It’s the last week of 2016, I don’t have any reviews to write, Carrie Fisher just died, and the whole world is covered in shit. For some reason, these bleak circumstances seem a wholly appropriate place to drop a list of my top horror movies of 2016. There are certainly some grim times to be found among these titles.
Like with my top ten movies of 2016 list, I eschew the term “best.” I hate ranking films to begin with, and I’m well aware that the movies I love aren’t necessarily the movies other people love. (I, for instance, hated the fuck out of The Eyes of My Mother, which tons of folks adore.) With that in mind, these are the 2016 horror joints that scared the hell out of me, grossed me out, or generally made me so tense I wanted to scream.
Mike Flanagan has carved out a nice niche for himself in the realm of low-budget horror, and Hush, a home invasion slasher about a deaf writer battling a masked killer in an isolated cabin in the woods, is his best yet. Suspenseful and inventive, it’s a simple premise rendered in remarkably effective fashion.
When it comes to horror, Turkey isn’t fucking around. A tense, brutal story about a group of cops responding to the worst call ever, Can Evrenol’s Baskin is straight-up nightmare fuel. Surreal and vicious, imaginative and feral, the film walks a line between art and exploitation.
9. The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s chilly, razor-sharp horror thriller The Neon Demon takes a lot of shit from people. Deliberate and deceptive, the story of an aspiring young model is hypnotic and deranged, a brutal, glitter-dusted shard of glass that cuts when least expected.
8. Train to Busan
As a subgenre, zombies are so ubiquitous it’s hard to do anything fresh or memorable with the genre. But every so often, a film comes along that reminds you how good the undead can be, and South Korea’s Train to Busan does just that. Cruel and gory, it packs emotional resonance, strong characters, and a furious pace.
7. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Smart, scary, gory, and funnier than it has any business being, André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe hammers home that all you need to make a fantastic horror movie are a few well-drawn characters, a contained setting, a gleefully devilish premise, and the audacity to pull it off. The story of a father-son team of morticians and a mysterious corpse is deceptively minimalist and an efficient vehicle for terror.
6. Don’t Breathe
You’ll never look at a certain kitchen utensil the same way again after watching Fede Alvarez’ Don’t Breathe. Compact, nasty, and uncompromising, the film tells the ill-fated tale of three down-and-out Detroit friends who pick the absolute wrong house to rob. With equal nods to Hitchcock, the French New Wave, and the New French Extremity, this is the most savagely tense movie of the year.
5. The Witch
The true breakout star of 2016 may well be Black Phillip, the evil goat at the center of Robert Egger’s debut feature, The Witch. Paranoid, atmospheric, and almost unbearably tense, when a 17th-century Puritan family is banished to the woods, dark supernatural forces torment the clan, and Eggers plucks the nerves of your spinal chord like the strings of a stand-up bass.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
With just three significant characters and a single primary setting, 10 Cloverfield Lane creates epic levels of pressure and anxiety. Clever and claustrophobic, the simple set up of a woman who wakes up after a car crash in an underground doomsday survivalist bunker, is anything but simple.
3. Under the Shadow
As if living in an oppressive theocracy where bombs regularly rain down on your apartment isn’t harrowing enough, a mother and daughter must contend with pissed off spirits haunting their apartment in Babak Anvaris’ Under the Shadow. Social, psychological, and religious horror mesh to ratchet up the tension and create a palpable terror and dread that exists even without the ghosts.
2. The Wailing
Strange and discordant, Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing mixes backwoods South Korean voodoo mythology, religion, and a slew of horror tropes into something fresh and new. The arrival of a mysterious stranger in a small rural village coincides with a spate of mysterious deaths, and Na gorgeously executes the cinematic paranoia and suspense that follows.
1. Green Room
Don’t get me wrong, ghosts, goblins, and demons are freaky as hell, but for my buck, the scariest horror movies are the raw, visceral, human ones. The ones rooted in reality, that showcase people as the monsters we can be. This year, no film captured that better than Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. Trapped in a room, besieged from all sides by a brutal cadre of white supremacists, the saga a hapless punk rock band trying to survive is the single most harrowing cinematic moment of 2016.