2016 seems to be a great year for horror film fans. The year has satisfied the avid fans of the genre as well as the skeptics. Some of these horror movies have transcended genres. Mixed in seemingly polarizing sub-genres. Most importantly, the low-budget indie horror movies have tapped into our basic anxiety and grief, while living among this strangely metamorphosing, modern environment.
Here’s my selection of the best horror films that released in 2016:
15. The Ones Below
David Farr’s directorial debut makes perfect use of color schemes and claustrophobia to bear the markings of a good psychological horror/thriller. The anxiety and alienation that the early days of parenting bring along can make for a menacing psychological drama. Add a deceptively genial neighbor, whose hidden objective is to widen the cracks in the relationship. That’s the premise of The Ones Below. Worn out, generic elements take down the latter half of the film. But the well-built tension in the first half along with Clemence Poesy’s intense performance makes it one of the watchable domestic horror movies.
Iranian-Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s Shelley is a slow-burning horror that dramatizes the psychological disturbances a pregnant woman faces. The movie disappointed me in the third-act, which neither delivered traditional scares nor evoked fear. However, the movie should be watched for its atmosphere (a dense forest far removed from the modern comforts), eerie sound design, and the magnificent performance of two female leads: Ellen Dorrit Petersen (Blind) and Cosmina Stratan (Beyond the Hills).
A wealthy couple – Louise and Kaspar – live in their forest cottage leading a self-sufficient life. A live-in help named Elena arrives as Louise is recovering from a painful miscarriage. Elena is an economic migrant from Bucharest (Romania), where she’s left her little son. The nightmare starts when Louise proposes an offer Elena can’t refuse. To be a surrogate mother for a generous financial offering.
13. Ouija: Origin of Evil
Mike Flanagan’s prequel to the terrible Ouija (2014) is a finely entertaining supernatural horror. It’s a conventional Hollywood product, but the narrative in the first-half is taut, devoid of ho-hum proceedings. The scares are also inventively planted. Flanagan imbues old-school horror movies feel that’s impossible to resist.
12. The Conjuring 2
James Wan’s entertaining take on the famous Enfield case (of 1977) once again showcases the director’s impeccable craft to design scares with just claps and mundane dolls. Plot-wise, there’s nothing new. It’s the same demonic-spirit-possessing-teenage-girl thing. But, Wan’s wiggling frames and genuinely chilling set-pieces maintain a constant atmosphere of fear. And, Wan elevates the ghost-hunting couple to sort of super-heroes, expanding the scope for a bigger franchise and future spinoffs.
11. Alchemist Cookbook
Joel Potrykus’ micro-budget, idiosyncratic psychological thriller is not for everyone. Visual digressions can bore those expecting conventional chills and thrills. I liked its ambiguous tone of horror, the eerie atmosphere, the gradually escalating insanity and Ty Hickson’s frenzied performance. The story involves a man living in a trailer, in the backwoods trying to summon an ancient demon. It is a fine hybrid of absurdist dark comedies as well as supernatural horror.
10. Lights Out
Watching David Sandberg’s Lights Out is like taking an amusement-park ride. You know it will agitate your nerves, yet gives you the thrills. Sandberg uses handful of indoor locations and so meticulously manufactures the jump-scares that you can’t stop admiring the craft. The material is thin. The characters are written in a bland manner. But the use of practical effects to create perfect ghost imagery is commendable. It marvelously taps into our primal fear of the dark. Concept-wise, this is one of the best among the recent American mainstream horror movies.
9. The Childhood of a Leader
Set in France, 1918, director Brady Corbet’s frightening fable is a bit underwhelming from a narrative perspective. But I admire the film for its concept as well as crafting. The family of a US diplomat camps in France to negotiate the Versailles Treaty. The family lives in a decayed rural area and their little son’s behavior takes a dark turn. The film could be an allegory for the rise of fascism (which could be related with the current geopolitical climate). However, the problem is the less engaging screenplay. The visual compositions and framing do make us look out for the 27-year old director’s future works.
8. They Look Like People
Peter Blackshear’s small-budgeted film combines character-driven drama with minimal horror genre elements. The plot follows a young man Wyatt’s spiral into paranoia who thinks an alien force is transforming people around him into evil creatures. A cryptic, mechanical voice tells him he’s one of the gifted ones to see this truth. The narrative arc is predictable. But the characters are strongly written. Their angst and tensions forge an emotional bond. Horror movies often explore schizophrenia themes and nightmarish visions, but the human elements add depth to the proceedings.