You might want to leave the lights on for these films
It hasn’t exactly been a classic year for horror films but that doesn’t mean we haven’t reviewed some interesting additions to the genre.Sharuna has handled the lion’s share of cinema reviews this year and as a self-confessed horror fan, she’s seen quite a few that have kept her suitably scared. So just in time for Halloween, here’s a list of the ten best horror films that we’ve reviewed this year. We’ve been deliberately open-minded about what actually constitutes a horror film and there may be some that we’ve missed, so please give us your choices in the attached discussion thread.
The filmmakers caught everyone by surprise this year, shooting this remake/sequel to the original The Blair Witch Project in secret under the title 'The Woods' before announcing the film's true identity just prior to its release. The original film was groundbreaking, kickstarting the 'found footage' craze and being amongst the first movies to utilise the internet as a way of promoting the film and creating positive word-of-mouth. The new film couldn't hope to replicate the original movie's success but it retains the essence of The Blair Witch Project whilst adding modern touches and a few twists of its own. Just like the original, a relatively unknown cast works to the film's advantage and the filmmaker's mix jump scares with scenes of claustrophobia, tension and terror. As Sharuna said in her review, it’s easy to give into big budget films laden with CGI but sometimes it’s the simpler films that have a better pay off and this is one to watch in a dark, quiet room with no distractions.
The Conjuring 2
This sequel to the highly successful The Conjuring brings back original director James Wan with another case from paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The first film covered a case they claimed to have investigated prior to their involvement in incident that resulted in the hit movie The Amityville Horror and this new film covers the famous case of poltergeist activity in Enfield during the 1970s. Putting aside the fact that these films are clearly not based on reality, regardless of what the Warrens or the filmmakers might have you believe, they actually do make for genuinely entertaining horror films, even if Wan has a tendency to overdo the jump scares. Despite some dodgy English accents, the filmmaker's care and attention to detail really pays off and results in a truly atmospheric and tense horror film. Nothing is quite what it seems and with jumps and scares lurking around every corner, it’ll have your heart pounding and nerves rattled.
The Girl With All the Gifts
It was only a matter of time before the huge Young Adult fiction market embraced the horror genre and M. R. Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts does just that. The book and film adaptation make The Hunger Games look like a trip to grandma's in comparison, as the world is stricken by a fungal plague that has turned those infected into empty shells of their former selves, driven by a seemingly endless hunger. With an excellent cast and an original take on the zombie movie, The Girl With All the Gifts is an interesting addition to the horror films on this list. If you’re a fan of the book you won't be disappointed, the film takes a different road but gets to the same destination and has enough action and gore to keep viewers entertained. It isn’t your typical zombie film but with elements of 28 Days Later thrown in, it does offer something new and from a different perspective, making it definitely worth watching.
Not all horror films have to involve witches, ghosts or zombies, sometimes real people can be just as terrifying and horrific. Green Room is a great example as the story starts out as a thriller before descending into some truly visceral horror as the protagonists fight to stay alive. When punk band the Ain't Rights accept a last minute gig at a biker bar, it's a decision they find themselves quickly regretting as they get more than they bargained for. After accidentally witnessing a murder the band find themselves trapped in the titular green room, besieged by the murderous Nazis who own the bar. A battle of wills ensues as the band fight to stay alive and the situation, as well as the violence, quickly escalates. Clever writing and great performances help raise the tension as the plot goes off in unexpected directions and it's this unpredictability that makes the violence so shocking. Because make no mistake, whatever else Green Room might be, it's definitely a horror film.
The film Lights Out is based on a simple premise but it uses that idea well, creating a narrative that gets down to the business of scaring you. The fact that much of the film takes place in the dark is very effective, allowing the imagination to look for unseen terrors and fill in the dark spaces with far worse monsters. The filmmakers avoid too much backstory, retaining a simple narrative and deliberately keeping certain aspects vague in order to enhance the mystery. Lights Out also doesn’t waste any time faffing about and gets straight into the scares from the moment it starts and is extremely well paced throughout. Where a lot of films fail by trying to provide excessive backstory, Lights Out succeeds by keeping it to a minimum. The pacing, building tension and the story deliver exactly what you want from a horror movie. This is definitely one film you should watch in complete darkness with a good sound system to really intensify the atmosphere.
