deaf woman hunted by a maniacal John Gallagher Jr. The plot is slasher 101 but Flanagan finds a way to elevate the material by paying close attention to character and sound design, all the while stripping back the excesses of the sub-genre to leave only the necessary, and therefore best, aspects. [Full review]
9. THE INVITATION
Karyn Kusama’s fifth film takes a simple premise to extreme heights when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is invited by his ex-girlfriend Eden (Tammy Blanchard) to a dinner party. Things get weird. Unsettling and creepy, The Invitation excels on sustaining mood. There’s an eeriness that occupies the perfection of the house which extends to Eden’s new love David and something is eating away at Will. That you’re never sure whether Will is correct in his assumption that something is amiss or whether he’s just losing his marbles in front of his estranged friends makes it so that no matter which way things turn out, tomorrow is not looking bright for our main character.
8. THE CONJURING 2
Say what you will about him but James Wan is modern horror royalty. The man who gave birth to Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring is easily the most successful man operating within the genre from a financial aspect, even if some of his franchises carry their water better than others. With The Conjuring, Wan made his masterpiece and even though The Conjuring 2 saw a bit of diminishing return, it was nonetheless an excellent follow-up that deepened the Warren family as well as offering some truly haunting moments and some instantly iconic horror iconography. Madison Wolfe all twisted up in the electric box still haunts me. [Full review]
7. OUJIA: ORIGIN OF EVIL
Ouija was garbage. Hot, stinky garbage. The fact that its sequel was not only solid but managed to actually be kind of great is due to one man and one man only: Mike Flanagan. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s already been included on this list (see: Hush). With Ouija: Origin of Evil Flanagan managed the impossible; he made an outstanding follow-up to an utterly terrible original. This prequel finds strength in its strong cast of characters, played to perfection by Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso and a shockingly amazing (and utterly terrifying) turn from 11-year old Lulu Wilson. For a studio produced horror (which are notoriously sucky), Ouija: Origin of Evil is a slam-dunk of epic portions that manages one of the most twisted and tragic capstones of the entire year. [Full review]
6. GREEN ROOM
Jeremy Saulnier’s devilish sophomore feature is punk rock incarnate. A hardcore death game that pits a hapless group of gig-desperate punk rockers against the neo-Nazis who hired them for a show, Green Room is hard. It’s not for the weak of stomach. This is not your mother’s punk rock show. With a sublime cast that includes the late Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Macon Blair and THE Patrick Stewart as a no-nonsense skinhead bossman, Green Room is 95 minutes of highly inhuman destruction, blood and guts included. For anyone tough enough to take it, you’ll leave with more muscle mass than you came in with. Also a fear of box cutters. [Full review]
5. THE WAILING
I’ve been saying it for years: South Korea has one of the most vibrant film cultures in the world. The Wailing is further proof. Director Na Hong-Jin delivers a complex ghost story that mixes real world terrors in with supernatural elements without ever letting the inherent silliness of some of the material take over. Functioning a bit like Korean noir, bumbling police officer Jong-Goo must investigate when the arrival of a Japanese man coincides with a sickness that turns people into raving psychopaths. When his daughter is effected, Jong-Goo has no choice but to go the distance to save her. This includes raking someone in the skull, amongst other nasty deeds. Na Hong-Jin navigates this world carefully, leading up to a gut-punch of an ending that’ll leave you absolutely shaken and probably convulsing on the floor.
4. UNDER THE SHADOW
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proved that the Middle East had some delicious untold horror stories lurking under their burkas and Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow only serves as further proof. Set in the sociopolitical maelstrom of the Iraq-Iran war, Anvari’s film combines immense social anxieties in with deviant Djinn (a peevish ghostly spirit) to create a masterstroke of what horror can and should be. That the malevolent entities haunting former medical student Shideh (in 1980s Tehran, women are no longer allowed to be doctors) are just as frightening as the chauvinist culture lurking outside the door (at one point Shideh flees from the spirit only to be detained by the police for not being properly clothed in public.) Simply a must see that is overflowing with nuance and terror. [Full review]
3. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Not only does John Goodman offer only of the maniacal performances of his career in 10 Cloverfield Lane but the movie, a quasi-sequel to the 2008 found footage creature feature, is in fact a huge step up from its predecessor. Chartering Michelle’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) coming to terms with a new world as she wakes up in a bunker and is told the air outside has turned to poison, 10 Cloverfield Lane relies on outstanding character work to build a looming sense of dread and distrust. Goodman, Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. (in his second appearance on this list) all work to keep this J.J. Abrams’ produced horror-thriller humming and when it pivots at the last minute to something entirely new, well, it only makes it that much better. [Full review]
2. DON’T BREATHE
Fede Alvarez follows up his Evil Dead remake with Don’t Breathe, a breathless (pun intended) thrill ride that puts your cojones in a vice early on and twists until you hear a “pop”. Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette play amateur home invaders who rob a blind man. He turns out to be a bit more capable than they had prepared for. A ceaseless orgy of edge-of-your-seat thrills, Don’t Breathe offered one of the most bewitching villains of the year in Stephen Lang (whose brute physicality is a monster in and of itself) while Levy turns in yet another reason why she should be much, much more famous than she is. If you’re looking to jump, squeal, scream and throw your popcorn every which way, there is no better alternative in 2016 to Don’t Breathe. [Full review]
1. THE WITCH
There’s never quite been anything like The Witch. It’s as much a drama as it is a horror. The fact that director Robert Eggers took home the prize for Best Director at Sundance ’15 should speak to that. The measured language, the articulate design, the bevy of remarkable performances (even the most wee of children in this are absolutely fantastic), everything is just so well made, so lovingly accomplished, it’s hard not to admire The Witch from each and every angle. Although the film came under fire from some “horror fans” for not being “scary” enough, the criticism is far off base. What Eggers accomplishes is something entirely different, something that excels in tone and mood, that offers performances typically thought far above that of the genre, that’s scary because it convinces you that maybe, just maybe, there might be something more lurking in the woods. And that, my friends, is why it takes the cake. [Full review]