Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Favorite Horror Movies of 2016 So Far

by Patrick Bromley
It's been another good year for horror movies, and we're not even done yet!

This weekend I'll be attending the 2016 Bruce Campbell Horror Festival in Chicago, where I'll be checking out a bunch of independent horror movies that will hopefully be released later this year (or, in some cases, next year). Before I see what I'm hoping are a few new favorites for the year -- including Don't Breathe and Beyond the Gates, the two I'm most looking forward to -- I thought it would be a good time to check in on the horror movies I've like the most in 2016 so far.

As with any list, this one is not meant to be comprehensive. There are movies that I saw and liked but did not include here. There are movies I saw but did not include because I did not like them as much as you might have. The world is a rainbow.
Darling (dir. Mickey Keating) I know that Mickey Keating is not for everyone, but this is still one of my very favorite horror movies of the year. Yes, it's very much a riff on the '60s horror of Roman Polanski (with a little William Castle thrown in), but is such a perfectly put together piece, from the production design to the photography to the score to Lauren Ashley Carter's incredible performance, that I can't help but love it. (Available on VOD/iTunes and currently streaming on Netflix Instant)

Hush (dir. Mike Flanagan) I guess this is technically more "thriller" than it is horror, but that's all bullshit labeling. This movie is terrific. A variation on a home invasion movie in which a masked intruder (John Gallagher Jr.) stalks a deaf writer (Kate Siegel) boasts tense direction, smart writing and, above all else, a truly great lead performance from Kate Siegel, who is so strong and so sympathetic and is one of my favorite characters in a movie this year with hardly any spoken dialogue. Please put her in all of the movies.
(Available on Netflix Instant)
Southbound (dir. Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence) There have been a handful of horror anthologies released this year, but Southbound remains the strongest of them all. It takes chances with the way that the stories all link together and maintains a tone that is serious and sincere when most anthologies skew comedic for one or more of their segments. Like he did in the first V/H/S, director David Bruckner contributes the strongest sequence about an accident that leads to a hellish impromptu surgery. (Available on DVD and currently streaming on Amazon Prime)

Under the Shadow (dir. Babak Anvari) I called this an Iranian Babadook when I saw it earlier this year, and while it's an apt description -- the movie deals with a mother and her child being terrorized by what might be supernatural forces -- the metaphors here are much more external than those in The Babadook. That's to be expected when the film is set in '80s Tehran and the city is under constant threat of bombing attacks, creating real-world terror in addition to the mysterious evil haunting the protagonists (which, I should mention, offers one of the year's best jump scares). See this when it comes out later this year. (Release forthcoming)

The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers) This is the horror movie of the year for a lot of people. Maybe of the decade. It remains a movie I respect and admire a lot but don't really love, which is more about me and my tastes than it is any fault of the film. I'm so happy that it got made, that it got a wide release and that so many people were talking about it; it's only too bad that so much of the conversation revolved around whether or not it's scary (not why I watch horror) and even whether or not it's a horror movie (it fucking is). If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered as the year we all learned how to live deliciously. (Available on DVD/Blu-ray, VOD and iTunes)
Harvest Lake (dir. Scott Schirmer) This spun my head around a bit. I rented it on Vimeo earlier this year because I was a fan of Scott Schirmer's first movie Found and just did not know what to make of it. Then the movie stuck in my head for days and days after I saw it and I knew that it had worked on me. The movie is strange and beautiful and haunting; I'm still not sure I fully "get" it, but I also know that I don't care because it casts such a spell. It's a rare horror movie with no onscreen violence, but plenty of nudity and sexuality to make up for it. On the Blu-ray commentary track, Schirmer says he wasn't trying to make a movie that made perfect narrative sense, but rather one that creates a certain feeling in the viewer. Harvest Lake is reminiscent of Italian films in that way. Also, Ellie Church and Tristan Risk are better special effects than can be found in the most expensive studio horror film.
(Available on Vimeo or limited edition Blu-ray)

The Blackcoat's Daughter (dir. Osgood Perkins) The directorial debut of Oz Perkins (son of Anthony) is what is commonly referred to as a "slow burn," starring Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka as a student at a boarding school who is left behind during the winter break. Weird shit happens, which leads into a second story in which Emma Roberts plays a hitchhiker picked up by a couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly). The less you know about the movie (which was formerly called February, a much better title) going in, the better. I love the assuredness of Perkins' pacing, the stillness of his compositions and, like with The Witch, his willingness to treat certain ideas with total seriousness (Release pushed to 2017)

