Wednesday, January 5

Favorite Horror of 2021 (Monte's List)

Favorite Horror of 2021


In a year of uncertainty, with the literal horror film about a seemingly unstoppable deadly virus happening outside our front doors, reconnecting with movies on streaming networks, going to virtual film festivals, and returning to the sacred sanctum of the movie theater was pure joy. Horror took new forms in 2021, with both fearfully fantastic and dreadfully reality-driven stories. 2021 found new ways to approach recurring themes of isolation, desperation, and the fear of the unknown. Films about religion, urban legends, culture, society, ecology, demons, slashers, and even automotive sensuality brought intriguing visions to beautifully horrific life. This year was undeniably a unique experience for genre fans. These are my favorite horror films from 2021. 


13. Werewolves Within


Beaverfield is a snowy, isolated community with a pipeline controversy and a mysterious creature problem. The townsfolk, a mix of every comedic cliché you've seen in horror movies, are being brutally murdered by an unseen monster. It's up to a charming duo, forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) and postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), to keep the community from tearing themselves apart. Director Josh Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff compose a rare balanced horror/comedy that maintains mystery and mayhem with genuine laughs and thrills. 


12. Jakob's Wife


Barbara Crampton!!! That should be the only recommendation needed to watch "Jakob's Wife." Ms. Crampton is superb, also assisted by the always reliable Larry Fessenden, in a vampire film that evokes discussion about the virtues of religion and falsehoods surrounding a woman's place within a marriage. It's serious and satirical in amusing ways. "Jakob's Wife" uses the vampire subgenre to craft a character-driven film with substance. 


11. Saint Maud


"Saint Maud" is a beautiful debut from an engaging creative voice. It's many different shapes of horror. It completely understands what it wants to portray, no scary monsters or spooky ghosts, but rather the questions of what exists beyond our recognition and the choice we must make in the pursuit of what we believe and put our faith within. "Saint Maud" is here for your cinematic soul.


10. Gaia


An injured forest ranger is saved by survivalists, a father and a son, who have a cult-like devotion to the unknown elements of the forest. This ecological horror tale combines impressive myth/world building and striking visual/practical designs to create a timely story about humanity's abuse of nature. Director Jaco Bouwer delivers a supernatural film that is intriguing and thought-provoking.  


9. Come True


Suffering from horrific recurring nightmares, 18-year-old Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) submits to a university sleep study only to realize that the monsters from her dreams are invading her waking life. Writer/director Anthony Scott Burns deftly combines science fiction and horror in strange and creepy ways. The balancing act of storytelling, building the world and blurring the lines between reality and dream, is impressively pieced together. The design of this film, from the lighting, the sound design, and the special effects, makes it stand out from others like it. 


8. Sator


The atmosphere in writer/director Jordan Graham's "Sator" is so dark and dreadful it's impossible not to get consumed by it. Every step taken into the secluded and desolate forest plunges the viewer into the nightmare. "Sator" is meticulously paced, slowly unraveling the complicated layers of its characters' lives while increasing the spooky factor around every turn in the narrative. Jordan Graham displays immense talent beyond writing and directing the actors; he also served as editor, director of photography, and sound designer. "Sator" is absorbing and unnerving filmmaking. 


7. Fear Street Trilogy


The "Fear Street" trilogy was the most pleasant horror surprise for me in 2021. Spanning over three time periods, with recurring characters and a supernatural premise that has durability across different timelines, director Leigh Janiak utilizes tropes and characteristics with near pitch-perfect quality. "Fear Street: 1994" has slasher vibes akin to "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and even a little year 2000 "Cherry Falls." "Fear Street: 1978" feels like "Friday the 13th" and 1984s "Madman." And "Fear Street: 1666" influences from "The Witch" and "The Crucible." Each film pays homage to its period in some way, whether through character design, gruesome kills, or a plot device. The three films combined serve as one of the best horror trilogies of all time.


