And just like that, another year of horror is in the books! I think we can all agree that 2016, in large part, was a dumpster fire of a year—but that’s the great thing about the movies, they’re an escape from the real world, an art that brings wonder and terror to life like nothing else. What would we do without the movies? Not only did the genre produce another brilliant year of horror films, it turned out to be one of the most successful years the genre has seen in quite some time. Horror alone took home somewhere around $600 million domestically with films, big and small, hitting number 1 during their opening weekends. I’m like a proud parent! But even beyond that, 2016 proved to be a huge year for leading women in horror, who not only elevated the genre, but turned in some of the best performances of the year.
Anyway, below are my top 15 horror movies of 2016! This year I tried to keep the list more traditionally horror—which is why I excluded Green Room (that movie is the shit, though)—so I hope you guys enjoy!
15. I Am Not a Serial Killer
Billy O’Brien’s I Am Not A Serial Killer is a fantastic micro-budget horror thriller that works both as a murder mystery and a monster movie. The dynamic between a protagonist fighting is own inner monster while simultaneously on the hunt for one thrives on the snow-swept atmosphere. It’s unique spin on a trope that has long terrorized the genre made I Am Not A Serial Killer one of the year’s most original films. [full review]
14. Nina Forever
Directing tandem Ben and Chris Blaine turned in one of the most original and poignant films of the year with Nina Forever. It’s an underrated gem that deals with death in a way we’ve never seen before, using the corpse of an ex-girlfriend to spin a wicked and often hilarious tale about love and how difficult it is to let go of someone. While not exactly scary, it’s plenty disturbing, as a hot-tempered corpse reminds us that not all love can be forgotten. [full review]
13. The Shallows
While I’m not surprised that Jaume Collet-Serra made a fantastic film, I can say that I wasn’t expecting it to be The Shallows. It’s hands down one of the biggest surprises of the year simply because a movie about girl stranded on a rock with a seagull, all while a shark is trying to turn her into a happy meal, turned out to be a thrilling action-horror hybrid with some of the best CGI of the year. [full review]
12. Train to Busan
Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan was a huge surprise because of the way it blends epic zombie action with so much emotional weight. It’s an amazing concept, being surrounded by a plague of the undead while stranded on a train, that comes to life through wonderful characters and a big, bloody heart. While the zombie genre has been growing stale over the last number of years, this one totally breaks the mold.
11. Always Shine
I mentioned this in my review but it’s worth repeating—Mackenzie Davis is a force in Always Shine; her performance is so haunting, so raw and frightening that it makes the film a must-see in my book. Grounded in a very real world, director Sophia Takal covers it with a psychologically trippy narrative that brings out the worst in its characters, proving the true power behind jealousy and lies. [full review]
10. The Autopsy of Jane Doe
André Øvredal’s return to the genre with The Autopsy of Jane Doe was the perfect way to finish off the year—his twisted tale centers on a corpse and it’s a wonderful concoction of mystery and terror, giving two coroners the task of trying to figure out just what happened to Jane Doe. The film is surprisingly intense and plenty creepy, easily earning it a spot on the list. [full review]
9. The Neon Demon
Probably the most polarizing film on this list, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon was exactly the kind of horror movie you’d think Refn would make. Its portrayal of beauty and jeoulsy, the desire to have it all, came to life like a neon-colored nightmare. It’s slow going and often trippy aesthetic make the film feel almost otherworldly, featuring some of the most gorgeous cinemography of the year and a kickass soundtrack that tied it all together. [full review]
8. The Invitation
While I saw Karyn Kusama’s masterful thriller during its festival run last year, it wasn’t until 2016 that it saw an official release, which is why I’m including it here. A taught Hitchcockian thriller, The Invitation is a film that builds dread through patience and mystery. It’s a psycho-thriller that will have you guessing until the final, bloody frame. [full review]
7. Trash Fire
The Excision and Suburban Gothic director returns with Trash Fire, a nasty, dark-hearted horror film that’s not only one of the most unique films of the year, but it’s Richard Bates Jr.’s best yet. Mixing slow-burning suspense with black comedy, Trash Fire is a twisted tale of forgiveness that had one of my favorite final acts of any movie this year. [full review]
6. Don’t Breathe
Say what you will about its easy-to-hate characters (a quality I actually liked because not everyone is a saint, afterall), Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe was unlike anything we’ve seen this year. His sophomore effort took a tired concept and turned the lights out on it, creating a white knuckle thriller home to one of 2016’s most memorable horror movie moments. Endlessly intense and full of shocking surprises, Don’t Breathe is exactly the kind of Hollywood horror we need more of. [full review]
5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Who would have thought that the sequel to a found footage monster movie from 2008 would have been so damn good. Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane could have worked as a standalone film, but what’s most impressive about the confined thriller is just how much different it was from Cloverfield—it was a bold move changing things up so dramatically but Trachtenberg pulled it off brilliantly. My favorite thing about this movie, and a big reason why I ranked it so high, was its ability to shift tones throughout the narrative—there are so many layers, so many moving parts, that it always keeps you guessing. I was blown away by this one—the way it shifts from being one kind of horror movie into a completely different one so seamlessly is a big reason why it was one of my favorite horror films of the year.
4. The Conjuring 2
One of the things that I love so much about James Wan’s films is that he takes the very same formula as nearly every other big Hollywood haunter—Ouija, Annabelle, Lights Out—and makes it feel completely new by injecting it with something we’ve never seen before. Even if it’s just the way he approaches something as simple as a jump scare, Wan finds a way to make it terrifying and that’s exactly what he did with The Conjuring 2. My favorite thing about this movie, though, was that you could tell Wan was having a blast and in doing so he created a couple of the year’s scariest ghosts. [full review]
3. The Wailing
Hong-jin Na’s The Wailing is the kind of movie that stays with you long after it ends—at two-and-a-half hours long, this nightmare of a movie is an epic and brilliant example of how powerful slow-burn horror can be. The horror of The Wailing slithers through the narrative, popping up only to remind us that something much worse is just around the corner. In doing so, it delivers an incredible final act that’s shockingly quiet—especially for a movie that’s largely made up of people screaming—allowing it to really sink its claws in and get the last laugh. [full review]
2. The Witch
What is there to say about The Witch that hasn’t been said already? Robert Eggers’ feature film debut is some next-level shit—the horror isn’t in your face, nor is it abundant. Instead, The Witch works because of Eggers’ masterfully crafted tension, using each and every scene to lead into something even more unsettling. It’s built from a foundation of horror that’s earned, not forced, as the film squeezes every ounce of terror from its characters in a world consumed by darkness. [full review]
1. The Eyes of My Mother
Of all the horror films I watched this year, nothing was quite as gruesome as Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother. There’s just something about this movie that got under my skin way more than any other this year, and a lot of that is because it feels like it was plucked right out of the ’60s, only a way gnarlier and twisted version of those films. Pesce’s use of black and white gives the film a colorless nightmare quality to it, one that brings its surreal and altogether unnerving landscape to life—it’s also the perfect foundation for its monster, Francisca, to thrive on. But perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie, and the reason why it’s my number one, is because it never lets up; The Eyes of My Mother is never not completely twisted—it starts like a nightmare and ends like one, too. [full review]
So there you have it, folks, my top 15 horror movies of 2016! As you can see, it was another great year for the genre and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings with it. Now you tell me: what were some of YOUR favorite horror films of the year?