Mad scientists have always made a great subject for horror films and if the scientist in question is trying to create life it rarely turns out well. It would seem that however intelligent these scientists are, they seldom learn that playing God is never a good idea – just ask Professor Frankenstein. In Morgan a group of scientists successfully create a humanoid using synthetic DNA but when the large corporation that is funding them sends in a risk assessor, things quickly turn very risky. The plot of Morgan is fairly predictable but the film is saved by an interesting visual look from director Luke Scott (son of Ridley) and great performances from the cast. Anya Taylor-Joy, who also stars in another film on this list The Witch, takes on the role of Morgan whilst Kate Mara provides solid support as the risk assessor. Despite the predictability of it's plot, Morgan is a fun film that mixes in some interesting sci-fi elements and decent action scenes to stop things from getting dull.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Acting as a prequel to an earlier film, Ouija: Origin of Evil is the latest entry in what is fast becoming a horror franchise based on the infamous board game. In the same way that scientists playing God is never a good idea, so kids messing with the supernatural rarely works out well either. This new film is set in 1967 and has a distinctive tone to it, successfully utilising costume, decor and music to really set the scene. The title screen and use of ‘cigarette burns’ (which identified reel changes when films were actually projected on film) are a lovely touch, adding to the film's nostalgic quality. The performances are good, especially from the kids, and there are plenty of quick scares for those that enjoy the modern trend for loud bangs. Ouija: Origin of Evil has all the necessary qualities to be a fun horror film and it manages to create an unnerving tone - but if it had taken a more subtle approach to certain elements of its plot, it could have been a great horror film.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
The works of Jane Austen are unlikely to be the first things to come to mind when thinking about horror films but this highly successful mash-up, based on the novel of the same name, is one of the most entertaining horror movies of the year. The filmmakers play the setting completely straight and are careful to lay out all the rules of the alternative world they have created. The cast are all excellent, especially Matt Smith's hysterical turn as Parson Collins, and the production design, costumes and effects are all top notch. In fact if you cut out the zombies, you'd have a very good adaptation of 'Pride & Prejudice' but as it is you have a great little film that is exciting, funny and scary in equal measures. If you've always thought that what Jane Austen's novels really needed was a subplot involving the undead, or unmentionables as the characters refer to them, there you're in for a treat. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year.
Since we are unlikely to ever actually encounter witches, zombies, ghosts or vampires, it could said that real life is far more frightening because being murdered by a mad axeman or a gang of determined Nazis is an actual possibility. However nothing is more scary than nature, especially when you find yourself at the wrong end of the food chain. The Shallows takes its time to set up its simple premise and when Blake Lively's surfer accidentally wanders into the feeding grounds of a great white shark, she finds herself fighting for survival. Injured and clinging to a tiny piece of rock, Lively's character must use all of her ingenuity to survive as the tide rises like a ticking clock. The film keeps the tension going for most of the running time and Blake Lively, who is on-screen for almost the whole film, delivers a great performance. The ever present threat of the shark just beneath the water allows for plenty of scares and although the film goes slightly over the top towards the end, it remains an exciting little horror movie.
The Witch is set in New England in the 1630s and by combining historical accuracy with the supernatural, first time director Robert Eggers creates a film that whilst not a typical horror movie, will still leave you horrified. The film does extremely well in creating a sense of claustrophobia and intimacy during the interior scenes which is contrasted against the vast openness of the outside world. The Witch isn’t one to offer up all it’s goodies on a silver platter and there are certainly none of those predictive canned jumps you might expect from your average slasher film. There is a supernatural element to the narrative and it is done so well, thanks to the excellent overall pace of the film, that it just falls into the background, behind the character’s initial story of survival. It’s not a complete gore fest, but fans of gore will not be left disappointed; it almost feels as if you’re watching certain scenes through a key hole, spying on something that you know you shouldn’t be watching, leaving you with a definite sense of unease.
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