According to my Letterboxd page, I watched over 250 horror films this year. Almost 125 of those were new movies. Out of those, here are my top 10 horror movies of 2021:
Halloween Kills, Old, The Queen of Black Magic, Malignant, Fear Street: 1666, Slaxx, Caveat, The Boy Behind the Door, Wrong Turn, Lucky, Son, Werewolves Within, A Quiet Place 2, Jakob’s Wife
10. The Power
The Power is like The Devil’s Backbone meets Carrie. And everyone who knows me knows that anything like Carrie is my weakness. In fact, a character is reading Carrie in this movie. That’s around the 20-minute mark, when I was on the fence about The Power. If you’ve watched as many movies as I have, you know when a character refences another movie, that movie probably influenced the movie you’re watching. So, I was like, “Sweet, is this movie gonna be like Carrie!?”
I also love the title, which I assumed was just a boring generic title before I watched. But then I realized “power” has a triple meaning in this – the electrical power outage that causes the chaos; the power dynamics that caused past horrors to happen; and the physical power to fight back.
Women supporting women. I love this gem.
9. Saint Maud
A horrifying look at possession, both the possessive nature of humanity and the possibility of demonic possession. A movie about God vs the Devil vs mental illness vs our need to fill ourselves with something, anything, while recovering from a low. The Bible warns of Satan looking for a weakness to strike. But is that really any different than being forced to pray to God in AA meetings?
Maud is on her path from recovery, filled with the power and spirit of God (?) and assigned to take care of a dying woman. As the movie goes on, the images she sees guiding her the viewer begins to see. But this isn’t a movie about is she crazy or not. Director Rose Glass makes it clear, up to and especially with the brilliant final shot, this isn’t a mysterious movie of what’s real or not, but rather a polemic attack on those, worldly or otherworldly, who prey on the weak with promises of hope and a more spiritual life.
8. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To
My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To feels like the scenes in Let The Right One In where the caretaker is doing the mundane, daily familial aspects of killing to keep the vampire child alive, but in this case it’s an actual family and the merciless killing is sprinkled within a strong family drama. Picking the victims based on their social status and if they’ll be cared about – focusing mostly on the homeless, sex workers and illegal immigrants – was commentary that may have just been narratively conducive to the script, but really speaks to how this family can prey on the targets that we as a society make easy victims through our unsympathetic governance and politics.
There’s also a really strong theme about being parents to a special needs child (even though the ‘parents’ are technically siblings). It’s an empathetic view of how hard these parents work for a child they love, not extended to the more horrific actions that drive this into a horror film- and where the metaphor ends. It’s a kind of study of the hardships that parents go through to help a child they love in an unsupportive society. It all causes which causes riffs in their relationship and wavering days of strength and fantasies of living a simpler life.
This is really strong stuff and hit on some amazing truths in such a mature way without ever letting the viewer forget that it’s a horror film.
Last Night in Soho is both a treatise on the seductive wonders of nostalgia and the way a creative mind can be transported to another time.
The latter of those two themes has been explored in recent Edgar Wright films as his love of music has taken center stage and almost overridden his still palpable passion for film.
With Baby Driver, I felt it was a playlist looking for a premise as it stretched for an organic story. And the Sparks documentary, well I haven’t seen it, but it’s safe to say his love for music is front and center there as well.
With Last Night in Soho, Eloise’s transportive love for ‘60s pop music is partially responsible for her creative time travel. But while reminiscing in the past, Wright is also employing two modern day aspects – the fascination with true crime that comes with an amateur’s need to want to solve a murder combining with the support women aspect of the metoo movement.
This gives Last Night in Soho such an engrossing duality, by living in the past while relishing in modern themes. The progressive and historical themes help us experience what Eloise experiences. Wright’s needle drops are also as plentiful as Baby Driver but feel more innately woven in.
Last Night in Soho is still an Edgar Wright film though. His inspirations from Polanski to Argento to Roeg only help service pieces, but the always kinetic camera work and creative edits helps Wright jump genres while maintaining an auteurist voice.
The Argento influence I mention above is very intentional, but I’m also starting to think that people just shorthand Argentoesque with colorful lights and bloody murders. One of my favorite criticisms I’ve seen of Last Night in Soho is something along the lines of “I loved this stylistic Argento-influenced film until the convoluted final reveal.”
Which makes me always want to know… uhhh, have you seen an Argento movie??
I really dug this rebootemakerequel.
I know some think it ends too abruptly and the movie feels like just a set up for the next. But it’s really political. At the moment the point it hits, the movie is done. And I loved that.
It does a great job tying in police brutality to this updated version and a great job of using the double meaning of “say his name” between the BLM movement of saying victim’s names to the mythology of saying Candyman’s name.
The horror and violence are so well directed by Nia Dacosta, who uses a lot of body horror. Fingernails coming off. Skin deforming. It feels like she’s as influenced by David Cronenberg as she is the original Candyman.
I’m really impressed with this. Dacosta having only directed Little Woods prior, which I liked, is a sort of late-‘90s Sundance movie. On the grounds of that, I didn’t know what she would bring to this franchise. But producer Jordan Peele knew what he was doing asking her, and Dacosta knew what she was doing in saying yes. And I’m so glad those two found each other.
