You can’t anticipate a renaissance every year; some years will be better than others. Coming off a rich harvest of excellent modern horror films, from the welcoming new generation of female or POC filmmakers into the fold to the double-pronged onslaught on art-house viewers (thank you, A24 and Neon) and Tue’s multiplex masses, we may have been a touch spoilt (we see you, Blumhouse).
In the late 2010s, the degree of great horror — don’t call it “elevated,” please and thank you — that die-hard horror aficionados and casual moviegoers alike were able to consume like milk from freshly opened jugular veins was astounding. Nonetheless, all waves ultimately subside.
When you factor in the development and release delays due to unforeseen situations, you have a year in 2021 that produced a respectable number of terrifying films… But nothing like a 2018 (think Hereditary, movie Suspiria remake, the October revival, A Quiet Place, Upgrade) or a 3-2-1 mid-decade punch like The Babadook, The Witch, and Get Out.
It was a mixed bag of a year, with everything from studio misfires to shrug-worthy sequels to indies stuck in high-concept, lo-fi retro mode. (Say what you will about the Epstein-exploitation gem The Scary of Sixty-First, but it does conjure up the Forty-vintage Deuce’s attitude.)
Best Horror Movies Of 2021
The finest horror movies of 2021 were strangely soothing reminders that even the deepest and darkest areas of the human psyche are not unique to particular suffering. Also, sometimes all you need are indeed a great pair of pants. Here are our recommendations for the year’s top horror films:
I’ve always liked both werewolf movies and detective stories, so a wolf whodunit is just up my alley as long as it’s excellent… which it is. Demonic creatures Within follows Finlay Wheeler (Sam Richardson), a forest ranger who relocates to Beaverfield to assess the impact of a contentious pipeline. He meets attractive postal worker Cecelia Moore (Milana Vayntrub), who shows him about until the town is engulfed in a blizzard, trapping everyone in a small lodge.
With everyone locked together, a werewolf assault would be exceedingly uncomfortable, and everyone would have to find out who the werewolf was… which is exactly what occurs. A good horror-comedy is difficult to make… almost impossible, in fact, that’s why there are so few good ones. This is on that list. It’s hilarious, the werewolf terror is terrifying, the whodunit mystery is well-written, and Richardson, as well as Vayntrub, are outstanding. It’s without a doubt one of the most entertaining flicks of the year.
The Night House
The Night House, directed by David Bruckner and based on an original screenplay by Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski, is a masterpiece. Following her husband’s death, Beth (Beck Hall) is a heartbroken widow living in a vast, open, antiseptic mansion. She begins to have terrifying uncanny experiences that she cannot explain, and throughout her research, she finds that he had some mysterious occult ties… things are not as they appear. It’s a magnificent, frightening, high concept picture (honestly, the notion is horrifying cosmic horror lunacy if you think about it), anchored by Rebecca Hall’s brilliant and expressive performance. Overall, The Night House is a fantastic, enigmatic picture with a unique horror premise at its core.
It’s a fool’s errand to try to identify Lamb’s genre. It’s a drama, a fantasy, a horror film, and many other things… It’s probably easiest to think of it as a film adaptation of an old European folktale. A couple who has lost their kid to a tragic tragedy discovers a weird, unexplainable infant on their farm, who draws their family together before delivering a very terrifying experience. Lamb isn’t your typical horror picture, but it does have some unique body horror themes and a conclusion that… well, just watch it. It’s stunning, well-done, and seems like a beautiful but unpleasant dream.
Enid Baines (a phenomenal Niamh Algar) is a British inspector working in the midst of the Video Nasty issue in the mid-1980s. She’s one of their tightest censors, concerned with eliminating violence, and we quickly learn that her younger sister disappeared when they were both toddlers.
Meanwhile, a guy murders his family, and this unlucky act is related to a movie Enid had authorized. When a notorious horror filmmaker contacts Enid, it sets in motion a complex web of events that puts her psyche under growing strain. Censor is a beautiful, sophisticated, and unusual voyage inside the psyche of a woman unraveling, even in a year full of amazing horror entries. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
Alternatively, Portrait of a Mental Breakdown in Progress. On the surface, Aneil Karia’s character study of a solitary airport worker (Ben Whishaw) who abruptly crumbles does not appear to be a horror film. However, once you see how this no-filter look at madness uses the genre’s language to such tense effect, and how Whishaw’s incredibly committed achievement gets under your skin in a way that’s truly terrifying, you realize it’s designed to prick the same nerves — albeit in a far more personal, jolting way. The suddenness with which his collapse happens makes you question whether he’s been possessed, or if he’s underneath the influence of aliens or a fatal illness.
