2016 has been an exciting year for horror. From artsy period pieces, to well-done sequels, to excellent foreign imports, there’s a lot worth watching… if you don’t mind losing a good night’s sleep, of course.
Here’s what’s terrified us so far.
1. The Witch
What’s a discussion of 2016 horror movies without a mention of The Witch? Though it technically premiered at Sundance in 2015, the movie wasn’t widely released in the U.S. until this past February. One of the most talked-about films in recent memory, The Witch centers around a family living in 17th-century New England. After being banished from town, the uber-religious Puritans try to survive alone in the unforgiving wilderness. Things go badly, to say the least. A stunning performance by young actress Anya Taylor-Joy and excellent direction by Robert Eggers make this a unique and horrifying film. You’ll probably want to avoid goats for a while after, though.
Though Hush was easy enough to miss, as it was only released on Netflix in April, it is well worth watching. Sure, you’ve seen cat-and-mouse/home invasion movies by the dozens, but have you ever seen one featuring a deaf protagonist? Probably not. And that’s what makes Hush so clever and so, so chilling. Reclusive, deaf author Maddie lives alone in the woods, so when a psycho-killer starts stalking around outside of her house, there’s no one to hear her scream: least of all Maddie herself. By removing sound as a factor, director Mike Flanagan avoids cliched and over-used tactics to create a film that’s genuinely, unsettlingly scary.
3. The Shallows
Despite mixed reviews from critics, The Shallows holds a 77% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and we concur. More “Open Water” than “Jaws”, the film focuses on surfer girl Nancy, played by a committed Blake Lively, who gets trapped in the ocean on a barely submerged rock, with a gigantic shark literally swimming circles around her. There’s nothing subtle about this set-up, or about what follows, but there is a joy to be found in the well-executed scares. The Shallows also makes the excellent decision of giving Nancy a medical background, which leads to some gruesome battlefield surgery scenes. Nasty.
4. Green Room
When a group of broke Millennials in a punk band are given a gig—albeit at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar in a remote part of the woods—they just can’t pass it up. Of course, when they stumble across a horrible crime scene, things disintegrate very quickly, and the band soon finds themselves fighting for their lives. A taut, gory thriller, Green Room plays to both highbrow audiences, with its darkly humorous moments and excellent acting (RIP Anton Yelchin), as well as lowbrow, delivering campy, bloody scares.
5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane, one of the best psychological thrillers in recent years, will leave you on edge, guessing at the truth, until the very last minute. Completely unrelated to its mediocre predecessor in all but name, the movie introduces us to Michelle, who after blacking out from a car crash finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker. Her captor, Howard—portrayed excellently by John Goodman—insists that far from abducting her, he’s rescued her, as above ground, some sort of extraterrestrial attack is taking place. So: is Howard telling the truth or not? This simple question propels the movie forward, bringing the sense of claustrophobia, suspense, and paranoia to near unbearable levels.
6. The Invitation
Do not watch this movie alone. Seriously. Yes, it’s terrifying, but it also messes with your mind to such a degree that you’ll need to talk it: probably for days on end. In what can only be described as the dinner party from hell, Will and his girlfriend arrive at his old home, where his ex-wife lives with her new husband. This would probably be a bad night under the best circumstances, and the tension simmers as Will becomes suspicious about the real reasons behind the dinner party invite. We don’t want to reveal much more, as it’s best to go in with as little detail about the plot as possible. Suffice it to say that director Karyn Kusama delivers an extremely intense dose of psychological horror, that will stay with you way after the film ends.
7. Lights Out
Remember that horror short from 2014, the one with the final jump scare that had you afraid to turn the lights off for weeks? Well, as you probably heard, it was made into a full-length movie, expanding on the premise of a monster who can only be seen when the lights are off. In Lights Out we’re given a pretty generic formula: woman must protect innocent child—in this case her brother—from the demons of her past. Oh yeah, and she’s got a mentally unstable mother with an imaginary friend. You’ve probably already figured out the rest of the plot, but, much like The Shallows, subtlety or nuanced social commentary is not the point here. The point, rather, is cheap but effective jump scares. Just because you know what’s coming doesn’t make it any less fun or scary, as Lights Out proves.