The Neon Demon (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn) The art film trash event of the year. It takes a large part of its running time to reveal itself as a horror film by conventional measures, but its entirety is about the horrors of competitive superficiality in Los Angeles. Part De Palma, part Argento, part Showgirls, the movie is all gorgeous surfaces that exist to criticize the ugliness of only gorgeous surfaces -- pretense mocking pretense. (Coming soon to Blu-ray/DVD and iTunes)
Trash Fire (dir. Richard Bates Jr.) Existing somewhere between the abstract weirdness of his debut feature Excision and his more overtly comedic follow-up Suburban Gothic, Richard Bates Jr.'s third feature Trash Fire casts Adrien Grenier as a completely self-absorbed douche having relationship troubles with his longtime girlfriend (Angela Trimbur of The Final Girls), so he returns to his childhood home to make amends with some family members in the hopes of exorcising some personal demons. The gear shift the film undergoes is pretty severe -- the first half is Suburban Gothic, the second Excision -- but there's a steadily mounting sense of nightmarish dread that Bates build even amidst the darker than dark laughs. I was never sure where this was going, and that's an all-too rare quality not just in horror but in all movies these days. (Release forthcoming)

Intruders (dir. Adam Schindler) I mean, I don't know that this is one of my favorites for sure. I think I just saw it early enough in the year (January) that it ended up being one of the first horror movies I liked. There are enough fun twists and surprises in store that two thirds of the movie is really cool (the last act, not so much) and I enjoyed seeing Beth Riesgraf from Leverage play the victim of a home invasion who's not exactly what she seems. Plus Martin Starr plays a psychopath who also happens to be right a lot. The movie finds a bunch of ways to distinguish itself, which I guess is why I'm including it. (Available on VOD and iTunes)

Nina Forever
(dir. Chris and Ben Blaine) The reason horror is the best genre is because it has room for so many different kinds of stories and subgenres; while they're all technically "horror" films, no two movies on this list are alike. This British horror comedy, about a couple that is visited by the bloody spirit of the guy's dead ex-girlfriend every time they try to have sex, is essentially a romance about dealing with loss and the baggage we bring to new relationships. It's weird and smart and honest in way that most traditional romantic comedies aren't. Like Kate Siegel in Hush, Abigail Hardingham is a major find. (Currently streaming exclusively on Shudder)
The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller) This pitch-perfect throwback to the European "erotic" horror of the 1970s stars Samantha Robinson as a witch who wants to find a man to love her so badly that she keeps casting spells with unfortunate outcomes. The movie is light on story and, at two hours, overstays its welcome, but it's so expertly recreated down to the smallest detail that I just wanted to live in it. Like a number of the "witch" movies from which writer/director Anna Biller draws her inspiration, The Love Witch has a lot to say about gender roles and female empowerment, usually in a none-too-subtle way. The film is more about creating the vibe of a certain type of horror film than it is about its own horror elements, which are minimal at best. (Release forthcoming)

There are other genre movies released this year that I've loved -- 10 Cloverfield Lane and Green Room and more -- but I'm not really calling them horror movies despite leanings in that direction. And there are a handful of other horror or horror-adjacent movies that I really like that I didn't include only because a list that includes everything I've liked shows no discernment.

I'm sure at least one of the movies I see this weekend will make my list of favorites for the year -- hopefully even more than one! Yay horror movies!


  1. I have only watched Southbound and Neon Demon, need to do some catching up.

  2. After re watching The Witch recently on blu ray, I don't think anything will be able to top it for me this year.

    What I loved most about Southbound is how it constantly manipulates the reality of time and space. One of the main elements that make editing and cinema such a unique art form and something I wish more horror movies would do.

    Oh and The Neon Demon is gonna be playing the Music Box midnight shows next weekend I think. I might go and give it another shot.

  3. Haven't heard of most of these flicks, but I did see The Witch, and it's my #1 movie of the year thus far!

  4. Right with you on Darling, one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. It's a movie that leaves me full of questions and uncertainty and I love it for it. Makes me very excited for Keating's Carnage Park.

  5. Still waiting for Under The Shadow, Neon Demon (Aug. 30th), Trash Fire and The Love Witch. Otherwise, great list. 5 of those are still in contention for my top ten of the year, 3 of which are almost surely definite.

    I'll just add (in case anyone needs more Horror to checkout) that these are among my favs of the year as well:

    The Man in the Orange Jacket
    III (now called III: The Ritual)
    Crush The Skull
    The Interior
    Sun Choke
    Lace Crater
    The Minds Eye

    Great year so far all around for Horror. There's something good that has come out in almost every sub-genre, which means everybody wins.

  6. Here's my top ten so far:

    10. Holidays
    9. Southbound
    8. Green Room
    7. The Conjuring 2
    6. The Mind's Eye
    5. Darling
    4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    3. The Witch
    2. Clown
    1. The Invitation

    1. Great lists everyone, cheers Patrick, great column, I now have a nice list to make sure none of these sneak by me,
      I'm also really excited for 31

      Re Brent, The Invitation, this films grows more and more in my mind of how much I loved it, it feels like an intelligent film made for adults

    2. I watched it again last night to confirm how good it is and yeah, I love it.

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  8. Hey Patrick

    haven't you seen The Conjuring 2, or do you dislike it? Or is is it simply not good enough to be on this list? I'm just curious about your opinion, because I had a fun time with it.

    Best Regards

    1. Sadly, I did not see The Conjuring 2 in time to make this list. I promise to catch up with it, though, because I really do want to see it.

    2. Ok - I'm excited to hear about your opinion sometime later. =)