In the Earth
We’ve missed you, Weird-as-fuck Ben Wheatley, and we’re glad you’re back. Following his hit-or-miss adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the British director returns to more familiar territory, going to follow a scientist (Joel Fry) and a park ranger (Ellora Torchia) as they search for a remote forest outpost that may have discovered a cure for, yes, a deadly virus ravaging the globe.
When a mystery man (Reece Shearsmith) crosses their path, things start to get a little weird. Fans of Kill List and A Field in England will be pleased to learn that Wheatley’s ability to infuse a genre with distinctly unsettling, destabilizing nuances has not waned. The latter’s pagan-lysergic, Old Weird Britannia aura is an especially strong influence on this.
Last Nigh tIn Soho
“I’d live in London in the 1960s if I could live anywhere, at any time,” the wide-eyed young lady at the centre of filmmaker Edgar Wright’s new film says dreamily. It has to be the absolute center of the universe!” Be cautious about what you desire. The Shaun of the Dead auteur’s colorful, witty psychological thriller concerns Eloise (Thomasin Mckenzie), a rural mouse who travels to London to study design. It’s both a tribute to vintage British horror and Italian gialli, and partly a rebuttal to rose-colored nostalgia. Eloise finds herself transported back to the golden days of Carnaby Street, miniskirts, and go-go boots after renting a room at a mansion in Soho.
PG: Psycho Goreman
Do you have a bad day and will need a movie to cheer you up? Is it alright if I suggest Steven Kostanski’s Psycho Goreman? It’s a lore-laden, anti-religion sci-fi/dry comedy/musical/horror picture with its own interplanetary heavy metal dodgeball scene—in other words, it’s the ideal movie to watch when you need to forget about your problems and relax in the comfort of B-horror schlock. While playing Crazyball, Mimi (Naam Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) unearth an antique amulet (think dodgeball but with more rules). They accidentally revive the Archduke, who is hell-bent on killing everyone and everything.
Mimi, on the other hand, is unconcerned. Mimi, much to his chagrin, regards him as a new cool pal. The Duke of Nightmares is now Psycho Gorman (Matthew Ninaber), or PG for short, after a fast brainstorming session. A split family is reconciled, a little girl learns her lesson, and a lot of heads explode as PG learns to love and discovers a probable interest in handsome males.
Psycho Goreman’s effectiveness comes from its lightning-fast changes of pace, which go from dramatic sci-fi to dry humour in such a short amount of time that you experience whiplash. As Mimi proclaims herself bored, PG’s sad recollections to his home planet come to an end.
Bleed With Me
The terrifying impression of a presence lurking at your bedside is an unsurpassed nightmare for anybody who has suffered sleep paralysis. This horrific illusion is brought to its most eerie level in Amelia Moses’ Bleed with Me, as a snowy cabin vacation among three friends uncovers a parasitic relationship—one that requires discretely siphoning blood by moonlight. Rowan (Lee Marshall) is pleasantly pleased when she is asked to join coworker-turned-friend Emily (Lauren Beatty) in her family’s isolated cottage in the woods for a lovely snowy break after a period of personal upheaval.
They’re joined by Emily’s boyfriend Brendan (Aris Tyros), who isn’t too keen on an apparent third wheel on what was intended to be a romantic holiday for the two of them. Despite Rowan’s suspicions that her last-minute inclusion is nothing more than a compassionate gesture, her participation in the outing takes on a more sinister tone. Rowan’s hazy eyes see a shadowy figure sitting beside her bed in the middle of the night, caught in a state of drowsy semi-consciousness. She wakes up to see a little incision on her forearm, which is still glistening with brilliant crimson blood. Night after night, like tally marks, fresh nicks appear in a precise sequence.
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- The Vigil
After a traumatic experience that shattered his faith, Yakov (Dave Davis) just departed the Hasidic Jewish community. In the middle of his struggle to adjust to the outside globe with money—he is contacted to serve as a shomer, a person who looks after a body until it is buried. A shomer is usually a family member, although, in dire situations, someone will be compensated to act in this capacity. As a result, Yakov sets up his position, inspecting Mr. Litvak’s corpse. But this isn’t going to become a money-making night. Strange things begin to happen as soon as Yakov sits in for his five-hour shift.
He sees shadowy creatures hiding in dark corners, hears weird whispers, and has the impression that something is watching him. As the night unfolds, he realizes that the house, its inhabitants, and Yakov himself are being haunted by a mazzik, a sort of demon. It is preying on them, fueling its wickedness with their anguish and trauma. Davis’ performance as Yakov is key to The Vigil’s power, which is established by both Davis’ acting and Thomas’ writing.
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