6. The Night House


Anchored by a fantastic performance from Rebecca Hall, "The Night House" constructs a maze of atmosphere and design on its path towards chilling and frightening events. In the film, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is grieving the unexpected death of her husband, living in isolation in a lakeside home. Beth begins having vivid and horrifying dreams, and a supernatural force begins engaging with her inside the home. "The Night House" utilizes the vessel of a horror film to explore topics like loneliness, grief, trauma, and healing. While the surface narrative elements and performance by Rebecca Hall make for a good enough horror film, the underlying themes and filmmaking designs make for a tremendous multilayered genre experience.  


5. The Empty Man


Writer/director David Prior has been very honest about the difficulties of getting this ambitious genre film to the masses. Along the path of a disastrous production, long delays, and studio mergers, "The Empty Man" was lost like many films during the pandemic wave. That's a shame because there is something exceptional about this complicated film. Whether the myth-building, which echoes urban legends and ancient spirits, the religious fascinations, which show the consuming and cult-like power that belief can have, or the craft of filmmaking, which displays impressive style and construction by the filmmaker. At a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes, a time limit that pushes and pulls the narrative in intriguing ways, Prior's skillful designs are provided ample time to develop and explore the many angles that fear exists in this movie. Good films, like "The Empty Man," are never forgotten.


4. Titane 


Upon leaving the screening of Julia Ducournau's incendiary second film "Titane," the hallways of the cinema were abuzz with questions, observations, and insights concerning the 108-minute odyssey of violence, sex, love, grief, suffering, and joy. People discussed the metaphors found in the film. They expressed their outrage, and confusion was visible on their faces. Smiles were shown as moviegoers walked up and said, "so, what did you think?" Whatever convictions about Ducournau's art one may have, it's undeniable that "Titane" made people feel something. That's beautiful, and so is this confident artist's daring and evocative work of genre-busting cinema.


3. Candyman


In one of the film's best elements of 2021, director Nia DaCosta utilizes shadow puppets to reimagine the past and how stories are changed, exaggerated, and hidden the longer they are kept. It's a beautiful and elegant touch. Within this technique, "Candyman" tells the most intriguing tale. Storytelling, folklore, and spoken traditions exist to keep a piece of history alive and relevant, no matter how horrifying those pieces may be. To allow the world to know that a people, place, or event existed. It also allows for a reframing of traumatic events, a way to make sense of the fears and monsters that have brought sorrow and pain to the world, in a manner allowing for stories to capture those traumas and take away their power. You can feel this version of "Candyman" engaging in all those aspects of storytelling.


2. The Vigil


Culture and religious tradition clash in this minimalistic yet unexpectedly emotional and frightening film. The film focuses on a Jewish tradition of watching over the dead until burial. The responsibility here belongs to Yakov (Dave Davis), a young man who is desperate for the money being provided by the family. Director Keith Thomas accomplishes so much with so little in this film, using camera techniques and an arrangement of tension and anticipation to heighten the frights found within the small spaces. Add historical trauma, cultural beliefs, and traditional practices, and "The Vigil" is a clever and creepy experience.  


1. Midnight Mass


Yes, it's not a traditional film. But what director Mike Flanagan does with this ambitious 7-episode series was my favorite horror experience of the year. Combining an analysis of grief and isolation, along with ideologies of religion and fanaticism, and the overwhelming influence of evil that descends on a small island town makes for an experience that is both thought-provoking, emotional, and frightening. You can't help but become entangled and engrossed in the characters' lives, who each have different ideas of faith and engage with religion in many different ways. Each episode pushes the limits of fear and faith further into realms of doubt and madness for the characters, leading towards a finale that refuses to play towards expectation. Mike Flanagan is the best horror filmmaker working right now. Period.  


Honorable Mentions

·      A Quiet Place Part II

·      Brand New Cherry Flavor (Series)

·      Chucky (Series)

·      The Feast

·      In the Earth

·      Kandisha

·      The Last Matinee

·      The Medium

·      Malignant

·      Oxygen

·      Psycho Goreman

·      The Queen of Black Magic

·      Séance

·      Strings

·      V/H/S 94

·      Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

·      Yellowjackets (Series)


1 comment: