Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 - A Year in Review: Horror films

It’s been a decent year for horror films, there have been some superb independent horror films, some mainstream hits (and disappointments) plus a few straight to DVD crackers. People often bemoan the decline of the horror genre, criticising the lack of originality and overuse of false scares. I’m of the opinion that the horror genre is seeing a level of professionalism that has never been seen before. Perhaps is simply because better technology is more readily available that even the straight to DVD releases can’t fairly be described as amateur. If you were to look back at the worst of the worst in the 70s (the supposed golden age of horror) you will find a lot of utter rubbish more so than you would now.

The start of the year is where you’ll normally find the horror fodder that studios mindlessly churn out hoping to score a quick buck. More often than not they are forgettable but bring in the money, making a healthy profit in the process. This year saw The Forest, starring the lovely Natalie Dormer, and The Boy, directed by the guy who directed The Devil Inside (if that’s not setting of alarms then we have a problem), fill these roles, and blimey did they fill them perfectly. Both are forgettable horror films, The Forest didn’t make the most of its poignant, and let’s be honest, creepy setting and The Boy’s major plot twist was a carbon copy from a terrific Kiwi Horror-comedy released two years previously. However, they made the money that was expected of them.

The early months also saw releases of The Other Side of the Door (a rare horror box office failure), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (all premise and nothing much else on offer except for eye candy and one or two decent effects), and 10 Cloverfield Lane (more of a thriller than a horror). The latter is the best of the three, slightly ruined by the ending, the film was dominated by John Goodman whose broad frame and intimidating performance made for an meancing presence.

However, it was doom and gloom in the first months of the year as those months saw the release of the finest horror film of recent years. Robert Eggers’ The Witch is everything I personally want from a horror film. The subtle build up of horrifying dread, all set in a very creepy setting totally surrounded by woods encapsulated what makes real horror tick. For me the best thing about the film was how effective it was as character study about a puritan family and their fear of witchcraft, and even their own religion. The family is divided by the fast flowing accusations of witchcraft, it perfectly captures how rumours of witchcraft flew around like wildfire in a society that feared it. The risky decision to use old English dialect gave the film a feeling of unparalleled authenticity, adding to the realistic feel of the film.

The biggest mainstream releases were all in all pretty good. The two best mainstream films of the summer and autumn months were original ideas or films not based on sequels. Don’t Breathe and Lights Out (based on a short film by the same director of the feature film) were impressive films and both got highly respectable reviews. I wasn’t as in awe with Don’t Breathe as others because I was unsympathetic to the robbers’ plights as their actions and unlikable personalities made me dislike them. I was highly impressed with Lights Out despite its controversial ending. There are spoilers ahead for Lights Out in the next paragraph

In Lights Out the infestation is caused by the evil spirit attaching itself to the mother’s depression and guilt, her shooting herself to get rid of the evil spirit plaguing her children has been interpreted that the film is suggesting that suicide is the answer to releasing any burden that a depressed person is imposing on their family. Director David Sanberg was horrified to learn this and explained that the film was originally ten minutes longer and included a scene where it’s clear that the suicide did not vanquish the evil spirit. A sequel is likely to explain this further.

The most financially successful horror film of the year was, unsurprisingly, a sequel. The Conjuring 2, sequel to The Conjuring (obviously), made a staggering $320,000,000 at the box office which is actually more than the first film. I liked The Conjuring but not quite as much as others because, despite it being brilliantly made, it was full of the standard cliches. The Conjuring 2 is very much more of the same, but lacks the first’s subtlety as it spends the entire film ramped up to 11 meaning that there’s very little time spent building a spooky atmosphere. The Conjuring 2 was not the only sequel as The Blair Witch (sequel to The Blair Witch Project) was released to decent financial success and moderate reviews.

2016 saw a shed loads of the zombie movies, which come in all shape and sizes and differing levels of quality. The very best of the lot smashed box office records in Korea and is about a zombie viral outbreak on a train. Perfectly balancing pathos with horror, a good set of characters (particularly a moving father-daughter relationship) and some amazing set pieces, Train to Busan was an electrifying thrill ride from start to finish. Slightly lesser in quality where the likes of The ReZort, Viral, The Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies, and The Evil in Us but they wern’t travesties of the genre. I, sadly, didn’t get round to see The Girl With All the Gifts, which looked pretty decent.

A lot of horror films get the straight to DVD treatment and if you get a bit lucky you’ll find one or two gems in the DVD vaults. One of these films is Pet which looks like its leading you down a well trodden path, but takes a very surprising left turn leaving the viewer rather stunned by what happened. There was also the superb meta horror flick Beyond the Gates which is like a horror film version of Jumanji. Films such as She Who Must Burn is a good film that flew under the radar even among horror fans. The straight to DVD market saw a number of other good horror films such as Let Her Out, The Windmill Massacre and The Master Cleanse released in the year of 2016.

Outside of the United States were a number of terrific horror films. East Asia were, once again, making an impact on the genre with a number of excellent films. The already mentioned Train to Busan excelled in a densely populated genre whilst the likes of The Wailing (also Korean) and Creepy (Japan) were also fine additions to East Asian horror cinema. The Wailing is a long, but tense Korean possession film whilst Creepy is a film greatly similar to Joel Edgerton’s stunning debut thriller, The Gift, from last year. Also exceptional was Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow which, in a manner similar to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, built a relationship between mother and child which was integral to the story. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s served as interesting backdrop to the story of a mother and daughter haunted by an evil entity.

I can’t mention everything, I haven’t even mentioned Mike Flanagan’s productive year in which he directed three horror films. One was the Netflix produced Hush (pretty decent), the other a sequel to Oujia which was a substantial improvement (but literally anything would have been) and Before I Wake (which I haven’t seen). The year also saw The Shallows (you can’t go wrong with sharks and Blake Lively in a bikini), another sequel to The Purge and another Rob Zombie movie. I have now mentioned these films, but doesn’t change the fact I can’t discuss everything.

There’s still some horror films I still need to see such as The Disappointments Room (hasn’t even got a UK release) and Incarnate (also no release date) but their reception has been pretty middling so i’m probably not missing much. So, overall, it’s been a satisfactory year. Some films that didn’t match the hype, some that I’ve already pretty much forgotten they ever existed and some that were a treat.


  1. "the film was dominated by John Goodman whose, broad frame made for an intimating presence."
    Well, let's give his acting skills some credit, no?

    1. I was somewhat concerned that may come across as offensive. Edited so it appluads his performance as was intended.