5. The Stylist
The opening scene of The Stylist shows Claire (Najarra Townsend), as the titular stylist, drugging and scalping an innocent out-of-town traveler who just came in for a haircut. The scene is interesting because it seems like it’s going to be hard to justify why Claire does this and how she’s able to get away with it, especially since the opening scene indicates this movie is not going to be camp but is rather ambitiously going for a more serious exploration of this character. The lack of tongue-in-cheek shock which campier horror movies hide behind to divert logic from their story is traded in by a softer score you would find in a drama and an almost poetic tone to her murdering of this woman.
After the opening scene, the plot is minimal. Claire is a mass murdering stylist who is crippled by extreme anxiety and her demons control her violent tendencies. When a regular client, Olivia (Brea Grant), convinces her to do her hair for her upcoming wedding, which Claire tends to avoid, it pulls Claire down a darker hole that causes her actions to become more aggressive, and at times sloppier.
The plot itself could easily service itself to just a short film, but the extra time spent on Claire to expand this to a feature helps sell this terrifyingly maniacal character as a real member of society. The movie has a patience and confidence to it that makes most of the second act a character study. The pathos you end up feeling for Claire are only matched by how disturbed you are by her.
This incredible feat is pulled off by director Jill Gevargizian’s sure hand as director and Townsend’s incredible central performance. As someone with anxiety, the relatability of Claire’s actions are so palpable. And when you throw in a wedding, which is something that has always messed with me, Gevargizian really captures the negative emotions many feel towards them. Weddings caused the depression that social media causes long before social media. You’re seeing a glamorized version of someone’s life, as they achieve a huge accomplishment, and it can make you question your place in life. Especially for Claire, who is crippled by her anxiety, and who has been relegated to a service worker helping the bride achieve her big day.
I’ve seen some complaining that the beginning and ending are the best parts and the middle feels long. I’d contest that without the middle, the ending would not hit the same way it does. Showing what happens at the end, without the context of the middle, and the dive into who Claire is, would lessen the impact. But thanks to the meticulousness of this filmmaking, The Stylist takes you into a deep dive into the mind of a serial killer and when the insane happens, it’s less shocking and a more just the logical conclusion of this complex character.
4. Psycho Goreman
I came for the Clive Barker-influenced monster released from shackles with the mission to obliterate Earth but stayed for the little girl with impeccable comedic timing.
For the first act, I had some trouble putting my finger on what Julia Ducournau was interested in with making Titane. Because of her past Cronenbergian influences and the story of Titane being of a woman impregnated by a car, I just assumed this was her take on Crash. Yet the attraction to motor vehicles is both overexplained and underdeveloped. She doesn’t have the fascination with fetishism that Cronenberg has, and the car pregnancy is more on the periphery of the story and more to drive in the themes, rather than to be about it.
Titane, for all you hear, is about the yin and yang of taking life versus giving or saving life. It’s about humans as machines and how we can be used to help others, in a dire way that machinery has made our lives better. And ultimately, it’s about a simple story of broken people fixing each other (it’s probably generous just calling these two broken), and even the most bastardized members of society can be all you need and accepting people as who they are is what’s most important. It’s in the end, it’s a rather sweet story, just with a lot of killing and car-fucking thrown in.
I admit up front, though I think this is a great movie, something with this movie hit me on a personal level due to recent stuff in my life. I recently directed a horror movie and several members of the crew quit the night before filming due to how violent the script was. Of course, the biggest issue is they waited til the day before to read it, but regardless all I could think about is how none of them I considered to be very upstanding people, and they were morally appalled by the violence, yet the main cast and crew of the movie are some of the best people I know. We were able to replace everyone (stressful 24 hours of replacing) and the shoot went well, but it occurred to me even before watching Censor, that maybe the censors and offended are that way because they’re a slight push away from doing bad things.
Censor is at its heart a very anti-censorship movie. Director Prano Bailey-Bond makes it clear that the censors are the weak, and as for any problems with violent films and their approach to women, Bailey-Bond seems to know the answer isn’t to censor, but rather more women like her getting behind a camera and making movies like Censor.
1. The Night House
Hereditary meets The Babadook meets The Invisible Man meets another movie I can’t say because it’d be a spoiler.
Rebecca Hall is a powerhouse of an actor. David Bruckner directs the hell out of this movie. I don’t know when he turned into a great director, but I had him pretty much written off. Lovett’s score, the diegetic use of the Richard and Linda Thompson song and the unbelievable sound design of this movie… It’s so perfectly done. Yet the movie also knows the right times to shut up and be silent.
And the script has so much care to individual scenes. One with a group of friends in a bar. One with the mother of a student approaching Hall’s character. One with Hall and a woman who had a possible affair with Hall’s now deceased husband. It’s written with a precision to maintain believability, realism, character development and excitement within the moment. Every conversation I was worried we’d see the seams start to come apart on a filmmaker who is reaching over his head and trying to be smarter than he can be, yet he keeps it all together.
Film has such a unique ability to put us into the perspective of another. Whether what they’re seeing or feeling is real or not is less important than believing it’s real to them. We feel empathy by stepping out of ourselves and into another. People may want to know why films must be depressing when film is for escape. But escape can be into someone else who needs us. Someone who is being tormented by ways we can only understand with the power of perception. And Night House is that unique film that makes me want to reach out to others and ask them if they’re okay and if talking can help their perception, I am available