5. The Invitation
Slow-burn horror movies aren’t for everyone and The Invitation is no exception. This is a movie that seriously takes its time to get to the point, but every step of the way is absolutely appetizing.
Revolving around a seriously strange dinner party hosted by the protagonist’s ex-wife after the loss of a child, The Invitation keeps you guessing every step of the way. It might test your patience if you have a short attention span, but the payoff is excellent.
Tapping into themes revolving around mistrust, coping with loss, and depression, The Invitation chooses to juggle thought-provoking messages along with its thrills. As if that weren’t enough, the cast also has a tendency to really make your skin crawl. In particular, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman are downright frightening as the dinner party hosts.
Director Karyn Kusama rose to prominence with her debut film Girlfight, but subsequent efforts weren’t too well received. The Invitation is easily her best movie since Girlfight. It’s smarter and more daring than anything else she’s attempted.
4. The Conjuring 2
Who could’ve predicted that lightning would strike twice with The Conjuring series? Horror sequels are among the riskiest of sequels. They have a tendency to feel redundant, familiar, and unnecessary.
For every Evil Dead 2, there are fifty Blair Witch 2’s. In fact, James Wan’s first crack at a sequel didn’t even go over particularly well, with Insidious 2 getting a fairly lukewarm response from critics. Luckily, it seems as if Wan brought his a-game this time. Calling The Conjuring 2 a “good horror sequel” isn’t giving it the credit it deserves. This is a rare horror sequel that manages to top the original in almost every regard.
James Wan recently said that he wouldn’t mind continuing past the second entry because the stories don’t need to be related to one another. The only thing that should remain consistent is the presence of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
So instead of forcing a continuation on a series that doesn’t need it, Wan can simply pick a different paranormal investigation that the Warren’s were involved in. As a result, The Conjuring 2 is able to feel fresh instead of familiar and unnecessary.
The story being told in this film is that of the Enfield Poltergeist, which took place in London in the late ‘70s. Once again, we’re presented with a lavish production design appropriate with the setting. So regardless of whether or not everything else was up to snuff, the audience would still get a movie that’s at nice to look at.
Luckily, the plot, pacing, acting, and scares are equally top notch. Movies about poltergeists are a dime a dozen, but Wan manages to add his own special touch to things.
Thankfully, this allows the movie to distinguish itself from the many comparable films. Farmiga and Wilson are excellent as usual, but they’re not the only standouts in regards to the cast. As the lead, 13-year old Madison Wolfe gives a career-defining performance. Frances O’Conner and Franka Potente also manage to leave a lasting impression.
James Wan has proven that just because he’s moved on to big-budget blockbusters doesn’t mean he’s willing to shy away from the types of movies that made him famous. The Conjuring 2 once again proves that Wan is a valuable horror movie director.
3. Green Room
Green Room is a no frills all thrills slam dunk of a movie. The movie revolves around a group of teens in a band that get involved with the wrong crowd. It’s not the most original movie you’ll see, but its ability to build tension is what makes it work.
Green Room doesn’t give you a minute to breathe throughout its fairly brief runtime. Its ability to hold your attention is hard to match. The brutal violence, pitch black comedy, and likeable characters make the movie even more watchable on top of the non-stop tension.
The late Anton Yelchin gives one of the strongest performances of his career as the band’s bassist. In a genre where fleshed out characters are difficult to come by, his ability to make the character so lovable is admirable.
Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart, and Imogen Poots make up the rest of the stand out performances in the film. Horror movies usually aren’t well known for gripping performances, but Green Room is a notable exception.
Green Room isn’t the smartest movie on this list, but it also doesn’t need to be. It’s an effective horror film every step of the way and it’s ability to keep you on your toes is unmatched. Green Room is easily the best indie horror movie of the year, and it’s a movie I wholeheartedly recommend checking out.
2. The Witch
The Witch is an exceptionally well-made movie that’s likely to appeal to the arthouse crowd above all else. You could argue that the snail-like pacing, lack of actual scares, and dialect aren’t likely to appeal to your average horror fan.
Those that fit into The Witch’s intended audience, however, will fall in love with the film. Those who didn’t enjoy watching it can at least admit that from a filmmaking perspective, The Witch is impressive with its gorgeous cinematography, imaginative art direction, and consistently solid cast.
The Witch is far from the most accessible movie on this list. The trailers and the wide release painted The Witch as a straightforward movie about, well, a witch. If the C- Cinemascore is anything to go by, it seems that The Witch wasn’t marketed particularly well. Don’t be dissuaded by public reaction though, especially if you’re looking for something a little less conventional. The Witch strives to surprise viewers and it does so successfully.
Though it’s not outright scary per se, it is genuinely unnerving at times. More important is the fact that it’s more thought-provoking than a majority of the films on this list.
While it slowly ratchets up the tension, it also manages to make statements about feminism and traditional family structures. The strong emphasis on providing viewers with food for thought is the strongest aspect of The Witch, but it’s also something that prevents it from being accessible. Keep that in mind before viewing the film and you should be able to appreciate it.
1. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is the most shockingly good film of the year and it’s not even close. The original Cloverfield was generally a pretty well liked movie that also helped bring the found footage trend back on track.
It wasn’t critically acclaimed by any means, but it certainly left an impression on a lot of viewers. 10 Cloverfield Lane puts the original Cloverfield to shame and then some.
Keep in mind that the two films are only vaguely connected. 10 Cloverfield Lane could almost be described as a Cloverfield film by name only if it weren’t for one particular scene.
The decision to separate from its predecessor worked out in the film’s favor. Instead of going for found footage sci-fi thrills, this movie ditches the found footage style while also making the sci-fi elements take a back seat.
Instead, the horror comes from Howard Stamble, played by John Goodman. Stamble kidnaps a young woman in order to convince her that the earth has become uninhabitable.
From there, twists and turns lurk around every corner. John Goodman is the body and soul of the film. 10 Cloverfield Lane is so engrossing as a result of his stunning and eerie performance. In addition, the unpredictable script ensures viewers that they need to stay on their toes in order to keep up with what’s happening.
10 Cloverfield Lane likely isn’t the movie you’re expecting it to be. In many cases, this is something that can harm a film. In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the less you know about it the better. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it as soon as you can while avoiding spoilers at all costs. It’s unlike anything else you’ll see this year.
Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.