8. The Neon Demon
On what topic is The Neon Demon not a social commentary? Unattainable beauty standards, the modeling industry, Hollywood, a cultural obsession with youth, etc., etc. The whole thing is allegorical, constantly straddling the line between dream state and reality. Sort of like a big-budget version of Starry Eyes, though not as good, The Neon Demon introduces us to Jesse, an aspiring model who is literally chewed up and spit out by the bloodthirsty fashion industry. It’s not as smart as it fancies itself to be, but the movie features an all-star cast, a serious heaping of gore, and some of the most unique and beautiful visuals in any film this year.
9. The Conjuring 2
James Wan is the twisted genius behind “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”. So when he’s set to direct a movie, we are not going to miss it. Especially when that movie is a sequel, of sorts, to 2013’s excellent The Conjuring. So, is The Conjuring 2 as good as its predecessor? Well, no, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great demonic possession film. The fantastic Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back, once again, as Ed and Lorraine Warren, this time to investigate a possession—based on the real-life Enfield Poltergeist case of the 1970s—in London. We’re not rooting quite as hard for the Hodgsons as we were for the Perrons, but Wan’s excellent camera work, eerie atmosphere, and always-effective depiction of possessed people makes for a scarily satisfying horror movie.
10. Don’t Breathe
In the vein of Hush, when you take a typical home-invasion story and remove one of the protagonists’ five senses, very scary things can happen. In this case, a group of Detroit teens decide to break into the home of a blind veteran, whom they know has a large cash bundle hidden somewhere in the house. The tables are turned when the delinquents realize their “victim” is anything but helpless, and the pursuers immediately become the pursued. You won’t find any lazy jump scares in Don’t Breathe. The movie is suspenseful and unrelenting, its scares are well-executed and, in many cases, truly disturbing.
11. The Wailing
The Wailing, a South Korean horror movie, was released to rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. It currently holds a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, if that gives you any idea as to just how bonkers viewers have been going for this film. People in a small mountain village are coming down with a bizarre and horrifying illness, and a local policeman sets out to investigate the cause. The stakes are raised when his young daughter becomes infected. The Wailing defies categorization: it is part cop thriller, part demonic possession flick, part dip into ancient mythology, and, at its core, a heartbreaking family drama. Visceral and terrifying, this beautiful piece of filmmaking should not be missed.
12. Under The Shadow
Under the Shadow has been likened to an Iranian version of “The Babadook”. It’s an apt comparison, but this film is uniquely terrifying in its own right. In the war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, Shideh, a reluctant stay-at-home mother, is left alone with her young daughter, Dorsa, when an undetonated missile hits their building. Dorsa is convinced that the missile has unleashed demons known as Djinn, who possess people by stealing their most important belongings. When Dorsa’s beloved doll soon goes missing, all hell breaks lose. Under the Shadow is a slow-burning and agonizingly tense watch, as Shideh and Dorsa grapple with horrors both real and imagined inside their claustrophobic apartment.
13. Ouija: Origin of Evil
Mike Flanagan, director of the second entry on this list, Hush, as well as the 2013 sleeper hit “Oculus”, is proving himself as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to horror. Improving 2000-fold upon its 2014 predecessor Ouija, this just-released flick acts as a prequel. Alice, a widow living in Los Angeles in the 1960s, runs a fraudulent seance business. When she buys a Ouija board to add to her repertoire, it soon becomes apparent that her youngest daughter, Doris, has a not-at-all fraudulent ability to channel spirits using the board. Creepy and suspenseful, it is Lulu Wilson, as Doris, who will truly strike fear into your heart with her fantastic performance.
This story was originally featured on The-Line-Up.com. The Lineup is the premier digital destination for fans of true crime, horror, the mysterious, and the paranormal.